Growing up it’s likely that you had that neighbor. The one who’s lawn you prayed the ball never landed on, whose lights were never turned on, and who’s doorbell you never rang for trick-or-treating. The house the kids all told stories of and you could swear you heard yelling from in the middle of the night. Hello Neighbor takes those childhood fears and attempts to re-create them, pitting you against the eponymous neighbor as you explore his house and figure out what lurks inside. Is this a doorstep worth darkening, or a welcome package best left undelivered?
The game is fairly straightforward when it comes to your objective: there are weird things happening at your neighbor’s house and it’s up to you to sneak in and find out what. Theoretically how you do this is up to you as you scramble around the house solving puzzles and collecting keys or turning switches to progress. While you’re trying to do this, you’re constantly being hunted by the neighbor and should he catch you-you’ll be tossed on the street and some of your progress will be undone.
One of the more clever aspects of the game is how it reacts to your attempts to enter the various areas of the house. Break his windows over and over and the neighbor boards them up. Sneak through the front door and he’ll install an alarm system. Run through doors and he’ll lay down bear traps to catch you. It’s a neat little way of reacting to your actions and it makes it feel as though the game is actually learning from you.
Unfortunately, that might be the only good thing about Hello Neighbor, as the rest of the game ranges from horrendously boring to tedious to just baffling. As stated the point of the game is to break into and enter the neighbor’s house, however beyond that you’re given nothing in the way of direction at any time. While freedom is always welcome in games these days, freedom without some form of direction leads to large amounts of time spent trying to figure out what to do or where to go. For example, the first act begins with a cutscene of the neighbor placing a key on a table but provides no context as to where that table is within the house, leaving you to wander around blindly hoping to find where to go next.
Worse, the game seems to revel in its cryptic nature. Hello Neighbor is not on clear whether or not you can beat some sections of the game without simply taking advantage of the horrible physics engine. In other games, stacking objects are often used as a way to cheat or just break the game. In the world of Hello Neighbor, most objects can be picked up and moved around, and those concepts of breaking the game become necessary for progression. Not that the game ever tells you this, and the combination of cryptic progression and lack of feedback from the game means it’s impossible to know when you’re actually moving forward or if you just wasted 10 minutes stacking boxes to no avail.
Then there’s the neighbor himself, the game’s soul other being and your antagonist. His only interaction is running straight at you when you’re spotted and throwing you back to the beginning of the level. The artificial intelligence of the neighbor is horrendous and inconsistent, surprising since it’s the only thing in the game that requires this. At times he can hear and see you through walls, attempting to make a bee-line to you by whatever means necessary. Other times he’s deaf and blind and won’t notice you sprinting back and forth and jumping around on the furniture at all. That’s if he doesn’t get caught on the level geometry, which he often will. Even worse, he doesn’t seem to care about his own home and will regularly crash through doors and windows with reckless abandon, which he then blames you for and will trap these entrances on your next play-through.
Ostensibly, Hello Neighbor is a stealth title, although it seems to have been made by people that have simply never played another stealth title ever. The game lacks the ability to lean, a cardinal sin for this genre, but there are other mistakes that do more to hamper the experience. Despite the fact that you can pick up any object in the game, the neighbor doesn’t seem to notice when you throw things unless they break a window- and even then this is inconsistent- meaning you can’t reliably create diversions at times. You can hide in dressers littered around the levels, although it’s hit-or-miss whether this actually works. Crouching is supposed to make you quieter, although as mentioned the neighbor is usually deaf so there’s little consistency as to whether and when this works.
Probably the biggest mistake is that every object you pick up takes up the entire lower third of the screen, including the flashlight which is nearly impossible to use while crouching, as it for some reason points up and to the left while you’re moving. There’s also no way to put items away when you pick them up meaning you either need to hurl them to the ground like an angry child and remember where you put them or pick up another object and pray it’s small enough to let you see what you’re actually doing. Not only does this make moving around while carrying difficult, but when you are required to stack boxes or walk around with keys it’s often hard to place the objects where they need to go.
Graphically the game attempts to go for a cartoonish look, and while the art style is interesting, the game itself is largely unimpressive. Objects, like the AI and everything else, have very little consistency and all appear too big or strangely small. The whole game looks like a much, much worse version of Psychonaut‘s art direction but fails to capture the charm of that classic. Even worse are the small handful of animations and the first person animations for your player character that tend to send the camera flying through the world. Not that the neighbor is much better, with a small bunch of canned animations that, strangely, often send him flying all over the place too.
There’s not much audio so we won’t waste that much time on it. What is here is horribly bare-bones stock sounds found in dozens of other games. There’s no voice acting save for the neighbor grunting from time to time and an all too short constantly repeating film clip that plays on televisions found around the house. There are old radios you can find that play what sounds like Russian comedy programming for completely unknown reasons, and a short and ultimately annoying musical sting that strikes up when the neighbor spots you.
Overall Hello Neighbor is just a failure of a game, one that wants so badly to emulate better titles like Outlast or Alien: Isolation but doesn’t understand what they did better. It’s a game built for Twitch streams to fake horror at the delight of their fans, but for anyone looking for a genuinely good horror or puzzle title this fails to live up to a standard of even the JoWood Neighbors from Hell series from over a decade ago (which is also a third of the price). There are a few moments of joy possible to squeeze out of Hello Neighbor, especially if you give into the hatred and start smashing everything, but taken as a horror adventure title this is definitely one door worth keeping locked.