Dynamic Pixel's colourful home-invasion simulator has finally got an official launch.
It seems as if Hello Neighbor has been around for ages, as YouTubers have been reacting (or should we say screaming) to Dynamic Pixels' indie game for months now via its various pre-release builds in early access, but it's only just officially launched in full. It's a lot like what we've already seen in these early alpha and beta stages, so fans who've stuck with the game from the beginning have a lot of familiar ground to tread, but for newbies this means getting to grips with all the weird and wonderful things the game has to throw at you.
For these uninitiated players, here's a bit of introduction as to the premise of Hello Neighbor: you are an unnamed narrator, and your task is simply to get into the basement of your neighbor's house. As you might expect, he's none too happy about this, and so he'll be working to find and catch you, adapting to your patterns to try and stay one step ahead. Keep going in through the front door, for instance, and he'll place traps and cameras there, and patrol that area more thoroughly.
While earlier builds simply threw you in at the deep end by putting you across the road from the various houses that were introduced with each update, in the full game there's a far more structured approach. Split into three acts, the first sees you explore the house as a child to find out what's going on after hearing strange noises when passing by, while in the second you work to escape the house, and in the third you try to infiltrate in again (except this time it's a big ol' fortress, like in beta 3). A narrative unravels itself throughout these three parts, although without dialogue or explanation we're left to go on vague cutscenes that are open to speculation.
If you're expecting a significant amount of polish moving into the full game, then you'll probably be disappointed here. There are still plenty of glitches and bugs, whether that be objects thrown through walls, clipping issues, or simply getting stuck in the environment, and visuals aren't much more polished either. There's always been that distinctive colourful cartoon style, but it's not as refined as other games with a similar approach, and objects are often either lacking in detail or just generally a bit jagged.
There's not a lot of polish in the controls either and as a result, they can often be the most frustrating part of the game. The start of Act 1, for instance, sees you climbing up a leaning shelf, but for some reason there's a big internal struggle in the protagonist's mind between going forward and bouncing off onto the floor. That's without even mentioning the physics, which prove tiring as well, as when you get on top of the shelf you need to stack three boxes on top of one another to climb up onto the roof, but if you happen to place one slightly off centre (it's hard to judge where you'll drop it anyway), then the whole thing will tumble down.
The majority of puzzles are fiddly and unclear in the game, although we can't criticise it for the latter. Those who love a good brain teaser will enjoy working out where to go and what to do, especially since there are those classic moments where you see something you need behind a gate and then have to work out how to get to it. What these players won't appreciate, however, is the constant fiddliness of the controls making everything that little bit harder, whether it's trying to hit something with a thrown item or making one of those wobbly towers of boxes.
One might think that the ever-present threat of the titular neighbour, coupled with the fact that nearly every YouTuber playing the game has been screaming at it, would mean the neighbour is some terrifying threat stalking the house, much like the Alien in Isolation. How wrong you are though. The threat of the Alien is one you could never see, but you always know is there, stalking and watching you, whereas you can always see the neighbour and he's constantly in your face. In fact, he becomes an annoyance rather than an adversary, made even more so by the constant "HAH!" you'll hear every time he discovers you. He starts off scary, chasing you as you try to sneak around the house, but very quickly becomes a pain in the backside you'll wish wasn't there. In fact, one time in an earlier build he got stuck in the wall of the house, and we were just grateful for the peace and quiet.
Even the AI is pretty flawed, as you can work your way around easily. There's been a bit of a song and dance about how the AI adapts to where you've been in the past, but it still isn't clever enough to outsmart a skilled player, who'll just go in one of the many different entrances in the house. Plus you can use this fondness for patrolling areas you get caught in to purposefully get discovered in areas far away from where you actually want to go, luring the neighbour away. Since you respawn with all the items you've 'borrowed' from his house anyway, there's really no consequence to being caught other than a minor inconvenience.
We have to say, though, that for those who haven't experienced the earlier builds there are some neat surprises in Hello Neighbor. We won't spoil anything, but we will say that's it's not all about wandering around the halls of the house and pinching items of interest, as you will find new and exciting areas with their own unique challenges, and there's even a rather interesting conclusion that's definitely outside the box. Even the regular rooms within the house are creative and interesting, especially if this is your first time sneaking around them.
In some ways Hello Neighbor's presence in the public eye as an early access game has been its downfall, as a lot of the areas aren't that fresh, the story hints have been trodden before, and the puzzles have been figured out, but if you have yet to find out what secret's the neighbour is hiding, it may be worth venturing in and finding out for yourself... if you can put up with the fiddly controls and the slightly unpolished facade that Dynamic Pixels' game has delivered.
5 / 10
Challenging puzzles, Fun and interesting areas to explore, Story will lure people in.
Overall lack of polish, Bugs and glitches, Neighbor is more annoying than scary, AI can be outwitted easily, Fiddly and annoying physics.