Hello Neighbor combines stealth and puzzle solving into a unique style of gameplay reminiscent of the 90’s.
Before I jump into my review, I need to present a few disclaimers:
- Minor spoilers ahead.
- I was given a free copy of Hello Neighbor for review.
- I hate stealth and puzzle games.
Number three may have you wondering, “Why the hell would she play a stealth-puzzle game if she hates stealth and puzzle games??”
An excellent question.
For one, I was under the impression that Hello Neighbor was primarily a stealth game with some light objectives for solving the mystery of the evil neighbor and his house. I’ve recently started expanding my stealth horizons with games like Shadow of Mordor and Assassin’s Creed, so I thought this would be a fun way to take the next step with stealth games.
Turns out, I was sorely mistaken. The stealth element is merely the background for a game that is primarily focused on obscure puzzles. I was not prepared.
If you need further clarification as to why I picked up Hello Neighbor, see number two in the list above. I am a sucker for anything free.
So, all of that being said, take this review with a grain of salt since it comes from someone who is not a fan of this genre. But hey, here at Coin-Drop we are unbiased and unfiltered, so this little number isn’t going to be swept under the rug just because I didn’t like the game. Consider this the counterargument to those folks out there who talk about how great Hello Neighbor is.
The Core Gameplay: Trying to Do a Math Problem With a Creeper Breathing Down Your Neck
I will say, the core gameplay is refreshingly unique. You have to solve puzzles and unlock doors with a creepy, mustached man pursuing you at every turn. I was legitimately jump-scared the first time the neighbor grabbed me. I cursed and everything. It was great.
Until about 15 minutes in when I realized it was annoying as all hell.
For one, the primary stealth mechanics are very bland. If the neighbor sees you, you throw a book at him and run away. Cabinets are placed around the house that you can duck into, so long as he doesn’t see you go in there. Then it’s a typical game of “Wait until the bad guys gets bored and walks away.” Once he does, you have to go back to your puzzle and try to solve it before he hears you and comes back. Rinse and repeat for the next 8-100 hours of gameplay.
But wait, it’s spicier than that. The neighbor is an AI that learns your movements. So if he sees you frequently lurking around a certain area, he’ll start lurking around the area. If he notices you using the same method to enter the house every time, he’ll put out traps and security cameras around that entrance to prevent you from using it again. Or at the very least, they will slow you down. So you have to keep reinventing the wheel every time you need to get somewhere. This is supposed to make the neighbor that much scarier, to make the game that much more exciting, but it succeeds in making the game that much more annoying.
I’m sorry, but when I’ve spent twenty minutes circumnavigating a hundred traps just to get to the attic for the tenth time to rearrange the same stack of boxes to climb up the shelf to turn on a fan because “reasons”, only to have the neighbor pop up out of nowhere to send me back to my house so I can start all over with even more traps around the entrances, I’m going to lose my shit. Some people find that fun. I am not one of them.
To be fair, when the neighbor catches you, all the progress made in that level is retained. (Thank God!) Unlocked doors are still unlocked, held items are still in your inventory (so long as you didn’t reflexively throw them at the neighbor when he came at you), and all rearranged furniture is just as you left it. The only thing that changes when the neighbor catches you is a new level of security added in and around the house by the neighbor. So if you have been working on Act 3 for several hours, you’re soon going to find the entire first floor blanketed in traps and security cameras, and you’re going to debate whether it’s worth resetting the level and sacrificing 75% progress so you can get into the house without facing an army of blinking security cameras.
Grrahh!!!!! *Screams and pulls out hair*
Puzzles That Make No Goddamn Sense
Don’t get me wrong when I say that I don’t like puzzle games. I do enjoy a good cerebral challenge from time to time. In fact, I love the heck out of the Professor Layton series. My problem is with old school, environmental puzzle games. Puzzle games where viable solutions are often rejected in favor of what the developer decided on for the solution.
There is a door over there on the other side of this pool. I’ll just swim across.
Nope, you can’t swim.
I’ll float on a board.
Nope, objects do not obey the laws of physics and will not float.
Okay, I’ll build a bridge out of these shelves laying around.
Nope, the game won’t-
Gah! For fuck’s sake!
Hello Neighbor follows this time-honored tradition of “This is the solution, and the only solution, because I said so,” to a T. In fact, it takes the fucking cake and shoves it down your throat.
*Spoiler Warning* Allow me to give you a brief example of a puzzle:
Step one: Go up to the attic, unlock a doll house with a key that you obtained through previous endeavors.
