One would imagine that if you backtrack before the release of Hello Neighbor by Dynamic Pixels, before coding and artwork, before storyboards and script writing, someone, somewhere had a great idea for an amazing game.
Hello Neighbor [Switch] – Great Idea, Little Satisfaction
They wrote pages and pages of scribbled notes on a napkin sitting at a diner booth in the late hours of the night, drinking coffee and eating a cold plate of fries. This budding game designer would feverishly jot down ideas for a wild new concept that would revolutionize a genre. As their fries got colder and the napkin count rose, a fully fleshed out world would start to take shape.
I am sure whatever was written on those grease-stained napkins was pure genius, but that genius never made it past the face towelette stage. Hello Neighbor, a self-professed “Stealth Survival Horror” game, might have sounded like a spectacular idea at the start, but what we got will more likely make you weep then shake in your boots.
The main objective is to sneak into your shady neighbor’s house and find a way to break into the basement to discover his dirty secret(s). You have the option of going through open bedroom windows, the front door, via the roof, and more. Be careful though, if the evil neighbor catches you, he’ll throw you out on the street. If he sees you lurking outside, he’ll jump through the closed window to boot you onto the curb. Magically, the window gets fixed in an instant.
Sounds easy enough, but as you find different ways of infiltrating, the Neighbor finds new ways of stopping you. The A.I. in the game is meant to counter your every move. Where once the front door was open and clear, now there will be cameras watching. Certain windows will have bear traps to stop you, or the Neighbor will find new shortcuts to get to you before you complete your mission.
If you manage to make it in the house, you can hide in cabinets and under tables as your enemy searches frantically to no avail. The house itself grows with new rooms and ways of getting lost, which I found to be pretty neat.
It should all be fun and innovative, but instead, feels clunky, buggy, and frustrating. For instance, you can stack boxes to reach a window, but the physics engine seems to be off. The boxes are infuriatingly easy to knock over before ever getting anything done. It reminds me of a late ’90s virtual reality game that you think is going to be really awesome but ends up disappointing your childhood.
The colour pallet looks as if Thomas the Tank Engine had a baby with Marge Simpson, and then gave it up for adoption to Gumby. It’s not that I hate the way everything looks, it’s just that it has this uncomfortableness about it.
There was one thing I did like about the game, and that’s a rather interesting auditory experience. If you listen carefully, you can hear the Neighbor’s footsteps as he walks inside and outside of the house (and it’s easy to differentiate between the two).
You can hear him as he is using the kitchen or bathroom sink, snoring in the living room, or grumbling to himself. The Neighbor will even turn on a record player or a broken TV, which you can then turn off by sneaking in through a window. Eliminating the extraneous noise allows the player to hear better and locate where the Neighbor might be at a given time. Out of all the things the developers were going for, I really enjoyed this one specific play mechanic the best. It isn’t perfect, but it’s fun.
Truth be told, I never made it too far into unlocking the mystery of it all, but that’s mostly because I stopped caring. I know this review sounds harsh, but that’s probably because I feel the concept is actually really cool, just poorly executed.
I Love the idea of an A.I. that learns and makes things harder minute by minute. I love the idea of using your senses to avoid the enemy and solve the puzzle. I am a huge fan of using your surroundings to aid in the quest. I just wish it all came together better.
If the creators of this game had pulled off the experience they had envisioned, I truly believe Hello Neighbor would have been exceptionally innovative and a huge breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, what we have instead, is a breakdown between concept and reality.
There might be something really awesome to discover in that house, but like my dog when we’re playing tug, I got bored quickly and walked away.