Growing up, my curious mind was often engrossed in wild conjectures about the weird activities my reclusive neighbors might be engaged in. With its intriguing premise, Hello Neighbor seemed to be a game plucked right from the pages of my childhood. In this game, you play as a courageous, unnamed young protagonist who takes it upon himself to unravel the mystery behind the disturbing things observed through the window of his eerily peculiar middle-aged neighbor. However, the game's bewildering puzzle design turned out to be the most disconcerting aspect of the entire experience.
Exploring the Enigma of Hello Neighbor
The core of Hello Neighbor is a stealth game split into three acts, where your ultimate aim is to infiltrate your neighbor's basement and uncover his secrets while he prowls around trying to evict you. Nevertheless, the expanding and increasingly complex house layout in each act seems to disrupt the game's pace and sets a puzzling reverse difficulty curve. In the first act, the limited space in the modest cottage makes stealth almost impossible, leading to frequent captures. This constant failure diminishes the fear of being caught, which is a crucial aspect of any good horror game.
The Puzzle Conundrum
The ensuing acts provide more space for stealth maneuvers but compensate by introducing some perplexing puzzles that recall the frustration of the '90s adventure game era. The necessity to combine specific items and actions, which bear no logical connection, to progress in the game turns it into a pure trial and error. The lack of satisfaction in solving these puzzles gives way to bafflement at their bizarre design.
Specifically, in one instance, I had to freeze a pool of water by placing a globe found in an obscure corner of the house in the neighbor's freezer on an entirely different floor and then placing it on a random pedestal. Such solutions are not just illogical but also obscure and often require resorting to community guides to navigate through these hurdles.
The Game's Teaching Moment, or Lack Thereof
Hello Neighbor's most significant shortcoming lies in its failure to provide clear instructions on the possible interactions within its world and progress pathways. Without the aid of community guides from the early access version, it could take weeks, even months, to complete this game, which would inevitably lead to loss of patience.
The Silver Lining
Still, navigating through this labyrinth isn't without its rewards. The basement segments at the end of each act effectively heighten the creepiness and bring in some outright horror. The game's overall mood and atmosphere, capturing the essence of ordinary suburbia with an eerie twist, is commendably constructed through audio and graphic design. An interesting feature is how the neighbor learns your preferred routes through the house and sets up traps and cameras to thwart you.
The Cooperative Experience Hypothesis
Perhaps the intention behind Hello Neighbor was to create a “cooperative” experience where a community of players can collectively solve the game's mysteries, akin to the infamous Mount Chiliad mystery in Grand Theft Auto V. However, this hypothesis, if true, is a double-edged sword. While it encourages collective problem-solving, it also means that solo players who haven't joined the bandwagon early on are left in the lurch.
Hello Neighbor is a game of frustrating contradictions. It presents players with a series of illogical puzzles that demand patient thoroughness more than clever observation or ingenuity. The stealth element oscillates between being overly punishing and nearly irrelevant, creating a disjointed gaming experience. The game does offer clever level design and a knack for inducing creepiness, but these positives barely outweigh the frustrating aspects. Overall, I can't recommend subjecting oneself to 15-20 hours of this game. It might have been better to stay on one's side of the fence.
- Engaging premise;
- Effective at creating creepiness and horror;
- Clever level design;
- Encourages collective problem-solving;
- Inconsistent difficulty curve;
- Illogical and frustrating puzzles;
- Lack of clear instructions;
- Unfriendly to solo gameplay;