Hello Neighbor Review
Breaking and entering has never been more annoying
Since bursting onto the scene in 2015, Hello Neighbor has developed a strong fan following. With Dynamic Pixels constantly releasing new alphas and betas for the game, players have been able to follow along with the team as they tweaked and improved their unique survival horror experience. Considering the audience is already there, publisher tinyBuild has finally decided it was time for the final version of the title to make its debut. After navigating the unexpectedly sprawling Neighbor’s home, though, perhaps a few more months in development would have been for the best.
Taking a cue from the iconic Rear Window, Hello Neighbor casts you as a child who catches a glimpse of something he shouldn’t have. While out playing one day, you see the titular Neighbor in the process of hiding something in his basement. Since you are a curious, if not entirely bright, child, you decide that you need to know what he is hiding. Split into three acts, you’ll need to use your wits and anything you can get your hands on in order to not only find out the truth of what’s in the basement, but also to survive against a seemingly unstoppable being.
If you’ve been paying attention over the years, you probably already know that Hello Neighbor goes places. There’s a lot going on with not just the Neighbor, but also with how the protagonist’s life ties into this adventure. Despite all of the lore involving who you are dealing with and his past, I didn’t particularly care for any of it. Part of that stems from how the story is told, which is through lackluster cut scenes and segments that can be entirely missed. I’m also just sick of games that try to create these long-winded stories that aren’t really necessary. Every survival horror game wants to capture the zeitgeist like Five Nights at Freddy’s did, even if they can’t match the sprawling world those titles created. I think this game would have been better suited by going the more realistic route. Just a simple tale of a child trying to piece together the crime of his creepy neighbor would have been more entertaining than all of the nonsense that happens here.
One of the big selling points for Hello Neighbor was the idea that the Neighbor would boast “advanced” AI. While you could make a case for the Neighbor being smart, I hesitate to say the AI is advanced in any way. My big issue is that his behavior oscillates between omniscient and Neanderthal. Sometimes, he’ll be able to detect where you are from anywhere on the map, whether you’re inside the house or not. It can sometimes err on the side of being more frustrating than fun, but it’s possible to overcome this cheapness. However, sometimes he’ll walk right in front of you without noticing, ignore windows being broken and give up chasing you if he sees you enter a new room. You never know what you’re going to get from moment to moment in the game, which can make formulating a plan a frustrating endeavor.
If the unstoppable Neighbor wasn’t enough of a challenge, each act also requires you to solve some truly ridiculous puzzles. Calling to mind the old-school, terrible puzzles that littered adventure games of previous generations, in order for you to enter the Neighbor’s basement, or in the case of act 2, escape his house, you’ll need to cobble together a collection of items. Crowbars, colored keys, globes and magnets are just a few of the things you can find to help out. In order to do this, you’re going to have to search every room, cabinet and box you come across, and I do mean every single one. Be prepared to witness oddities such as wrenches in the fridge or frozen keycards in the freezer. I haven’t even mentioned all of the switches and gears this guy has that control almost everything in his house. I get wanting to be secretive, Mr. Neighbor, but this is ridiculous.
I’m all for making you think in order to succeed, but the leaps in logic required by the puzzles in Hello Neighbor are often a bridge too far for me. I suppose nothing makes sense in the world of the game, but when it comes to finding crucial objects, things are often at their absolute worst. There’s no rhyme or reason for where items are, with some sealed away in far-off rooms, and others lying in the middle of the kitchen. Compounding matters is the fact that wherever the Neighbor catches you, he tends to both stick around that location and lay traps (cameras, buckets of water) that make returning to these areas almost impossible. So, if you messed up figuring something out, good luck getting another shot at it. It eventually got to the point where it was just easier to figure out how to glitch my way to victory than it was to decipher whatever nonsensical puzzle Dynamic Pixels cobbled together.
Not helping matters is the fact that the game itself is pretty terrible to play, control-wise. Picking up items is slow and unresponsive, while throwing them requires holding down the throw button for an unreasonable length of time. Also, holding the button down too long will cause to you throw your item way too far away, especially relative to your character. Jumping also feels too floaty, which makes making the precise leaps necessary in the game more difficult than they should be. There are also just weird issues such as rotating between the objects you have on hand being slow and your character just refusing to climb through smashed windows. These response issues needed to be ironed out prior to launch, and their presence in the final product make the simple act of playing the game an unenjoyable experience.
With so much time spent on trying to make you rage quit over irrational puzzles, it seems Dynamic Pixels forgot to shore up a very important aspect of survival horror games: actually producing scares. Whether it’s due to the overdone sound and visual cues that pop up when he is nearby or just his visual design, the Neighbor is just not a scary presence. There’s not even a threat to being caught by him, as when he does catch you, he doesn’t actually do anything. He’ll either just stand silently in front of you or get stuck in his running animation. And outside of the extra security, which I already mentioned, there’s not really any punishment to being caught. You’re just deposited back to the start of the mission, along with anything you picked-up. In comparison to something like Alien: Isolation, which actually features great AI, the terror here is non-existent.
As alluded to before, Hello Neighbor is a technical mess. The game is constantly glitching, with some type of bug almost always popping up whenever the action ramps up. The Neighbor will sometimes get stuck in walls and doors, while thrown objects can chaotically bounce between floor and ceiling non-stop. There’s almost too many issues to mention, and considering the amount of public tests the game went through prior to release, it’s crazy that this was deemed complete enough for a full release. Even if the game didn’t get delayed again, there would have been no shame in slotting it in as Early Access until it got cleaned up.
The best thing Hello Neighbor has going for it is the crazy art design the title uses. Everything has a slightly-warped perspective, like a Dr. Seuss book gone awry. The impossible architecture of the house may make it a pain to explore, but it’s certainly unique. Even though I love the artstyle of the game, from a technical perspective, the title looks rough. Objects lack detail, the character models are ugly and the day-night cycle sometimes gets locked up during the transition period. I also wasn’t a fan of the limited sound design of the game. The Neighbor makes the same few grunts and groans repeatedly, and it can be hard to decipher where he is at times, as every one of his movements has the same sound level. For a game that relies on being stealthy, this is a bit of a dealbreaker.
From its litany of bugs and confounding puzzles to the lack of scares and inconsistent AI, Hello Neighbor is a mess from top to bottom. Considering the idea behind the game, though, it didn’t have to be this way. Dynamic Pixels could have tapped into the fear and excitement of sneaking out of the house in order to craft a unique survival horror experience. However, somewhere along the development line, the project mutated into the mess of half-baked ideas and baffling design decisions that it got released as. While its style of play and backstory may give it life on YouTube and Twitch, there are too many other, better titles in the genre to make this one worth recommending.