Hello Neighbor was announced last year in September. Since then, Dynamic Pixels has released many prototypes, betas, and alphas before the official release. A strong fanbase and community has grown around it, especially thanks to the Twitch and Youtube communities who had been spreading the word. Hello Neighbor holds a sense of childlike wonder along with its adaptive A.I. and Pixar-like art style. That is the same reason many children have also become so interested in the game. It has gotten so big with its audience that there is even official merchandise—including Funko POPs. Despite the popularity, has too much time passed and so many builds released that there is any mystery and curiosity left? There is a chance that we may have seen all there is to see even before Hello Neighbor was officially released on December 8th.
Violence/crude humor: Hello Neighbor is a very clean addition to the horror genre. When players are caught by the Neighbor, there is no violence shown. Your view shifts to him and you wake up in your own home across the street. It is possible for players to throw objects at him, but he is simply stunned for a few seconds before continuing his pursuit.
The Neighbor will use various methods to stop players in their tracks, but there is no disturbing imagery. These methods boil down to putting buckets of water atop doorways that will obscure your vision, or bear traps. When walking over a bear trap, players cannot move and must tap space to get free.
Other: The most horror that players will see in Hello Neighbor is during dream-like sequences. In some of these segments there are some slightly creepy mannequins that will come after the player. These sequences are also lit the darkest and feel closer to a standard horror game. The Neighbor is also chased by a shadow-like figure during one of these events.
Positive Themes: Hello Neighbor’s ESRB is only E 10+, which is never the case with any horror game. It is appropriate for all ages, so this is a game that is child-friendly. This is also a plus for anyone who tends to stay away from the usual format of first-person horror games.
The basic plot of Hello Neighbor is that one day while playing outside, a kid hears a scream coming from his neighbor’s house. When going to take a look through the window, he sees the Neighbor boarding up a door to his basement. As the kid, players must sneak into the Neighbor’s house and find a way into that basement. Not only must you find the key, you need to avoid the Neighbor as well.
Hello Neighbor is not an ordinary stealth horror game, The Neighbor himself is powered by a dynamic A.I. system that the developers built to create a different experience every time you play. Players must complete various puzzles to unlock doors and find keys that ultimately lead to the basement, but the Neighbor stands in the way. If you have a particular strategy, he will eventually figure it out and put bear traps, water buckets, and even cameras to keep an eye on you. The best part is that those actions are not his limits.
During one particular attempt, I hurled an object through his window in an effort to gain entry, of course I was caught. When I respawned across the street at home, I used a pair of binoculars to scout his location, and to my surprise I saw that the window was boarded up. I had no idea the A.I. was capable of doing such things, and later I discovered he could do much more.
In another attempt effort I tried to block the front door with a chair and sneak through an open window at the back of the house. I made it into the house but was spotted shortly after. While running away, I jumped right out of the window I entered in—he also jumped through that window in his pursuit. As I made my escape across the street I pulled out that pair of binoculars. I watched him head for the front door where the chair still stood blocking it. He actually grabbed the the chair and kicked it into his yard before opening the door and re-entering his home.
Those incidents and many more had exceeded anything that I expected to happen, adding so much more tension to the experience. I believe this is the reason that Hello Neighbor has quite a following on Twitch and Youtube; the dynamic A.I. succeeds in creating a variety of situations based on the player’s actions. Some of our Twitch audience even got to watch my battle of wits with the Neighbor. Viewers get to feel the tension and experience the scares along with the me.
The Neighbor is not the only challenge that the player must face: there are plenty of puzzles. It’s not as easy as finding one single key for the basement. This also the one aspect of the game where things eventually fell flat for me. The game is split into three acts and advances the time in which the story takes place. The Neighbor also makes changes to his house along with that time lapse. It gets bigger with each each act, which means the puzzles get more complicated. The first act consists of trying to get into various rooms and the second is creative and has players trying to burst water pipes that run through the house. The third act is where the puzzles get ridiculous along with the size of the house.
The house becomes multiple stories tall and even has a small train system on one of the upper floor. This eventually becomes way too much just for one little basement key. At some point, the puzzles took the fun away, because instead of trying to hide and avoid the Neighbor I would just make a B-line for the upper floors every time I got caught. I just wanted to finish the game after awhile, even knowing that I was nearly finished. Hello Neighbor also didn’t do anything to point me in the right direction which became frustrating. I eventually had to follow a video walkthrough just to finish it.
Despite that third act being nonsensical, the plot backs the reason for that. Hello Neighbor has a creative way of explaining the story of the Neighbor and who he really is, including a well-written arc for the player-character. Players start off as a child in the first act, and later become an adult in the final act. The the third act is a good way of having the character deal with the events that took place in the previous acts. All of these events in the story occur through the player experience with no dialogue at all; the developers chose to have us interpret the story for ourselves rather than laying it all out on the table.
Finally, it is the presentation that brings people to Hello Neighbor in the first place. Its Pixar-inspired art style that makes the game eye-catching. It really brings out the family-friendly nature of the content. This is a horror game that anyone can play, and would not work very well if another approach was taken in terms of the graphics. Sound design is an important part of this, genre and the developers utilize it in bringing a personality to the Neighbor. Hearing him gasp lets you know when you’re spotted, and while in hiding, you can hear the frustration in his grunts and growls. In addition, the soundtrack’s creepy horror tunes and intensifying chase jingle successfully help build this interesting take on a horror video game.
When I first saw footage of Hello Neighbor I assumed it was going to be some kind of rogue-like, due to the adaptive nature. I thought it would be really unique to explore a procedurally-generated basement labyrinth in an attempt to discover this guy’s darkest secrets. I did get to dive into the story of the Neighbor and uncovered the mystery, but in an experience that felt more like Portal or the Turing Test. One third of the game may have gotten lost under a bunch of puzzles, but the end result is something that players should try for themselves. Come for the interesting and adaptive A.I., but suffer through the late game puzzles for the finale in solid storytelling.
Review copy kindly provided by tinyBuild
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