Discover what your weirdo neighbor is hiding in his basement.
PC Release: December 8, 2017
By Ian Coppock
2018 seems to be off to a spooky start! First, there was Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator, a game about managing a restaurant by day and surviving in it by night. Now, there’s Hello Neighbor, a title about sneaking into the house of a creepy man who, despite an impeccable mustache, gives off quite the nefarious air. It’s time to investigate what he (and this game) are concealing from fatally curious horror gamers (cough, cough).
To say that Hello Neighbor was highly anticipated is an understatement. The game enjoyed attention from such big names as PewDiePie and Markiplier, both of whom played the alpha version on their YouTube channels and enjoyed the experience. Indeed, what horror fan wouldn’t enjoy a game about unearthing the dark secrets of a seemingly benign neighbor? That premise smacks of such great films as Rear Window, and to see it in a video game is awesome.
Even though Hello Neighbor enjoyed warm fuzzies from the gaming community, that didn’t stop a few red flags from poking through the proverbial basement door. Early builds of Hello Neighbor started out with a tutorial, but for some reason that was nixed from the game’s third alpha. Players noticed a few bugs that went unaddressed in new builds of the title. Finally, the game’s release date was pushed back from August of 2017 to last December. None of those are particularly good signs, are they?
The final version of Hello Neighbor begins little differently than its preceding alphas. The game takes place in a cutesy, 1950’s-looking suburb that resembles the Milkman Conspiracy level from Psychonauts. The player character, a small boy, is out playing one afternoon when he suddenly hears bloodcurdling screams coming from his neighbor’s house. He then catches sight of the neighbor shoving something into the basement and, rather than tell his parents or call the cops, decides to investigate the noises himself.
The neighbor isn’t too keen on receiving visitors, and avoiding him is the game’s main challenge. Players have to take care in sneaking around the man’s house, lest he get his hands on the child and prompt a level restart. One of the big selling points that developer Dynamic Pixels tried to push was the neighbor’s sophisticated AI; for example, he can notice if a window’s been shattered and react by setting a trap or boarding it up.
So far Hello Neighbor sounds like a pretty good deal for fans of suspenseful thrillers, but that deal becomes raw when all the game’s bugs enter the picture. Hello Neighbor is, without a doubt, one of the buggiest games of 2017. Seemingly every facet of this title’s design is broken as of writing. When the game does launch, it often does so at a wonky resolution. It corrupts save files. It withholds achievements. It frequently crashes to desktop or causes the entire system to crash with it.
Hello Neighbor’s bugs go beyond system performance and seep into the minute-by-minute gameplay. Its physics are floaty. Items frequently clip through walls or into the blue hell beneath the game world. The player character freezes. The world’s textures sometimes phase out and are replaced with a green-and-pink overlay. Finally, there’s the much-vaunted “dynamic” neighbor, whose AI is so broken that players can sometimes remain unnoticed even if they walk right in front of him. Alternatively, he can occasionally spot the player through walls or even from across the house.
Dynamic Pixels vowed to fix Hello Neighbor and has released a few minor patches to that end, but the fact that the game was released in this state is absolutely unacceptable. It’s always disappointing when a game is clearly shunted onto the Steam store before it’s finished; worse still that players are charged $30 for it. A few die-hard fans have argued that the game isn’t so bad in comparison to its first alpha, but that’s a stupid argument. What the game was at one point is irrelevant; its “finished” state is what consumers are paying for and therefore all that really matters.
As many players are probably guessing by now, Hello Neighbor‘s options menu does little to nothing against this torrent of problems. Not that it’s a great options menu anyway; there are a few token toggles for graphical quality but no option to rebind keys or play in a windowed mode. It’s also a little strange that the game doesn’t have a Steam workshop page considering the dev’s announcement of a (presumably canceled) modding contest.
The icing on this s*** cake is that even if Hello Neighbor ran flawlessly, it still suffers from some colossal (and juvenile) design flaws. For starters, the game drops players in without so much as a tutorial. Sure, it’s simple to infer that the goal of the game is to break into the neighbor’s basement, but Hello Neighbor doesn’t even provide a primer on what the controls do or how to use them effectively. Hello Neighbor gives no hints as to how to spot mission-critical items or even pick those items up once they’ve been found.
Additionally, Hello Neighbor can’t decide if it’s a horror game, a puzzle game, or a platformer. The title meekly glues elements of all three genres into a single roughshod mess, expecting players to hammer out solutions to opaque puzzles, engage in clumsy first-person platforming, and avoid the neighbor all in one meaty gulp. Hello Neighbor is little kinder with its hints for puzzles than its cues for platforming, so have fun figuring out where to go and what to do.
None of these problems, though, hold a candle to Hello Neighbor‘s most frustrating flaw: its resets. Whenever players restart a level, the game simply respawns them at that level’s beginning while leaving their inventory intact. So, if the player loses a mission-critical item or alters the environment in an unhelpful way, that item will remain lost and the environment altered even if they hit that restart button. Here’s some news for Dynamic Pixels: putting the player back at square one is not a restart. That’s not going back to an earlier state of their gaming session, that’s just moving them away.
Oh, and as a quick aside, the controls in this game are clunky as all hell. Players can only throw the items they pick up, with no option to set them down gently (don’t worry though, because Hello Neighbor frequently disallows players from picking items up at all). Amazingly for a horror game, Hello Neighbor also lacks any sort of lean button, making it much more difficult for players to spot a prowling neighbor.
Okay, so does Hello Neighbor get anything right? The game’s sole positive quality is its aesthetic. It’s not nearly enough to save the game, of course, but Dynamic Pixels nailed creating a tense environment. The game does a good job of juxtaposing a rosy paint job with the feeling that something morbid is afoot. This setup lends the game a paranoid vibe in line with murder-mystery media and the works of Alfred Hitchcock.
Unfortunately, the visual aspect of that motif is all Hello Neighbor really gets right. The game’s sound design is amateurish; sounds abruptly cut in and out of the world and are not mixed or leveled properly. The neighbor’s grumbling can be heard from a mile away but the sounds of appliances around his house either loop conspicuously or suddenly stop mid-play.
The true pain of Hello Neighbor lies in its unfulfilled potential. For all the negative things written about it in this review, its concept could’ve made for an amazing horror game if it’d been executed properly. Unfortunately, Hello Neighbor was barely executed at all. The game is unfinished, unpolished, and replete with more bugs than an exterminator could shake a stick at. Players would be better off leaving a flaming bag of feces on their real-life neighbor’s doorstep than trying to navigate this half-baked trash heap of a title.
You can buy Hello Neighbor here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.