☆ Review: Hello Neighbor - "If this game was my neighbour…I’d move." ☆

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Hello Neighbor - PC (BETA VERSION)

Hello Neighbor is a stealth-horror game from developer Dynamic Pixels, it has a promising setup and great cartoonish visuals but is ultimately let down by broken physics and tedious puzzle elements.
The premise is simple and very enticing. You have recently moved into a street opposite a man with a VERY peculiar house. After a short, unsettling cut-scene, the game throws you straight into the action. Standing across the road from the titular neighbour’s house, you must find a way to gain entry to his basement and find out what the hell is going on.

The first thing that will strike you about the game is the stylised graphics, they are vibrant, colourful and work so well as a contrast against the tense, action-packed gameplay that permeates the start of the game. The area in which Hello Neighbor takes place is relatively small but dense with items, small graphical flourishes and I especially enjoyed the distant city that is visible beyond this leafy suburb.

The sound in the game is minimalist by design, as the neighbour approaches you, the screen shakes and an ominous bass note reverberates through your skull, warning you of your imminent capture (when the neighbour sees and chases you, there’s a great piano piece that plays to accompany it). This is initially very effective but as the neighbour just pops you back outside your home with no real punishment, combined by how easily the neighbour can catch you when he does see you (he throws jars of glue that slow you down, and he is FAST), the impact drains quickly although you’ll notice that there are extra traps and locked doors around the house as he learns from your escapades.

When I heard about Hello neighbour a couple of months ago, I was quite looking forward to seeing how the game measured up upon completion. The premise of the game seemed simple and effective, and I was intrigued by the developer’s focus on artificial AI, how it would learn from your movements and react accordingly. A lot of the build-up to the release of Hello Neighbor that came from Dynamic Pixels was focused on this AI and also how the game was a stealth horror, the promo stills and trailers were entirely focused on the ‘being hunted’ aspect of the game and the cleverness of the protagonist, which I feel is somewhat misleading due to how the game plays out.

Before I explain my issues with the game, I’d like to give a back story on the development.  Dynamic Pixels have been very open about the process of designing the game, they have had several releases (pre-alpha, alphas 1-4 and finally the beta copy that I’m reviewing which have all been released to anyone pre-ordering) and there has been a strong connection to the supporters and fans of the game throughout, taking their suggestions into consideration and implementing them into the game. Whilst this is laudable, it has the effect on the finished product of playing a game designed by several people shouting over each other whilst one man desperately tries to note down everything being yelled.

My first hour or so in the game was enjoyable enough, there are a lot of incidental objects lying around and smashing the neighbour’s windows with them, distracting him and trying to get into his house is good fun. However, I noticed some glitches as I was doing this. For instance, the neighbour would get stuck in scenery and items I’d throw would react oddly due to the flawed physics, for instance, a table I threw at a second story window just flipped wildly up into the sky and other in-game objects sank into the ground occasionally, I was surprised by this as the physics in Half-Life 2 were superior and that game is thirteen years old. This would be ignorable if the physics weren’t such an integral part of the game.

The first puzzle to gain entry to the next section of the house is to stack some boxes near a vent and throw an item at a switch. Simple stuff, but it took me far too long to stack the boxes due to the broken physics. Not only did the boxes not stay on top of each other, occasionally they would fly off in random directions requiring me to get them and repeat. This, combined with avoiding the neighbour, quickly became more irritating than tense.

Eventually I managed to throw something into the vent but the whole situation felt cumbersome and unwieldy (it was during this segment that I noticed the neighbour occasionally shouts “HA!”, as if he has seen you, but this isn’t the case, he just shouts it seemingly randomly, an odd choice of exclamation and confusing for the player). When I eventually made it to the upper floors of the house, the neighbour was no longer a threat as he only seems to patrol the first floor and grounds, so I was left with twisting, odd layouts and illogical puzzles to solve. Within about thirty minutes, I forgot I was playing a stealth horror game as I wandered around, jumping around cluttered sections with no form or logic pressing buttons and picking up and trying items, joylessly.

Eventually, I resorted to a Youtube walkthrough just to see what the next step was so that I could proceed.  It was at this point I realised how chaotic the game actually was. The game area is small but a large section of the rooms (and rooftops) feature no items of interest and are there, I assume, to confuse the player or give the illusion of size.

There are obscure references scattered throughout Hello Neighbor hinting at an over-arching story and an ominous history between the two main characters, but fragmented iconography aside, what I felt I was left with was a game that seemed half-finished, complete with dodgy physics, and no real narrative but a focus on an antagonist with hyped artificial intelligence that is then sidelined shortly after starting the game.

I was surprised that this wasn’t to be an early access release because of how it felt to play. Even if the physics issues were ironed out by the August 29th release date, it wouldn’t make a difference to the obtuse, unenjoyable puzzles and irritatingly quirky house layout. The artificial intelligence featured in the game is very human and realistic in the way that it learns and acts, unfortunately, it is set in a very unrealistic game world and this doesn’t really match up.

It’s faintly depressing how the best section of the game for me was the first few minutes, pottering around the grounds, picking up items and smashing windows, enjoying the disgruntled reactions of the neighbour, is that worth £25?

I wouldn’t say so.


Game Link: Steam

Dev Link: Dynamic Pixels

Reviewed By Britt (from @kingdomofcarts)

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