Hello Neighbor (2017)
Developer: Dynamic Pixels
I write these reviews as a hobby, not a job, and therefore I have the advantage of being able to choose all of the games I play and review. That's why all of the games on my list have ranged from somewhat liked to loved, since I've been lucky to pick games that I do end up enjoying - until now. Hello Neighbor is a game that was on my radar for a while: I was drawn to the art style and the fact that it actually had a physical release and a higher price point than most indies, which to me meant that it must be a very successful indie game. Hello Neighbor is a first-person stealth game where you play as a kid trying to sneak past your scary neighbor to figure out what devious acts he's up to.
You start out the game as a kid just walking around their neighborhood, kicking a ball around, able to explore around all the similar-looking houses. Now, I think what happens next is when you walk by your neighbor (house across the street from yours) and you hear loud screaming and banging sounds. You look in your neighbor's window and you see him apparently wrangling someone down and then locking them in a room. The neighbor spots you looking, and so begins the first time he runs at you and catches you. Now, the reason I say "I think" is because I did the very beginning part differently. I was exploring behind the house nearest me (not the neighbor's house) and I saw a circle that said "UnrealEngine MissingScript". My first response, of course, was to think this was some insane overlooked bug. I realized it couldn't be, though, and once I looked it up I realized it was considered a purposeful "easter egg". As I approached it, it suddenly teleported me into the scene I just described where you watch the cutscene of the neighbor.
Now, going in to Hello Neighbor, I knew I might have a little bit of a hard time with this game because, as friendly as it looks, it could still be considered a horror game. You're just a kid, with no weapons, and you can be chased and caught by a large man. I'd probably describe it as "kid-friendly horror". Initially, yes, the first couple times the neighbor would spot me and the high-stress music would begin playing, I felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. Also, it seemed like no matter where I was, the neighbor would suddenly be super close to me in an unreasonably quick moment. It took a couple minutes of me watching my partner play (and figure out you can run) for me to jump back in and feel okay with that part. When you realize you can actually outrun the neighbor, it's not so scary. However, this takes me to one of my biggest issues with the game. No part of the game taught me how to run, grab, throw, use, or really any other mechanic. There wasn't any sort of tutorial, and since I got teleported to the cutscene before I was ready, I didn't get to try experiment with the controls much. There's some sort of image that's supposed to be showing the grabbing and throwing mechanic when you press start, but to be honest, it wasn't very clear from those drawings.
I should mention I played Hello Neighbor on Nintendo Switch. I can't speak for the PC version, but on Switch, it's actually really difficult to point at things correctly to interact with them. I've played first-person games involving a cursor on the Switch before, such as Gone Home, and it was always fine, albeit a little less wieldy than it would be on PC. This game requires you to click on items with high precision, and won't work if you're even a few pixels off. I spent a long time trying to pick up certain items, which is really stressful when you know the neighbor is nearby and coming for you soon.
Once I got the controls down for good and realized I needed to be very careful about how I click on items, I thought I was ready to move forward through the game just fine. However, after running around the house several times, attempting to climb up the stairs, and switching off with my partner to let him try, we still couldn't figure out how to get upstairs and find the key. Now, I'm okay with a game being difficult and having puzzles that take a long time to solve - actually, I usually love that. However, every obstacle I came upon in Hello Neighbor felt deeply unintuitive. For example, somehow knowing that a tiny window on the back of the house, out of your reach, was the window to a room that contained a lock-pick you needed. You can't see into it at any point, and yet you're supposed to somehow figure that you should use magnet near this window, after climbing some boxes, and get that metal lock-pick. Maybe it's a good fit for some people, but I don't enjoy games where I have to constantly be looking up the next step online because the game doesn't give you any direction towards it.
Before this review sounds fully negative, I should mention that Hello Neighbor as a game concept is very creative. They created a game that would be just the right amount of cool and scary, but still safe enough for kids to play. Throwing items at the neighbor's house, too, is a great mechanic. What I enjoyed most about this game is when I figured the Neighbor couldn't cross the street to get you, so I picked up items from my house and threw them at him and at his windows from the street, including a trash can. I also think the art style is new and very different - it still looks realistic enough to feel like real world, yet it's colorful and somewhat distorted like something out of a cartoon. It also contains references to easter eggs that refer to YouTubers, apparently? Maybe I'm the wrong age demographic for this game, I'm sure a lot of these influencers are popular among the generation below mine, and would be fun for them to find in-game.
Sorry to say, I don't recommend Hello Neighbor for most people. I say this with a grain of salt, since I only put two hours into this game before I decided it wasn't for me. If you really love games where you stealth around, getting chased and caught frequently, you understand the weird easter eggs, and are willing to spend hours on hours on puzzles that don't really make much sense (perhaps by having a guide by your side), then maybe this is a good fit for you. If you play it, though,do it on PC! I definitely think playing the game without a mouse makes it unnecessarily frustrating. It's a great idea of a game that just didn't carry through in the execution, at least not for me, but maybe it did for a specific group or people or a younger audience (apparently there's even Funko POP! figurines for Hello Neighbor).
Hello Neighbor is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Google Play Store, and App Store.
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Last Played: 5/29/19
Playtime: 2 hrs