When it comes to the horror and stealth horror genre of video games I am quite the fan. Although a great deal of titles released under this description tend to tread the same ground. So when I see something that appears as if it’s bringing something different to the table my interest is piqued. When the Dynamic Pixels developed, Hello Neighbor was announced over a year ago its art style and intriguing premise immediately caught my eye. Blending colorful cartoonish visuals with stealth horror is a design choice that sets the game apart from others of its ilk. Unfortunately after a year long alpha and beta campaign the full game doesn’t live up to its creative initial impression. Where the game is pleasing to the eye in style, it has a few missteps in gameplay and quality.
After dabbling in the Alpha and playing a handful of hours of the later stages of the Beta, I was looking forward to the final release but also held lingering reservations. Ones that shown I enjoyed playing the small vertical slice more than the actual full game. The premise is simple but enough of a hook to kick things into some stealthing action. Your neighbor seems to be up to something diabolic within a house shrouded in secrecy. Playing as a young child that lives across the street, you are tasked to get to the bottom of these strange happenings. Early on it becomes apparent that doing so won’t necessarily always be straight forward or easy. Everything in Hello Neighbor hinges itself upon puzzles that litter the game world and usher in or impede progress. And lets not forget the ever present neighbor that is constantly patrolling and keeping a watchful eye of his property and secrets.
When gameplay is being shouldered heavily by puzzle solving, that is the element that should be the most refined. Although the puzzles designed by Dynamic Pixels were never of a consistent nature. They ranged from mildly straight forward to zero direction at all. This establishes an unbalanced experience that has fun escalate into frustration very quickly. Granted when the puzzles were built in a way that wavered on the side of logic there is satisfaction and fun to be had from completing them. But when the scales tipped to the illogical side of things without any clues or notion of what can and cannot be manipulated in the game world, progress is harder to come by. A great deal of your time will be spent applying trial and error, until no solution is found and you are forced to watch a walkthrough.
One thing that Dynamic Pixels did a nice job with is the AI of the red headed antagonist that is your neighbor. As you play through the game and make several attempts at a certain task or puzzle the neighbors AI learns your route and places obstacles in your way such as traps and cameras. He will also patrol an area or route that you have taken multiple times to force a different one or be a tad more stealthy. In general I felt this was a nice system and at times impressed me on how well it learned my movements, but it also came with its faults. There were plenty of instances that the AI was a little too hard nosed and stepped passed the line of fairness. Whether it be somehow spotting you without the help of cameras even though you were out of his sightline or always being in the right place at the right time to catch you.
As much as I was looking forward to the release of Hello Neighbor, it has left me somewhat let down. I say let down because even with all its downfalls and poorly implemented gameplay elements there is still fun to be had. My kids love watching me play and getting caught and finding new areas. As it were though, when I sit down for a gaming session by myself I find that I spend too much time doing the same things over and over again with the end result being frustration and failure. I still think Hello Neighbor is a novel idea and ultimately could be fixed to make it a more enjoyable experience. Unless of course Dynamic Pixels is dead set on their vision of the game in its current state, which is respectable. I’d say be prepared to consult walkthrough videos frequently to alleviate frustrations.