Hello Neighbor is primarily a puzzle game which boasts of minor horror and stealth elements. In premise, these genres should come together nicely. You play as a child who witnesses his next door neighbor possibly committing a murder. Then, I suppose as a nosy child might, you break into his house to discover what the Neighbor is hiding. The goal is to sneak around the Neighbor’s house and eventually get into the basement while avoiding capture. The premise, however, is better than the execution.
Should you buy it?
Hello Neighbor is a good bit of fun until it overstays its welcome. There’s a lot of fulfillment in solving the puzzles but only because they’re ridiculously hard and make you feel like some sort of mad genius upon completion. Despite its bugs, I enjoyed playing Hello Neighbor. That is, when I wasn’t completely lost in some vague puzzle. It’s easy to forget Hello Neighbor is a full release game in its current state. After many iterations were released in early access it still feels like just another early access update, even at full launch.
Stealth in Hello Neighbor mostly amounts to avoiding the room the Neighbor is in as there aren’t many places to hide. There are various ways to distract the Neighbor but these are usually unnecessary. The Neighbor stays in your basic location to keep you on your toes. However, even when the Neighbor is on other floors or far away he can sometimes see you. There were many times when I was sure the neighbor was nowhere to be seen and I explored freely. Yet his chase music would play and he would pull me through a wall forcing me to restart.
Lots of bugs
The Neighbor’s line of sight is often difficult to discern. I could be standing right by him with no reaction. Other times, he would do superhuman jumps to reach me from the other side of the map. Hello Neighbor prides itself on “adaptive AI” and at times, this was pretty interesting. Depending on how you attempt to break into the Neighbor’s house, he creates more traps or sets up security cameras in that area. When this feature works it’s an interesting mechanic that adds some extra challenge. However, rather than stealth, simply running into the house seems to be the better strategy. When stealth works a player should feel a sense of accomplishment as they navigate the area toward their desired destination. Hello Neighbor favors brute force, and so it’s hardly a stealth game thanks to the Neighbor’s buggy AI.
The Horror Aesthetic
The environment is vibrant with a cartoony aesthetic that contrasts nicely with the darker implications of the plot. I’m personally a fan of typically happy and child-friendly cartoons being turned on their heads with darker undertones. This probably stems from my love for the warped and lovely works of Tim Burton. The graphics in Hello Neighbor were similarly delightfully simple in their cartoon styling yet slightly twisted.
When the player enters the Neighbor’s basement, they’re suddenly thrust into an environment that completely contrasts the colorful initial area. The basement has a dark and foreboding atmosphere and strongly implies the Neighbor’s guilt. Hello Neighbor works best through its multiple levels of implied plot told through its environments. Outside of the basement, the world is vibrant yet strange which creates a charming feeling of doubt that the Neighbor is really up to any wrongdoing. However, the basement’s stark contrast more strongly implies something sinister going on behind the Neighbor’s closed doors.
Horror as a Genre
Although the basement feels vastly different in presentation, the gameplay is much the same as before. The environment manages to evoke creepy vibes, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call Hello Neighbor a horror game. At first, avoiding the Neighbor felt much like avoiding a monster. However, if it wasn’t the Neighbor’s buggy movement ruining the horror potential it was simply the Neighbor’s over activeness. In horror games, I find that monsters lose their potency when they become a nuisance on the player’s progression. The Neighbor, with his buggy AI, eventually became more annoying than scary. There are plenty of elements in Hello Neighbor that are shared with horror games, but this doesn’t successfully bring Hello Neighbor into the realm of horror as a genre.
The biggest gameplay element at work in Hello Neighbor is by far the puzzles. There’s no tutorial or hand holding, the player is dropped into the game with little explanation. Hello Neighbor fully expects the player to solve puzzles through undying curiosity, a thirst for exploration, and lots of trial and error. I’m sure that there are lots of people out there that adore this type of puzzle game, but I would argue that Hello Neighbor falls more on the side of the vague rather than the ambiguous.
Hello Neighbor manages to hit the mysterious sweet spot known as ambiguity through most of its plot. There are several moments where the player gains insights on the Neighbor’s past. The game presents these moments with dream-like characteristics that eventually spiral into nightmares. These sections tease exciting possibilities but stay ambiguous by never fully exposing the Neighbor’s true intentions or identity. However, the plot hardly seems worth it by the end. Between an underwhelming ending and frustrating puzzles, the mystery that drew me to the game fell decidedly flat.
What falls into vagueness are the puzzles. It’s clear that the player requires different colored keys to progress and eventually unlock the door to the basement. However, finding these keys becomes a long game of “guess what I’m thinking.” Many of the puzzles have no hints to make the player even think of trying solutions. For example, in Act III, there’s an area where the player must hit a picture hanging on the wall to open a secret area. However, this picture and the pictures surrounding it give no clues of the solution. There is no reason to check this picture, or any of the others, for a solution.
The only reason I discovered that the picture was a switch was because I happened to be tearing that particular room apart in desperation after being helplessly lost for a long time. This was by no means an isolated situation. Moreover, in the few occasions I consulted a walkthrough for some clarity the solutions relied on the game’s buggy hitboxes and exploits. Even when solving a puzzle correctly, it felt less as if I found a clever solution and more like I had done things wrong until I stumbled upon some accidental means of moving forward.
I give Hello Neighbor a 55/100. If you enjoy difficult puzzle games, you may have a bit of fun with the game. If not, I suggest avoiding the frustration.