Well, not very well it turns out. Which is a shame considering the concept is one that has the potential to make a great game. I mean we’ve had horror games before involving zombies and undead creatures but never before have we had to experience the fear of a nosy neighbour, especially one who you have caught getting up to no good.
The game starts with perhaps the worst designed character I have witnessed in gaming. A boy whose face resembles a welders bench more than it does Dennis the Menace. This boy is chasing after his ball when he stumbles across some strange goings on in a neighbours house, someone getting locked up no less, followed by some really horrible screaming, not scary screaming just a god awful sound the developers figured could pass as a scream. Anyway, it’s up to you to find out what’s going on. One incomprehensible puzzle at a time.
The game takes place over four acts but outstays its welcome just during the first act. The game just has no information available to the player. For the most part, you kind of have to just assume things with regard to the story, fill in the blanks with anything you see fit. The lack of information doesn’t stop there. There is no tutorial, there is nothing to tell you that you can hide here or there, jump on this and climb on that. In a game that is based on stealth. It’s really frustrating because it’s just down to trial an error, the worst thing to do when you’re trying to be sneaky. It’s hard to invest any time in a game that can’t even do the most basics right.
The idea is sound though. You’re in your neighbours house, you have to sneak around and find out what is going on. You can do this by looking through keyholes, hiding in cupboards and under beds, it’s like a cartoon version of Outlast. But unlike Outlast, Hello Neighbour is so broken it doesn’t really matter what you do, the neighbour will always find you. One example being I was in a room the neighbour was outside, not even a window in sight, I moved an inch and all of a sudden I was caught. Inside, outside, in another room on another planet more often than not you will hear the terrible, just terrible sound of his footsteps coming your way and then the inevitable capture. Sometimes you might be lucky and the neighbour will get stuck in some scenery unable to move (one of the many bugs in this game) but even if he does catch you, there is no fallout. He just returns you to the last checkpoint with none of your puzzle progress being affected. So any tension the game tries to build vanishes.
For me this was actually a good thing, the puzzles in the game were just not for me, obscure to the point of giving Monkey Island cold sweats. For example, one puzzle sees you find a key upstairs to unlock a car boot downstairs to then use a powerful magnet to get a wrench from the basement. Maybe these puzzles would be easier to figure out were it not for the awful camera position. Compared to the scenery around you, you always feel like you are crouching. The number of times I sneaked up to a window to see what’s in the room the only to be greeted by a screen filled with wall because the camera was too low (and now I wasn’t actually crouching, there is a button for that too). There is a jump button but that just makes a noise, and you don’t want to be doing that for fear of getting caught, so you can’t actually look through windows. Ridiculous.
A stealth puzzler like Hello Neighbor needs to get one thing right, and that’s the AI. You can have the worst character designs (which they are) and worst graphics (which they are) but if the AI is smart then it’s all good. But not with Hello Neighbor. Not only is there the issue of getting stuck behind scenery, a frying pan of all things can stop this guy in his tracks. But the AI is terrible. This neighbour could be doing some star jumps in his garden, and you could be standing right next to him but he won’t see you. Open a door inside while he’s outside and he will come charging in. It’s ridiculous.
Hello Neighbor is a bit of a mess, nothing has changed from its previous outing on Xbox or PC, there are just too many annoyances and quirks, and just dodgy inconsistencies for this to be any kind of fun. The puzzles are not of this planet and the AI is broken. It’s nice that there is lots of interactivity, you can pretty much pick up anything and throw it around (not that the game tells you, you can) but no amount of neat parlour tricks can save this game from leaving you frustrated and wanting.
Couple that with the unacceptable level of bugs and how developers Dynamic Pixels just failed completely to get the fundamentals right and you’re left with a game that’s probably best left locked up.
Hello Neighbour is out now on Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro) and PC via Steam.
Developer: Dynamic Pixels
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publishers. For our full review policy, please go here.