Every one of us must wonder what our neighbors are up to. If you’re the same as me you’ll probably see the people across the street doing something unusual, before stopping to stare at them as if they are actors on a stage. After boredom sets in from watching the theatrics too long I begin to realize that I might just be a creep. If you can’t relate to that then maybe there’s something wrong with me; I mean, I made it all up! As creepy as we may or may not be, I’m willing to admit that I’m not brave enough to cross the street and sneak into their house. If real life were a video game I would be, but fortunately Hello Neighbor is just that, because that’s exactly what we have to do.
As players we are placed in the middle of a scene with ominous sounds coming from a nearby house. It happens to be occupied by a mustachioed man who looks to be up to no good. That’s all the designers, Dynamic Pixels, assume we need to know: there is no tutorial at all to ease us into the game. The controls are listed on the pause screen to provide us a nudge in the right direction, but that’s all. We get no training wheels, no map, no arrow to guide us and no quarter.
What we do get is a steep learning curve, and a mountain of anxiety at the start. A simple tutorial stage would have improved the first hour of the game tremendously. If the developer’s goal was to have us feeling alone and abandoned, then well done to them.
After we settle into the game it’s up to us to explore the area, figure out the objectives, come up with a plan and then execute it. A lot of work is required, especially when we never know if our ideas are the right ones or if we’re wasting our efforts and time.
There isn’t much sneaking in Hello Neighbor, despite the marketing team claiming otherwise. I started the game expecting a covert-stealth based experience, but you should expect the opposite. The most effective way to get around the house is by sprinting – and generally being a fleet-footed ninja.
There are no lives to be lost or continues to collect. Getting caught has no dire consequences; we just return to the start of the stage. Don’t worry though as everything that has been moved or unlocked will remain as is.
Hello Neighbor advertises that the AI is intuitive and will learn our tactics and adapt to them as we play. It’s true to a degree. When I ran the same path through the house many times, the man, who will remain unnamed, would be waiting for me around the corner. I would have to lure him away by breaking windows on the opposite side of the house. Ultimately he will set up traps and motion detectors in our traffic areas. Yes he does learn, but he isn’t smart enough to know that I was going after the hidden key to unlock his secret door!
The story within Hello Neighbor is found in the details. As I had pointed out earlier we’re given nothing at the start. At certain points in the game, and after getting caught many times, we’re treated to cutscenes in the form of playable dream sequences. The mini levels are confusing at first, but do become some of the more interesting parts of the game. These breaks from the main gameplay paint a picture that tell us a story. The paintings are abstract however, and it’s still up to us to determine what they mean. My interpretation will surely differ from yours.
Casual gamers will need to be aware of Hello Neighbor, this is a seriously difficult puzzler－slash－platforming game. If the stranger danger wasn’t there and we were all alone in the house, it would be just as challenging. The Resident Evil style of puzzles will use every IQ point in your possession, and will leave you mentally exhausted as if you had just left a math class. The platforming will leave you, well, trying again and again to make that jump!
But we’re not alone in the house. I would be lost in the puzzle solving and forget about the crazy person stalking me. Suddenly seeing him peering in my direction from a distance would scare the hell out of me. That’s the best way that I can describe the fright found within the game. The jump scares don’t seem to have been intended by the developers, but they are effective. The terror I felt playing is real. The intensity is high. My heart was racing from both fear and excitement. It’s a wild ride.
Hello Neighbor does have its share of problems and the controls are awkward. It shouldn’t be hard to pick up objects and open doors. To accomplish those simple tasks you will have to either tap the appropriate button, or at other times hold the button down briefly. Sometimes I had to frantically hit the button again and again to get our character to do what he was supposed to.
Smashing windows is another regular occurrence in the game that brought about problems. Standing too close to the window would cause any projectile to magically bypass through the glass, leaving it unscathed. We’re left standing there like an idiot who needs something else to throw at the window.
Annoyances such as these can be patched in later updates, but what won’t change is the lack of an on-screen map or radar. If we get lost there’s no way to tell where we are in the house (it does get confusing later in the game), and there’s no telling where the resident psychopath is lurking. He could be right behind us but we won’t know that until it’s too late. An easy mode that enables a map and a checklist of objectives would have made the game significantly more appealing to a larger audience.
The amount of darkness in Hello Neighbor may pose a problem as well. There is no brightness slider in the settings, and there are rooms that are simply nothing more than a black screen. It’s frustrating being stuck in an area for what feels like an hour because the screen is too dark to see an exit. Those situations take the player out of the game’s atmosphere, which happens to be a fun and addicting place.
Despite the issues, Hello Neighbor is a fascinating experience – one of the most interesting and enthralling games out there. How the innocent and cartoon looking graphics contrast with the dark and harrowing subject matter is a work of beauty. Exploring the house will bring out the Indiana Jones in anyone. We never know what we’re going to discover next, as if we’re Alice going deeper into the rabbit hole.
Hello Neighbor is not a game that should be taken lightly, but it is one that will polarize the fans. I’m on the side that enjoyed it, even though at the start it was nothing near enjoyable. You will fancy it too if you can accept that it means well and forgive the game’s flaws. You may even need to give Hello Neighbor a second or third chance, but it will creep up and hook you. Unless you really don’t like puzzle games. Then too bad.