Hello Neighbor, developed by Dynamic Pixels, has a rather intriguing premise. You witness your neighbor seemingly locking someone in his basement and, like any curious youth might, decide it would be a grand idea to sneak in and investigate. But, what begins as a decidedly simple cat and mouse escapade quickly devolves into a major test of patience and endurance.
There are a few things that Hello Neighbor gets right. The look and feel of the game accomplishes a fine amalgamation of the cartoony and sinister. Even though I was able to quickly get past fears of getting caught (more on that later), the basement sections, in particular, felt appropriately eerie. The bizarre nature of the world itself from the odd puzzles to your neighbor’s increasingly labyrinthine homestead adds to the underlying feeling that something is terribly off about this whole thing.
Also, despite the bright colours and Pixar feel, Hello Neighbor tells a decidedly dark story. The strange nightmare sequences that intermittently crop up, the unnerving atmosphere, and the outlandish, sometimes even supernatural, elements make up a poignant story aptly told through inference and artistic representation. That is not to say that every little thing will make complete sense in the end, but Hello Neighbor is an interesting foray into the human psyche. It is all the more unfortunate, then, that this foray comes with such a high level of frustration and lack of polish when it comes to gameplay that many will find the journey too much of a burden to complete.
The game takes place in three acts, with the player beginning as a young kid and ending with you as an adult. The first act is fairly straightforward. You need to find the key to the basement without the neighbor catching you. It is during this period that you can say goodbye to any tension the neighbor snatching you up might have initially caused – the reason is because it will happen so often. Fortunately for you, even when you do get caught, the game does little more than set you back across the street with all the items you were carrying still in your possession. Since the house is so small at this stage, it will only take you a few moments to get back where you were, so gathering the nerve to simply charge right back over the fence won’t be the source of anxiety it arguably should be for a horror title.
Unfortunately, the AI is rather spotty. So, sometimes your neighbor will hound you like a dog, and other times you will wonder what is taking him so long and why he is repeatedly wondering about a room you almost never go in. In the case of the latter, just be glad you got lucky. In case he starts hounding you, get caught a few times in an area away from where you need to be and he will eventually start looking for you there.
In the later acts, particularly act 3, you can go for long spans of time without running into your neighbor due to the colossal size of his increasingly fort-like home. But, you will have new frustrations in the form of puzzles that, for lack of a better term, just make absolutely no sense. Well, that is not entirely true. Some make sense. But, all too often you will find yourself wondering where to go and what to do.
The main issue with many of the puzzles in Hello Neighbor is that the game does a poor job of implementing a consistent logic. There are times when I made something happen and had no idea what I did or how I did it. Often, it is a game of trial and error. Worse still, the game will sometimes require you to grab items from far corners of the expansive labyrinth without making it clear not only what items you need, but where these items are located. It is like playing a guessing game where you aren’t given any parameters concerning what exactly you are attempting to guess. I eventually had to crack open a walkthrough in order to continue with the game for review, and also to save my sanity.
There is no doubt that Hello Neighbor has found an audience, particularly with streamers who have the patience to plough through the game for views. But, ultimately, there are likely few people who can make it through without seeking outside assistance. Hello Neighbor seems to be designed to be played in a community rather than by oneself. This is not necessarily a negative thing. I see no problem with designing a game that is meant to be solved through communal trial and error. However, that does not make it a particularly well-designed game. If you want a puzzle game that you can solve by yourself without the need for a walkthrough or an unnecessary time investment, Hello Neighbor is not the game for you.
The other issue is the game still lacks polish even after going through several Alpha and Beta stages. During my playthrough, the game crashed on me multiple times. Items and your neighbor can get stuck in walls and doorways. I had a platform I was standing on phase through me somehow, requiring me to stand in a certain corner, cross my fingers, and just hope it would work until it finally did.
Last but not least, the game’s physics could use a bit of a touchup. Stacking boxes in order to climb into otherwise unreachable areas becomes a precarious venture as one misstep and the whole thing goes crashing down. They can be used to break windows, but somehow do not weigh enough to stay put without a delicate and practiced hand.
Despite all the negative aspects, I can see why some people enjoy Hello Neighbor. It plays on our more fantastical curiosities about what sort of sinister deeds our otherwise seemingly mundane neighbors might be hiding behind locked doors. Everyone loves a good mystery, and some people are willing to put in the hours and work needed to solve it, even if that means a great deal of frustration along the way. For them, the difficulty the puzzles offer due to the lack of consistent logic only makes the reward of solving them that much greater.
For me, however, the reward was not worth the traipsing about without a clear goal, and often without any direction. Along with the lack of polish, Hello Neighbor might best be greeted with a passing curiosity, but ultimately a mystery that is left unsolved.