Hello Neighbor (Xbox One Review)
As children, we all had one house, a bad house that we would all avoid. We’d chatter among ourselves about the missing children, strange murmurs, and the vacant star of the occupant. Were they a vampire or a victim of childhood intrigue? These rumours would go largely unexplored and thankfully forgotten. Although Hello Neighbor poses the question; what if there really was something going on and dare we pursue the twitching curtain and muffled screams of our youth?
The story is simple, almost reminiscent of Rear Window and Disturbia. As a child, we follow a lost ball down the street. The ball meanders from gutter to gutter, something catches our eyes. A shadow. A violent snap. And a neighbour wearing suspiciously dark gloves slamming a lock laden door to his basement shut with a vicious slam. With the ball long gone, we have a new focus. From there we explored the twisted world of the neighbour as we attempt to find pursue what we saw through the window, or what we thought we saw. A lot is left up to your imagination as we fight our way through Hello Neighbor’s world and the story is very sparse, largely due to a significant lack of dialogue, but mute cutscenes try their best to convey the troubled story of the neighbour.
Thankfully the design of the house and its basement say more than our characters ever will, our unhinged antagonist makes ramps from literally unhinged doors and the décor is that of your mum’s fridge – that is to say that the hanging “art” is nothing more than doodled on scrap paper. Even when you are running from the neighbour, it’s worth stopping to take in the twisted world of his basement and the staging areas therein, especially when the house continues to grow as the more sinister traits of the neighbour begin to show. Furthering this twisted reality of the neighbour are our dreams. The dreams felt like a crooked finger pointing towards an obscure image, but they did give marginal clues towards some puzzle solutions – or it at least felt that way. It’s just a shame that, even on the Xbox One X, these environments would look janky upon loading and there is some odd glitches that break immersion, as well as lighting bleeding through walls it clearly shouldn’t.
With the caveat that the neighbour actually exists outwith these dreams, he will hunt you down like a portly Freddy Krueger: chasing you at every given moment and laying out traps to slow you in your attempts to explore his house. Hello Neighbor has been seen to celebrate the ability of the neighbour, proclaiming that he learns as he goes. Which is true, to an extent. The more you explore the house, the more traps, cameras, and obstacles show up, even when you weren’t caught in that area. It’s bad enough that the neighbour already has the agility of an Olympic runner, the sight of a hawk, and the vigilance of Argus Filch, but this near omniscient placement of boobytraps is a step too far. More often than not, it was nearly impossible to escape him and some area restarts placed him in such a position that I couldn’t move from the spawn point without alert. There’s also a distinct lack of respect for the house as the neighbour will regularly smash windows and ignore conventional paths to catch you – doubling down on the trying feeling of exploration.
It wouldn’t be too bad if the rest of Hello Neighbor played by some standard rules, but the puzzles are infuriating. Forced to explore every crevice with no real clues, searching until you get lucky or the dream-like sequences point you in the right direction. It’s abhorrent design and really does everything it can to make the already clunky controls and experience that bit more strenuous. At one point, the puzzles became so obscure that I buckled and googled for a solution. Even in my wildest dreams, I would have never had thought to have attempted that particular approach. So, in the middle of Act 3 and 5 frustrating hours of play, I decided that this was as far as I could push myself. There was no enjoyment in searching for answers and finding frustration in the solutions. Solving one of these esoteric puzzles was never exciting or rewarding.
Even then all might be forgiven if there was a tutorial or slightly slower introduction to the puzzles, but it’s all uphill from the word go. So much so that it can be compared to climbing Everest in your slippers. Thankfully, the physics engine and odd character momentum allows you to break the game in numerous ways, instead of finding the solution to the problems, as Hello Neighbor intended. I regularly found myself stacking boxes to create platforms to completely bypass puzzles, resulting in some pretty unique skips. But, it was very clear that I had missed out on a great number of scenarios and puzzles through this approach.
And that kinds of sums up my time with Hello Neighbor, I was so desperate for it to end that I regularly sought out ways to try and bypass the intended game. There could be something buried deep down, but the general execution of this steal-horror blend holds it back drastically. Even the quaint colourful world is hampered by the general sluggish feel and poor controls. So, instead of saying hello to Hello Neighbor, you’d probably be better off saving up for that fully detached house of your dreams.