Hello Neighbour is a game I have been eagerly awaiting for the past few months. The developer tinyBuild describes it as a “Stealth Horror” game, as you try and infiltrate the house of the titular Neighbour. The uniqueness of the game is that the neighbour has an advanced AI, so will learn from your actions, and plan his defences accordingly. Just what secrets does your neighbour have?
I have been looking forward to Hello Neighbour for most of the second half of 2017, as it was previously planned for a September release before it was pushed back to December. From all the previews and Let’s Play’s that I have witnessed, it was very appealing to me to break into a dodgy neighbours house to see what his secrets are. It is a very basic human trait to be nosy and curious, especially around the macabre. And Hello Neighbours opening scene, where you witness a possible murder, certainly makes you want to find out more.
The game starts with you trying to break into the house, with the neighbour patrolling. If he sees you then he will chase and catch you and you restart back on the road. There are distractions you can use, such as turning off the power to the house, to lure him into areas away from your intended location, and within the house there are cupboards you can hide in to prevent your capture. Objects can be picked up using the RB button, and thrown with RT, in order to break windows to gain entry. The AI is extremely clever (although almost too clever) as if he catches you in certain areas then he will place bear traps or cameras to catch you on the next time you try that route. Hello Neighbour’s opening level is a puzzle game where entry into a certain area of the house will give you the item needed to unlock the next area – thankfully – it’s reasonably intuitive.
The horror aspect of the game is heightened with the amazing use of sound design when the neighbour is close by or is chasing you. This audio is inspired heavily by the great horror films, and instills a feeling of terror as you are hiding and running. It is also visually terrifying when you are captured, although this shock wears off as you are caught by the neighbour for the 100th time. And you will get caught a lot. The aforementioned AI is almost too good. I was caught in a entrance to a particular area a number of times, which resulted in a camera going up. I destroyed the camera with a well aimed box throw and when it was discovered two cameras went up and the area soon became impossible to pass. It actually resulted in me having to restart the level, which I am sure was not the required action. There is an option to put the neighbour into a more friendly mode, which will limit the trap setting – I’ve no problem admitting that I did use this feature later on in the game.
There are three levels (acts) to Hello Neighbour, with the first two following the same premise. Act two changing the goal from breaking in to the house, and there is much fun and intrigue to be had in exploring the house and trying to fathom out just what the neighbour is up to, especially when you find a swimming pool with a robotic shark in the attic! Apart from the challenging neighbour, your progress is held up by a janky control system. Picking items up is hit and miss as to whether it will work – I found it worked better when RB was pressed in conjunction with a directional move. Sometimes a thrown item just dropped to the floor in front of me and sometimes it sailed miles away. The character movement was also iffy, with an unwanted sideways movement happening when trying to jump through a window.
One of the biggest problems I found in act two of Hello Neighbour was the puzzle required in order to complete the level. It required a jump so difficult to pull off that you just wouldn’t naturally think of doing it. I was struggling so much that I resorted to watching solutions on YouTube. If you didn’t know this jump was needed you wouldn’t even try to complete it. Even with the solution it took me twenty minutes to actually get it right. The aforementioned swimming pool had no purpose which was a real shame. And then Act Three happens.
Up to this point your character is a young boy, but Act three starts with your character returning to the street as an adult. In a strange turn of events the Neighbour’s house has turned into a sprawling concoction of buildings, joined together with roller-coaster tracks with a windmill on the roof. The gameplay remains the same, with you needing to get into the house to find out it’s secrets. But at this point it seems that the game loses all logic and sanity. There doesn’t seem to be any structure to the level and how to complete it. At one point a door takes you to a supermarket mini-game, where you have to stealthily push a trolley along a train track without being spotted by mannequins. And at that point I am just thinking Why?
Hello Neighbour suffers from a complete lack of direction all the way through. A few hints here and there would not detract from the game, for example, to explain why I couldn’t pick up a specific item which I later (through Google) found out was because it was too hot.
The game has a great premise, but completely fails to deliver on the gameplay and story on how to get to an ending. I will attempt to continue Act Three so I can find out what happens, but I am so bored and frustrated with the gameplay that it just feels like a chore to do so. The achievements are also really strange with none at all for the first two acts, and then they are all crammed into act three.
Ultimately, Hello Neighbour feels unfinished and rushed, and it still contains bugs where it is possible to fall through the map, meaning a game restart is needed. Hello Neighbour was also the first game since Turok on the Nintendo 64 that gave me motion sickness, which although will be limited to a small amount of its player base, certainly added to my disappointment and unwillingness to continue playing.