Hello Neighbor: review

  • Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: tinyBuild
  • Developer: tinyBuild
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.helloneighborgame.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

Hello Neighbor is a very interesting case study of the benefits – and drawbacks – of the Early Access model pioneered by Steam. The first publicly available Alpha was released in 2015, with this final release making its way into the big bad world at the end of 2017. PC players who got in early saw some huge changes along the way, with literally years to learn about and get used to the lore and the game mechanics which remained consistent. It seems user feedback played an important part in development. However, anybody beginning with the final version (such as all Xbox One players) will be left feeling rather lost.

It’s a first-person game where you play as a boy of indeterminate age, who’s spotted his neighbour (well, guy who lives across the road) perhaps killing somebody in his house? The basic idea is that you need to break into his place, and find out what the decidedly suspicious chap is hiding. Despite the somewhat grisly premise (and hints of dark goings-on to be found), it’s proven enormously popular with kid-friendly YouTubers; at least in part due to the idosyncratic, cartoony visuals.

It’s supposed to be creepy and, initially, it is. Sneaking around the neighbour’s house, trying to find what to do and where to go next, starts off being quite tense. The screen shakes slightly, and dramatic music plays, when he’s nearby. If you can quickly dive into a wardrobe or under a bed before he rounds the corner, you just might avoid detection, able to carry on your breaking and entering in peace.

As soon as you realise that the penalty for getting caught is reasonably slim, the tension quickly evaporates. You’ll be sent back to a spawn point (at first, this is your house). However, you get to keep any items you were carrying, and any switches you’ve pressed or shortcuts you’ve opened up within the house will usually remain as you left them. That said, the neighbour’s AI will adapt to any entrances to the house (or, sometimes, routes through it) that it finds. The more you get caught, the more measures are taken. Things escalate from broken windows being fixed to bear traps being laid, CCTV cameras being installed, and doorways being blocked. It’s at this point that frustration begins to set in.

The more your movement is restricted, the higher the chance of being caught. The neighbour is ridiculously fast (it’s impossible to outrun him for long), and on at least one occasion we know darn well that he teleported from one side of the house to another just because we were caught on camera. This kind of thing wouldn’t be half the problem it is were it not for the fact that puzzle solutions can be ridiculously obtuse and, despite all that Early Access time, glitches remain. We’ve even encountered the game confusing save game progress across two different profiles, and only half-saving a new act’s checkpoint correctly.

The game is split into three acts. The first is where the game is at its best. The novelty of being able to pick up almost anything (within reason) and throw it around is yet to wear off, and the urge to ask yourself “I wonder if I can…” sometimes produces great results (including in ways the developer probably didn’t intend). Progress is slow for those going in blind, but you should – eventually – be able to work it all out for yourself.

The second act is where things start to go very, very wrong (and not just because it can be completed quite literally within two minutes with the right exploit). The neighbour’s effectiveness at locating you skyrockets to the point where, if you’re unlucky, you could find yourself inching forward with painful slowness as he finds you every few minutes (or even more regularly). The bizarre overarching puzzle, spread throughout the house and almost entirely hint-free as it is, will defeat all but the most relentlessly stubborn of players. It’s at this point it becomes clear that, without searching through wikis and forums and watching YouTube videos, trying to progress through the game has become a car crash of frustration with very little enjoyment to be had.

The third and final act, where the neighbour’s house has been expanded in surreal and preposterous ways, sees the game itself out-and-out become your enemy. Dragging yourself through the bog of poor design to the ending requires a very specific and mostly illogical sequence of events, and the chances of you working out what they are on your own – before you become infuriated and/or bored, at least – are practically nil. The house is too big, the solutions too obscured.

The core ideas of stealth, exploration, and puzzle solving are sound. The fact that progress is unreasonably difficult without prior knowledge is, however, not acceptable. It’s a real shame; the house is a treasure trove of environmental storytelling, with lots of little details to make you do a double take and wonder at precisely what it means. If you’re willing to watch other people play through the game before doing so yourself, then you might get more enjoyment than most from playing through to the end. Otherwise, this is an undercooked game that could’ve done with at least another six months in Early Access.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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