Step two: Open the doors inside the dollhouse to magically unlock doors in the real house even though the dollhouse is not an accurate model of the real house.
Step three: Go downstairs to the bathroom where a nearly-life-sized Lego man sits on the toilet.
Step four: Pick up the eerie Lego man and take him to the dollhouse in the attic.
Step five: Place him on the toilet in the dollhouse where he magically resizes himself from three feet tall to a couple inches tall.
Step six: Go back downstairs to the real toilet where the Lego man has somehow reappeared, holding a functional crowbar which you can take and use to unlock the next part of the level.
A Flashback to the 90’s
Playing Hello Neighbor, I was often taken back to my childhood in the 90’s. In addition to the obscure puzzling reminiscent of the era, I also encountered the game’s lack of a tutorial. Zero tutorial. Okay, unless you played the PC Alphas and Betas where they did have a tutorial, but I did not. So no tutorial for me.
To be fair, they give a vague set of control instructions on the menu page, but the full controls are hidden under the settings menu, a fact I did not realize until after I had reset Act 1 over what I thought was a bug. Turns out the game had a “run” feature I didn’t know existed.
To some, this lack of guidance is refreshing. It heralds back to the days when a player could explore and figure things out on their own. It also reminds a player how frustrating the 90’s were as they mash buttons in front of a boiler trying to figure out how to get the damn wheel on the damn pipe while the music picks up tempo because the neighbor is right behind you and- oh god now I’m back in my yard and the wheel is on the floor in the house because I dropped it in my mad button mashing.
And then there’s the physics. Glitchy, unreliable physics. Need to stack some boxes to reach that thing? Oh look, the last box freaked out and ricocheted off the wall, knocking out your carefully crafted box ladder. Oh look! The noise has brought the neighbor running. Hello, Neighbor!
Need to jump onto a pipe to get to the thing? Better hope you get the speed and timing exactly right because anything less will send you falling to the yard below where they neighbor will probably find you. Oh, you landed on the pipe? Touch your joystick one more time in an effort to walk forward and fall anyway because we don’t like your face.
The Story is a Mindfuck
The story is laid out in one of those typical psychological thriller messes that revolves around, “It was all just a dream.” At times intriguing and emotional, at other times confusing and in-your-face. Both the cinematics and the gameplay jumped through bizarre hoops to shake things up and make me question what I thought I knew.
When the dust settled and I wrapped my head around everything I saw, I realized it was an incredibly artistic way of presenting an otherwise straightforward and underwhelming plot arch. I’m still not sure if I’m impressed by the presentation of the deep emotional scars borne by the antagonist and protagonist, or disappointed by the otherwise generic premise.
Eh, either way, it is still no Witcher 3.
Finishing Hello Neighbor is Overrated
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t reach the end of Hello Neighbor through my own wits and ingenuity. Fuck that. Who the fuck can guess that the Lego man on the pisser is the key to getting a functional crowbar? Nope, I cheated the fuck out of this.
However, I did not put it on easy mode. Last I heard, it was glitched and made the neighbor more aggressive. In fact, the one time I became curious and turned it on the neighbor showed up at the cabinet I was hiding in and ripped me out. Nope. I turned that sucker off right then and there.
My method of cheating: I used guides. Not that it made things any easier. Yes, now I know that the lego man wants to sit on the pisser in the dollhouse, but I also have to find a way to get him off the real pisser downstairs and up into the attic without the neighbor stopping me in the hallway. The guide won’t help me with that because the neighbor AI has already figured out my preferred methods of travel and planted traps accordingly. Great.
After futzing around with guides for a few hours, I got so far as the keycard at the end of Act 3. That’s the point when the jacked-up physics finally pushed me over the edge. I said, “Fuck it!” and pulled up the rest of the gameplay on YouTube.
That’s right. I didn’t finish Hello Neighbor. And I have no intention of doing so.
And you know what? That’s okay. No one should have to play a game they don’t like because a bunch of trolls are in the comments flaming, “Git gud!”
And that didn’t stop me from writing this review either, because if the internet is only filled with reviews by people who enjoy a game, then players will be robbed of the whole story.
So there you have it. I don’t like Hello Neighbor, and I don’t understand why anyone would. But hey, some people are masochists, and to them I say, “To each their own.”
So if you like obscure puzzles with a dab of masochism and a side jump-scares, Hello Neighbor is the game for you.