Hello Neighbor Review – A Break and Enter Adventure That Ought to be Condemned
Hello NeighborDecember 8th, 2017
What if you could play through Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window or Shia LaBeouf’s slightly-less-classic Disturbia? That’s essentially the premise of Hello Neighbor, which asks you to uncover what your creepy neighbor is doing behind closed doors.
Like its sketchy antagonist, Hello Neighbor has been quietly lurking around for a while now -- even if you don’t follow the indie scene, you’ve likely heard of the game. Hello Neighbor’s 2015 Kickstarter campaign fell well short of its goal, but developer Dynamic Pixels wasn’t deterred. Over the past two years, they’ve released several Alpha and Beta builds, attracting a handful of enthusiastic YouTube boosters, who have helped capture the game a small, yet dedicated fanbase. But is Hello Neighbor hiding something beneath its appealing facade? Time to expose this game to the light…
Note: Our original review of Hello Neighbor was based on a pre-release build of the game. The review has been updated to reflect changes in the final release version of the game.
Hello Neighbor is split into three acts, set over the span of several years. In Act 1 you play as a kid who seemingly witnesses a creepy mustachioed neighbor locking somebody in his basement. In Act 2, it’s you who has to escape from the basement. In Act 3, the player character, now an adult, returns to again face off against his nightmare neighbor, who has renovated his place into a ramshackle fortress. Who is your sinister neighbor? What’s he hiding in his basement? How did he get the building permits for that monstrosity of a house? The game hints at your neighbor’s story and your connection to him, but don’t get your hopes up for a clear-cut or particularly satisfying narrative. A lot of pieces don’t fit.
Your goal in Hello Neighbor is to infiltrate the house across the street and find a way into the basement, except in Act 2, where you start in the basement and attempt to escape the property. Your neighbor patrols the premises, but, luckily, there’s no real consequence for being caught. You just start back at your house or at the cellar doors at a different time of day, and can get right back to the breaking and entering. Your neighbor is even kind enough to let you keep the inventory of stuff you just stole from him.
The makers of Hello Neighbor flaunt their game’s “Advanced AI,” but I can’t say I was terribly impressed. Aside from hanging around the general area where he last nabbed you, your neighbor doesn’t adapt in any meaningful way and is easy to game. Want him to stay away from a certain room? Just let him catch you a time or two in, say, the kitchen, and he’ll blindly focus on that spot as you loudly trash the rest of his house. In most cases, he doesn’t even fix the damage you’ve done. If you moved a chair that was barring a door, it won’t be replaced after you’re caught. This gives game a bit of a Dark Souls vibe, as you gradually open up the house even as you fail repeatedly, but it doesn’t speak well for your neighbor’s intelligence. You’re not going to see this guy on Jeopardy any time soon.
Even if Hello Neighbor’s AI was as clever as advertised, there’d still be no point in trying to outsmart it. Again, there’s no punishment for being captured, and no version of your neighbor’s house is that big. You can typically get back to wherever you last were in seconds, or, at most, a couple of minutes. Your neighbor also tends to lose track of you once you venture into the house’s upper floors, leaving you to your own devices for long stretches.
Only one section of Hello Neighbor really forces you to deal with the game’s supposedly-brilliant AI, and it’s a complete ordeal. The end of Act 1 plunges you into a series of narrow, mostly-linear underground corridors that the neighbor AI clearly wasn’t designed for. If he decides to stake out a choke point you need to get through, you’re pretty much screwed. You just have to hope he has a brain fart and decides to stare at a wall while you stroll right past him, which is how I finally got to Act 2. Your neighbor is either a sucker or, in this one case, an omnipresent pain in the ass – there’s no middle ground.
Thankfully, your neighbor’s living space is more interesting than he is. The house owes a major debt to old-school adventure games, particularly Maniac Mansion, as its various forms are packed with quirky, surreal touches. Amenities include a roller coaster, a water-filled room patrolled by a robo shark, and doors placed in all sorts of illogical places. You’ll also uncover plenty of cryptic hints about what might be going on in the house.
But the Maniac Mansion comparisons only go so far. That classic had tightly designed puzzles, which followed a certain recognizable logic, while Hello Neighbor leans heavily on random trial and error. For example, at one point the game requires you to throw an object at a specific small painting in order to open a secret passage. There are probably at least a hundred paintings scattered around the house, and the game provides only the vaguest possible hint that this particular painting is special. When puzzles aren’t baffling, they’re just plain annoying. The game has a penchant for forcing players to build wobbly towers of cardboard boxes to reach high spots, and Act 2’s elaborate water pipe puzzle is finicky torture.
Hello Neighbor has been designed to spark online discussion. To get players trading secrets, puzzle solutions, and guesses about the game’s lore. Some people enjoy that kind of thing, and it’s somewhat expected during the Alpha/Beta phase, but the average person who just wants to play a game without consulting messageboards and FAQs will be frustrated.
Unfortunately, Hello Neighbor saves the worst for last. I won’t spoil story specifics, but potential players should be aware that the game culminates in not one, but two, multi-stage boss battles, which are among the most infuriating I’ve ever encountered. Both feel like they’ve been imported from a completely different game and do a terrible job of communicating what you’re supposed to do. I can barely express how awful Hello Neighbor’s endgame is, and I have a decade of experience in explaining why video games suck.
Hello Neighbor’s frustration factor is magnified by its general lack of polish. This is an ugly game, to the point it effects gameplay. More than once I overlooked key items, because I wasn’t even sure what they were supposed to be. Controls are a mess, with basic stuff like picking up items, opening doors, and trying to jump through windows being a pain. Oh, and, of course, the whole thing is riddled with glitches – I fell through the floor and got trapped in walls multiple times. At least the glitches also effect your neighbor. I owe a lot of my progress to the time he got helplessly stuck in a doorway for half an hour.
There isn’t much to Hello Neighbor. You could race through the game in around 40 minutes, although I spent about seven hours stumbling around before reaching the end. Once you’ve finished the game, you could go back to ferret out all its secrets or perfect your run, but I doubt most will have the patience. Given Hello Neighbor’s limited scope, its $30 asking price feels like a serious case of inflated property value.
This review was based on a PC copy of Hello Neighbor provided by publisher tinyBuild. You cay purchase the game for Xbox One on Microsoft's Store.
I honestly didn’t hate Hello Neighbor, but an interesting setup and good intentions don’t make up for sloppy design, unwieldy controls, AI that isn’t as smart as advertised, and myriad of other issues. A very specific type of player who loves finding secrets or screaming on Twitch streams may be able to overlook Hello Neighbor’s problems, but most will want to bury the game in the backyard.
- A promising-enough premise
- Your neighbor’s house is charmingly wacky
- “Advanced AI” is easy to outwit
- Clunky, poorly-explained controls
- Annoyingly arbitrary puzzle design
- Out-of-place boss battles
- Overrun with glitches
- Ugly as sin