Hello Neighbor Review

By Mark Delaney,
What skeletons do you have in your closet? Everyone hides something from public view. Sometimes it's done out of embarrassment. Other times it's to protect those around you from something they can't handle. The premise of Hello Neighbor is a unique one: Break into your neighbor's house and find out what he's hiding in his basement. Across three acts, it's up to your voiceless protagonist to get to the bottom of what should have been a tantalizing mystery. Instead, it turns out the skeletons aren't worth discovering because the true reveal is that Hello Neighbor is flawed in far too many ways.

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Hello Neighbor is told through a first-person view of a bright and colorful world. Oblong geometry and architecture introduce a fun Pixar-like aesthetic that is meant to be juxtaposed against the apparently sinister undertones of the Neighbor's secret life. Across three acts spanning many years, the same nameless, voiceless protagonist is tasked with getting to the bottom of the Neighbor's illicit (or not, potentially) affairs. The game is billed as a stealth-horror, which would be a funny yet appropriate label if it worked as intended. It doesn't look like a horror, but in practice it really would have been. Sadly, the horror is derived mostly from the game's broken mechanics and enemy AI that isn't as cunning as he's meant to be.

Each act gives you a version of the Neighbor's house, with subsequent acts making the house more elaborate and ridiculous than before. A safe zone of across the street normally allows players to scout the area without fear of setting off the Neighbor. By design, you'll want to limit your captures because for every action you perform that alerts the Neighbor, he will counter with some sort of defense mechanism. Break a window and he'll come to inspect it in a hurry. Get caught sneaking through a door and next time a bear trap will be waiting for you there. He can set up cameras, install toy sharks to patrol flooded parts of the house, and resort to several other tactics. Often times a chase will ensue, and in those moments are found the game's most tense sequences as the music ramps up and the screen blurs, all while he's hot on your heels.

For all these reasons, your actions must be measured and considered carefully. First-person platforming, smart use of inventory, and quick wits complete your proverbial tool belt, but in each case the game falters and fails to allow for anything more than a buggy and aggravating experience. The first-person platforming may or may not work well on PC where the game has been a streaming hit for months, but on Xbox it's definitely lackluster. As your movements are so important, leaping from pipes to fences to lamps and the like needs to be precise; in Hello Neighbor, they're far from it. It's likely your plans will be thwarted by the game's poor platforming and unintuitive control scheme quite regularly.

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Grabbing versus using an item is mapped strangely. The same goes for placing versus throwing items. When you do throw them, as you sometimes will for various reasons, the physics of these items can be so unreliable that you're forced to restart a given level. Thankfully, when you get caught your changes in the world mostly remain the same. Broken windows may be repaired, but otherwise locked areas are still unlocked and items are where you left them last. Without this feature, the game would have been truly unredeemable in every way given how often you'll likely get caught for problems you couldn't have resolved on your own.

The Neighbor himself is another sad bullet point for the game. His surrounding mystery is one of the game's lone bright spots, and even as it ends without much payoff, along the way his motives are dished out within surreal, dreamlike interludes between attempts to break in. Of course, this creates another issue in the game's design — to see all of the story, it's required that you fail several times at least, but doing so just makes his AI engine work harder and more oppressively to eliminate fun from the game. It could have been fun to circumvent an intensely cunning but fair AI enemy, but in Hello Neighbor the enemy offers a mix of 20/20 vision and goofy traversal that results in you being spotted much too easily, only to watch the Neighbor bounce around like a fool.

There are fleeting moments where you feel like you can really outsmart him, and it's not because he is so smart and adaptive but rather because he is just so overbearing. His patrol routes get caught in loops, he spots and hears anything from anywhere. Instead of a fun game of cat and mouse, you're left to hope he doesn't come around too closely so you can be free to do what you need to do. The clip below is an example of the Neighbor at some of his worst. Although occasionally it was more fun than this, it wasn't uncommon to see him this way.


The order of operations when navigating the massive puzzle that is the Neighbor's home is disappointingly strict. Instead of giving players a playground in which to figure things out for themselves, most of the time only your traversal is up to you. Getting into certain areas tends to have only one solution. This takes what could have been a very open-ended experience, a la Dishonored, and bottlenecks it into rigid design. The puzzles are so obtuse that you'll often need a guide too, which feels like the final nail in the coffin of this game's fun potential. Perhaps the most committed of old school adventure gamers will appreciate the game's strange solutions, but even such a crowd will still need to navigate the myriad of other issues.

A patch was released during this review playthrough that touched up a lot, but what remains still needs to be addressed. Hello Neighbor's tenets are meant to be adaptive AI in a confounding environment intended to challenge player ingenuity. In practice, it offers none of that. Instead, what's left is a cartoonish aesthetic that, while fun, exists as a bright coat of paint on a dilapidated, broken down machine.

The achievement list ties completely into act three, so you'll go several hours without unlocking anything. When you get there, the whole list is easily missable too. Guides are up on site to help you navigate this hard to reach gamerscore, and typically they require you to do things that are a bit outside the lines of the game. Like the rest of Hello Neighbor, they would be a lot of fun to chase these achievements structured almost as side missions if it weren't for the game's many problems.

Summary

Hello Neighbor is a fantastic premise that falls apart in practice in nearly every way. The game was billed to have cunning AI but offers only an overbearing Neighbor with occasional moments of goofiness. It was meant to feature a bizarre and secret-filled house, but ends up wanting to streamline players with little wiggle room. If you're really dying to know what the Neighbor is hiding and can easily forgive the many trouble spots, you might have limited fun here. Alternatively, another hefty patch could undo a lot of these problems. Such a makeover would need to be drastic, however. When simple tasks like reliably picking up and using or placing items are clunky, it's a good sign that the skeletons in the closet aren't worth discovering.
1.5 / 5
Hello Neighbor
Positives
  • Fun aesthetic
  • Story is told through surreal sequences and leaves players to fill in the blanks
Negatives
  • Imprecise first person platforming
  • The Neighbor isn't as smart as advertised
  • Level design is more restrictive than it should be
  • Buggy gameplay
  • Ridiculous physics
  • Unintuitive control scheme
Ethics
The reviewer spent six hours infiltrating the Neighbor's house, only to discover his secrets are best left buried. He earned just one of the game's 17 achievements. An Xbox One digital copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.