You probably know the history of Hello Neighbor by now, even if you’ve never played it. A YouTube sensation, Hello Neighbor was the plaything for many content creators once the FNAF well had dried up as its very DNA made it ripe for Let’s Plays, exaggerated reactions and all.
Its concept is one that should garner an audience all on its own. The creepy neighbour trope has been visited often in movies with efforts like Rear Window, Fright Night, Rear Window again, and Fright Night again, but it hadn’t been properly explored in games until Dynamic Pixels saw the opportunity. Early builds of the game promised plenty, but the final product is seriously lacking in almost every regard.
Hello Neighbor starts after the protagonist — a kid whose face looks like he’s been stung by many a bee — witnesses some strange goings on at his neighbour’s house. After watching the neighbour lock someone away, you must try to uncover what’s going on, one obtuse puzzle at a time. It’s something of a cold open: the game doesn’t tell you what to do or how to approach the situation; a running theme throughout.
Taking place over four acts, Hello Neighbor’s story outstays its welcome early on after it convolutes beyond the point of no return. There are a few welcome refrains with sequences that fill in some of the neighbour’s motivations, but beyond that, it’s just a case of filling in the blanks for yourself. It’s difficult to become invested in a narrative when it offers so little for you to latch on to.
Pitched as a stealth puzzler, Hello Neighbor can only really lay claim to the latter. Sneaking around seems to make little to no difference; the neighbour will track you down all the same. It’s a constant case of trial and error as the game’s inconsistencies with what he can and cannot detect worsen as things progress. At one point, I was able to stand directly to his right as he did star jumps without being detected. At another, he could somehow sense me in the garden despite him being all the way in the bathroom.
Any tension that the game mustered was wiped out after the first ten minutes, such was the regularity of its irregularities. The neighbour stopped being an antagonist to be feared and instead became more of just a clingy guy with mood swings. There’s no fallout from being caught, he just returns you to the most recent checkpoint with none of your environmental changes being affected. If you’ve picked up a key or pulled a lever and he catches you, you can just return to exactly where you were before with minimal backtracking.
Truthfully, this is a godsend. So much of your time with Hello Neighbor will be spent wandering around trying to find the logic in its puzzles and coming up short. They don’t follow any kind of rhyme or reason. For instance, an early puzzle asks you to find a key on the upper floor of the house, which requires clumsily stacking boxes on top of a shelf, so that you can unlock a car trunk and then use a superpowered magnet to snag a wrench from the basement.
It’s just bizarre, the kind of obtuse chin-stroker that’s included to pad out what would otherwise be a very straightforward game. Anyone who’s played a Broken Sword or Monkey Island game will probably be in their masochistic element with Hello Neighbor, but everyone else will likely just give up the ghost and refer to a guide. Even then, due to the wholly awful AI and numerous bugs, it isn’t a sure thing.
Already available on PC and Xbox One, Hello Neighbor’s arrival on PS4 also brings with it all of the bugs and problems that the game is known and derided for, even among its diehard defenders. I didn’t think that Agony would be rivalled for the worst performing game I’ve played all year, but along came Hello Neighbor, janking and jiving its way into the party.
It’s hard to take an antagonist seriously when they are foiled by something as simple as a electricity panel being left open, or an item blocking a doorway. Far too many times to count, I would just stand back and watch as the neighbor would jitter in place, unable to apprehend me. I was even reprimanded for daring to interact with an errant bin with the game deciding to catapult me halfway down the street for my audacity.
The protagonist would also often become stuck in the environment, unable to move. One moment in particular summed up my experience with Hello Neighbor as a whole. After I had somehow glitched my way behind a dollhouse door, I was completely at the mercy of the neighbour. He didn’t count on the saucepan, however: after I had absent-mindedly dropped the utensil (thanks to the basic but somehow also cumbersome controls) in the doorway, he tried to get past it but ended up doing something akin to the Safety Dance instead. We stood (or janked) there together in what could be seen an unconventional moment of bonding, both of us screaming internally and hoping for it all to end.
There are too many annoyances and contrivances to be had with Hello Neighbor without turning this into a novella, though it’s not all terrible. Its warped fifties aesthetic is totally nailed, as is the level of interactivity the game provides — you can pick almost everything up and then throw it. The adaptive AI of the neighbor doesn’t come out often, but when it does, it’s a plus point. If he’s caught you in a previous area, he’ll lay down a bear trap, CCTV camera, or both.
No amount of neat quirks can save what is a frustrating mess, however. Hello Neighbor is an example of something promising plenty and delivering next to nothing thanks to a frankly unacceptable level of bugs, padded out progression, and missing or wonky fundamentals. Say goodbye to this one, because it just isn’t worth your time.