Did you ever watch what’s considered to be Shia LaBeouf’s only good movie, Disturbia? That’s the immediate impression that I got when playing Hello Neighbor, being that the premise of the game is trying to work out exactly what secret your creepy neighbor is hiding in his basement. The game opens up relatively quickly to begin with, you seemingly take on the role of a young boy that appears to have recently moved into the neighbourhood. Situated up the street, you kick your football down the road until you stumble upon a strange noise coming from your neighbors home. It’s hard to see exactly what’s going on but at first glace it would seem as though your neighbor is tying someone up and tossing them into the basement. Doing what any rude prepubescent child would do, the young boy decides to get up close and peer through the window. Before long the neighbor notices you peeping, jumps through the window and grabs you. What follows on is as confusing as it is open-ended.
I say that because from the moment you get grabbed, a small cutscene showcases the neighbor once again locking the basement door, presumably with the boy in there due to the sound of a screaming child. That however is clearly not the case, because immediately following on from this cutscene you’re once again thrown into the role of the young boy and respawn outside your home, right across the street from your neighbor. Did I miss something? It instantly became confusing. So what the game is trying to relay to me from the get-go is that the neighbor captured the young boy for being nosy, and placed him on the other side of the street after locking up someone up in the basement? The setup certainly doesn’t give off a good first impression, made worse by some texture issues during the first cutscene and some odd design bugs that sees you merging with the floor periodically. With that in mind, I pressed on all the same.
Hello Neighbor is a game that boasts an advanced AI, which is a fancy way of saying that your creepy neighbor will constantly learn from your behaviour and make your breaking and entering life a whole lot harder. During Act I, the aim of the game is to make it into your neighbors home and locate a red key to unlock the red padlock on the basement door. On my first run the neighbor was conveniently in bed, so I made my way into his home and began looking around. I opened drawers, cupboards, refrigerators, and found absolutely nothing that would point me in the right direction. Making my way to the bathroom I curiously turned on the tap on the bath, only to turn around and see my neighbor running for me. That short run taught me a number of things. It taught me that there’s no penalty for being captured, you’re just thrown back to the spawning area outside your home. It taught me that my neighbor will investigate doors that I never shut behind me, and it taught me that running a bath is a great distraction technique if I want to grab the attention of my neighbor.
With that in mind it was time to start experimenting, and in doing so I found quite a few design flaws. First and foremost, you can run faster than your neighbor. This is a bit daft because the idea is to crap yourself if he sees you, but instead you can merely run circles around him or gain enough distance until he gives up the chase. Another design flaw is that even if you get captured, you get to keep the items you’ve picked up so far. Yet again another design flaw is that your neighbor will not rearrange his home once he’s captured you. That’s right, if you’ve moved objects and pulled levers to raise platforms, this will all remain in place even after hes successfully caught you. It just doesn’t make any sense. Surely having a neighbor that’s faster than you would be more terrifying? Surely having your items stripped from you once you’ve been captured would make more sense? Surely your secret-keeping neighbor would refortify his home once you’ve been caught rummaging? Clearly not.
In fact once I got the hang of outsmarting this advanced AI, it became amusing to have him running around his home several laps at a time whilst he hurled projectiles at me. I was expecting far more challenging gameplay, instead the neighbor just tends to keep an eye on areas that you’re most active at. This only makes it all the more easier to exploit him, by drawing him into places away from where you need to be. In the end I found the solution to unlocking the basement door to be relatively simplistic, and even managed to pull it off with minimal effort. I took a garbage bag and threw it through a top floor window. I took a second bag and threw it through another top floor window where the red key was situated. I then picked up a metal bin and stacked it on top of a bookshelf that was sat outside the neighbors front door, which allowed me to access the roof. Then I seamlessly entered the first broken window, flipped a lever that raised a platform outside of the second broken window, made my way back to the roof and jumped on said platform. Then from here I grabbed the key, ran through the neighbors front door and accessed the basement. I managed to do all of this whilst being “chased”, if you could put it that way.
Surely the basement would be tougher than that? Thankfully it was. You see the basement is much more complex than the Act I house, simply due to your only goal being that fabled red key. It’s much harder to navigate the basement, not only because it’s dark but because it’s more like a labyrinth than anything else and there’s less items to pick up and use. Speaking of, Hello Neighbor doesn’t do a magnificent job at relaying the controls to you. Upon pausing the game you’re given three control commands that are mandatory for progression. You pick up items with RB, drop items with RT, and throw items by holding RT. Granted this very pause menu tells you that, but it doesn’t explain how they impact the elements of the game. It’s all a case of trial and error, which can often become more frustrating than actually fun. Despite the shortcomings outlined so far, I must admit that I rather enjoyed Hello Neighbor, along with the constant drive to suss out what secrets the creepy bastard was hiding.
The game really takes it up a notch when you make it out of the basement at the beginning of Act II, only to find that your neighbor is obsessed with keeping you prisoner. When you emerge from back end of his home you’ll witness a host of property changes. There’s now a ten foot fence that surrounds the entire home, new structures built on the house, barb wire covering up any means of escape. This is when Hello Neighbor actually becomes challenging, and as a result, far less frustrating and much more entertaining. There’s a Tim Burton sort of vibe going on in the later stages of play and by that I mean nothing tends to make logical sense, a roller-coaster pops up out of nowhere and bizarre mechanics present themselves as equally as such. It all fits in with the silliness of the game in the long run, and that comparison to Burton is by no means a criticism. With that to the side this game is certainly going to baffle any who hasn’t been following its fanbase on YouTube. There’s a lack of direction or general insight as to what you’re expected to do once you make it to the basement, which may deter curious gamers.
If on the other hand you persevere and make it through the confused intro (aka Act I) there’s a lot to pull from this game that should satisfy those that can forgive the faults. Hello Neighbor comes packed with a lot of puzzles that grow in complexity as you dive deeper in. You never truly know what to expect as the complexity spikes and there’s a lot to figure out at the same time. I think the game is at its most tense when you’re in close quarters and the option to run across the street to evade the neighbor is removed, but it still lacks an overall structure that would have been beneficial for the overall experience. It’s certainly satisfying to run this through multiple times, simply because there’s more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. Hopefully the developers can address the long loading times too, as well as the texture issues during cutscenes. Visually Hello Neighbor doesn’t break any current-gen barriers, but the presentation is passable nevertheless.
Hello Neighbor is a confused game that doesn’t do much to entice those that are new to the experience. There’s a lack of structure in both the story and the gameplay. This alone makes much of the pace rely heavily on trial and error, and although there’s a wide variety of different puzzles to work out, the delivery of each of them can be mind boggling if you miss out on a single detail. Bugs that has the floor swallowing you in certain places most definitely hurts the fun-factor and when you group this with excessive loading times and texture issues, it makes one wonder why this wasn’t picked up on during QA. If however you can overlook these faults and make it past Act I, the game does indeed open up into a much more tense stealth adventure. It’s here when the gameplay really cranks it up and has you working for your endgame reach. It’s fair to say that Hello Neighbor is ambitious, perhaps too ambitious, but there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had regardless. Those that have been watching the development will no doubt have a blast, but for newcomers such as myself, it’s hard to fully stick two thumbs up and recommend this as a well rounded package.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.