Release Date: July 27th 2018
Price as of Article: £35.99 GBP $39.99 USD
Game code provided by tinyBuild for review
Hello Neighbor has been somewhat of a hyped indie game especially with its initial PC release late last year. Mixing stealth and horror with an almost cartoon-y art style, it definitely struck a chord with a certain set of gamers, almost to a smaller extent of what Five Nights at Freddie’s did. I mean, if the iPhone version has had over 1 million pre-orders, then there must be some hype surrounding it.
The story of Hello Neighbor is fairly simple. It begins with a young kid playing with his ball witnessing a suspected kidnapping or murder in the home of the titular Neighbor. Eager to find out just what on Earth is going on, he decides to investigate by sneaking into The Neighbor’s home to find evidence. Over the course of each act, time passes by and by the third act the child is now an adult, still suffering the trauma of what he witnessed.
The story tries to tell it in a fairly dramatic way with the time shifts and showing how this experience has effected the main character and how it still haunts him to this day. I would say it’s a little vague at times, trying to be surreal and up to the player’s interpretation; is it a dream? Is some of it a dream? I don’t think it needed to be that vague. Still, it’s an interesting effort and I was always wanting to see what would happen next.
The game is split up into Acts of increasing scope. It begins fairly simply as The Neighbor lives in a small airy house, but over the course of the game it builds into something huge, almost like a theme park attraction to ridiculous and fantastical levels. Each act is kind of it’s own giant puzzle, you’re not really instructed on the goals until you charge in yourself and find out what sort of things need to be done. You’ll find lots of locked doors that need keys, electrical switches, valves and the sort, it sounds simple but it’s actually fairly obtuse stuff. You could be wandering around for ages looking for what you need to do.
I’m not going to lie, this is a game you’re probably going to need a guide for because the solutions are borderline nonsensical. I get what they were trying to do but from a design point of view nothing makes sense for the player. There are no “A-ha!” moments of realisation when figuring something out, it’s far too random for that. I used a guide and I’m not ashamed of saying that because I would still be stuck on the 2nd act, wandering around the compound going crazy. It’s good for games to test your brain once in a while but Hello Neighbor just tests your patience more than anything.
The AI of The Neighbor is supposed to learn from you, adjusting his tactics to your actions. If he spots you going through one place, the next time you try to go there you may find it guarded by a security camera or bear trap. Again, it just seems fairly random and limited. It’s far less dynamic than you would be lead to believe. Indeed, if you don’t like this aspect you can switch it off in the menus.
Inventory items are kept to the four D-pad inputs, therefore you’re only allowed to pick up 4 items at a time. There’s no weight management or anything like that which seems a little silly that you can’t carry 5 key but you have no problem popping 4 heavy duty tools in your pockets. That’s not a complaint by the way, it’s a gaming mechanic, I just find it kind of funny. Items play a huge part in the game, not just in the form of keys or tools, but every household object can be picked up and thrown. This can be to defend yourself from the charging neighbor or to smash windows you want to climb through.
The controls are very iffy. Without talking about the slippy, slide-y nature of the movement, just trying to get your tiny dot crosshair over the items can be a pain and the seemingly interchangeable use and pick up buttons often leave you flailing and performing the wrong action. Everything just feels unwieldy.
As a horror game, it begs the question: Is it scary? In all honesty, no. Maybe the initial chase will get you bouncing in your chair but once you realise how robotic The Neighbor is, the scariness instantly goes away. When you watch from a distance as he walks between two spots doing the same action, when he instantly sees you even if you’re hiding, the lack of any sort if varied behaviour make him a very computer-like stalker. Plus the fact that getting caught leaves very little consequence as you just end up back at the beginning with all your items and everything previously done, like opening doors and such, still done. Except broken windows. For some reason they fix those.
Visuals & Performance
Visually they’ve gone for an exaggerated cartoon style, like something from a twisted Pixar movie. It’s certainly taken a massive hit from the PC version and is more in like with the mobile version from what I can tell. It’s honestly very poor looking in my opinion with flat textures, no lighting or shadows, it’s just very bland and jaggy. The PC version isn’t exactly a looker, and if Panic Button can get Doom and Wolfenstein 2 running so beautifully on the Switch, I don’t see why Hello Neighbor couldn’t. It’s bright and plastic-y looking. The lack of dark menacing shadows takes a lot of potential creepiness away which is a shame.
Now the original PC version was packed with bugs, performance issues and an unforgivable lack of polish. In my time with the Nintendo Switch version I did notice a few instances of glitchy gameplay. Sometimes I’d end up flying in one direction across the screen for no apparent reason. Items would glitch through walls and don’t get me started on the item to item collisions. It did run fairly smoothly though in both docked and handheld. I didn’t notice any particularly bad frame drops, which is a small bonus.
The audio is decent if a little out of the way, in fact I barely noticed it. There’s a lot of silence to take in while exploring the time lines of The Neighbor’s home but you’ll often get the tension music when he sees you. It’s alright but it didn’t ramp up the atmosphere like it should. It was a little on the weak side and not very noticeable.
For value, well Hello Neighbor is coming in at a heavy $39.99 and £35.99. Now that is an ambitious price and it’s not a particularly long game, probably less than 10 hours, depending on how much you get stuck. Obviously there are games that are shorter with a higher price like Kirby Star Allies but Hello Neighbor also lacks the budget of bigger titles. You can tell it’s an indie game at heart with one key concept that it holds on to for dear life. I admire the publisher for believing it is worthy of the price but if I had paid for this myself I would definitely have been disappointed with the quality of it all. It’s not worth it all day long. A more grounded price of £15 could have swayed me to saying it’s decent value but it doesn’t have the polish or quality for the high price.
Great gameplay concept
Glitchy and lacking polish
Poor gameplay realisation