Kids are inquisitive and curious in nature. Harvesting the opportunity to become a peeping Tom into your neighbour’s house would more than satisfy their snooping needs. And that’s exactly the premise for developers Dynamic Pixels Hello Neighbor. The question is, does this new take on the ‘survival horror’ genre make for an outstanding experience? Or should we have just left our 70’s porn star lookalike neighbour alone to go about his deeds?
When you begin Hello Neighbor, as just a young boy kicking a ball down a (very) quiet suburban street, you’re not over whelmed with any cut scenes, dialogue or direction. Until you reach a certain neighbours house. Screams are wailing and with a quick peek through the window, you witness something horrifying. Instead of running home to tell your parents (who likely wouldn’t believe you) you take it upon yourself to discover what dastardly secret is held within the confines of your neighbour’s house. And this sets up the game which takes place over three chapters. It is now up to you to think, act and stealth your way to the truth.
Gameplay takes place in the first person perspective and within the first act, offers a bright and vibrant cartoony environment to ease you into the games world. With your first goal to obtain access to your neighbours locked down basement, you’re gifted the opportunity to learn the controls, play with the mechanics and solve a few puzzles. It’s imperative to familiarise yourself with the control system as there I no tutorial. You can pick up and interact with a lot of items, to which most may do nothing, but others can form your key to survival.
If you’re spotted by your neighbour you will need to run, evade and hide where possible. Whilst throwing object directly at him will slow his efforts, as the game progresses his movements become increasing quicker and harder to evade. If you throw something out his window, for instance a TV, he’ll most likely see or hear this and retrieve the item, cleverly buying you time to search for clues and solve puzzles. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t do a great job of making the experience fun. You could find yourself aimlessly wondering for some time at the start just trying to find some form of clue as to how to enter the basement. All the while being careful not to be detected. It soon feels more like a chore and frustrating rather than an accomplishment when you do find the correct path.
The graphics, although full of colour, go against the kind of feeling Hello Neighbor tries to inject in you as a player. It’s hard to take any form of stealth/horror seriously when it looks more like a jagged spin off version of Despicable Me. Although the basement areas do hold a lot more atmosphere in this nature, it can’t be helped but feel a more serious art tone along the lines of Little Nightmares would have offered a more serious experience.
You may find yourself frustrated enough in the first act to not persist further. But if you do, you can find a good 6 or so hours of gameplay here. It can take time to figure out paths and plan according as you progress. And if you have the patience to keep with it, you may feel some sense of reward and accomplishment.
Ultimately the experience lay in the hands of you, the player, and your expectations for the title. If you go in expecting a hyped and stellar stealth horror game, you’ll be left disappointed. But if keep an open mind, knowing that this could go either way, you may just find yourself enjoying the experience more and taking impending frustrations as challenges to overcome.
Dynamic Pixels have crafted something unique. It is by no means flawless, and with more time and polish could have been a lot more. But what they have created is an experience like no other. The path toward the truth is enjoyable, but only those with patience may see the journey till the end.