Developer: Dynamic Pixels
Publisher: tinyBuild Games
Release Date: 27 July 2018
Price: $39.99 / £35.99
Reviewed by Ian Lewis
Hello Neighbor describes itself as a stealth horror game, where you must explore your neighbour’s house, solving a series of puzzles to unravel the mystery of his basement, all while evading capture. But in reality, the stealth approach doesn’t really work, and the horror is diluted by repetitive gameplay, resulting in a game that’s more frustrating than fun.
The game begins with your character, a child on an empty street, spotting his neighbour locking his basement to the sound of screams. Said neighbour catches you spying, throwing you out of his home. That’s your exposition.
To be fair, the game does develop a mildly interesting story, revealed in dream sequences on random occasions after you’re caught, but nothing that’s super-compelling, and the twist at the end of the game certainly isn’t worth the time you invest. You’re left to your own devices with no tutorial, and it’d certainly benefit from some extra guidance through the plot to give it a little more weight.
You play in first-person, and controls are kept simple – you can sprint and jump, as well as use or throw items you’ve picked up, or interact with doors. Yet it’s so clunky at times that it can be really frustrating. The button to open doors or to peep through the keyhole is the same, depending on the vague vicinity of where you’re looking. You need to have your dot cursor directly over an item to pick it up, which can be fiddly for smaller keys. And you can’t ‘put away’ an item in your inventory, so if you pick up a bin, it’ll take over a large chunk your screen. It screams of a half-baked system that’s just not been thought through.
Time and Punishment
For the first few minutes you spend exploring the house, there is a mild sense of tension. As soon as the neighbour spots you, he grunts, the music builds and the screen darkens and starts to shake. It’s slightly creepy for the first two or three times you’re caught. But then you’re caught again. And again. And again. No matter how stealthy you are, the neighbour is always wandering around, and you need to move room-to-room all the time, so you’re going to be caught a lot. Escape is possible, but only by sprinting miles away from where you were.
Even in the later acts, with more expansive environments, there’s no point trying to hide, it’s too slow and tedious and you keep any items you’ve found when you respawn, so there’s no real element of punishment. More traps are laid, but nothing to really hinder you. Ultimately the game becomes trial and error, and once you’re spotted you just wait to be caught so you can get back on with things.
You can pick up almost anything, but the physics system makes no sense. Items move in the world exactly the same no matter what they are - so you can break a window with a baseball cap, for example. Or, if you’re too close to the window, you can throw items through it without breaking it. This is particularly infuriating if you’ve just carried that item up an annoying-to-navigate platforming section, and you now need to go and retrieve something else to throw through the window.
And then there’s the puzzles themselves, which often make little to no sense, or are sometimes just plain broken. The idea is that you can approach puzzles in a variety of ways, which is interesting to begin with. But puzzles should have some modicum of logic, and far too often that’s lacking here. Sometimes it’s just easier to try to work out how to glitch your way past a section, because the options presented to you are either so obscure that you won’t figure them out, or they’re too unreliable to work the way they should.
The game does pick up a little as you progress – helped as the environments are larger, but it’s only in the third act that there’s a little bit of variety in the way you play, and by this point you’ll be past caring. If you’ve made it to the third act, you’ll probably see it through but with no massive sense of reward. Just relief that it’s all done.
The repetitive nature of the gameplay, the infuriating control system and the inconsistent puzzles rob Hello Neighbor of any fun it may have possessed. There’s some really nifty ideas in there, which just makes it so much of a shame that it couldn’t see them through.
Pros & Cons
+ Mildly interesting plot, for what it is
+ Novel ideas while they last
- Repetitive gameplay robs it of horror
- Frustrating controls and interface
- Dumb puzzles that make no sense
- Occasional, basic glitches