Spooktober 2018 Entry #20 – Previous Entry: Vaccine
Yeah, the Far Cry 3 quote is overdone. However.
When I first laid hands on the controller to play this game, I knew it was destined to be something… eventful. The talk around this game was merely foreplay, and you don’t know just how insane a thing can be until you experience it. Well, I experienced it, and I leave a changed man. A man who now knows that whatever he creates in life must not reach the murky depths of Hello Neighbor. Join me now, won’t you?
This is the debut title from Russian developers Dynamic Pixels. Their website hosts a colorful webpage with a lot of information, but not a lot about their history, and it’s difficult to come across that information. After spending three years gathering funds and letting players have a teaser of what Hello Neighbor would be, tinyBuild published Dynamic’s title to an outcry of scorn and fury. It’s no The Final Station, I’ll tell you that right now.
You play a small child, who is playing with a rather heavy beach ball since it bounces like it’s weighed down with Adamantium. Nevertheless, the ball rolls down a hill which stops at the house of a man who has finished doing something fairly sinister. After finding the man in the process of locking up the basement, he catches you and throws you out of his property. From there, you can’t no for an answer, or at least, the game won’t let you.
It’s a “stealth” “survival” “horror”, with all of those words used to describe it as an honest stretch. You simply walk around the house, looking for a way to continue to the next part, while the neighbor stalks the house, looking to throw you out again. As time goes on, the neighbor’s AI will slowly become more advanced, which means… it means that… no, I can’t do this.
Let’s cut the crap. This game is awful. This is easily the worst game I’ve ever played, a title I gave to SHiNY a year ago. While I did give SHiNY the worlds first ever -10/10 — You’re welcome for that — it was mainly because the game blew up my 100-dollar speakers. It was still a dreadful game, filled with all sorts of awful bugs and glitches, but it was still designed with the intent to be an enjoyable experience. Hello Neighbor, however? That’s a whole different ball game.
This is the first game where I’ve had to have both a text walkthrough, and a video walkthrough by my hands at all times. I’ve done some of the silliest Sierra point ‘n’ clicks without help, I’ve managed to figure out the bloody shark puzzle in Resident Evil by my lonesome self, and I’ve completed Silent Hill 2 without any guidance. Hello Neighbor is a showcase of how not to design a game.
Before we delve into the nitty-gritty, I will give Hello Neighbor it’s one praise-worthy point credit: Some of the music’s nice. There are parts of the game where somebody is jamming on his acoustic guitar like he’s trying to learn how to play Big Iron, and it adds the world’s thinnest layer of warmth to the game like we’re going home.
All of Hello Neighbor is designed like a “game”. Not a Game, but a “game”. I’m sure you already know what I mean, with examples being that there’s barely any real-world logic applied to most of these puzzles, but it goes further than that and actually breaks immersion harder than most games with the same problems. The house isn’t designed like an extension of the world we live in, or a house that someone would actually live in, it’s designed like a “game”, and that’s before the bloody dream sequence, but we’ll get to that.
For a quick example, let’s look at the house in Act 1. The neighbor sleeps downstairs, instead of upstairs, because the upstairs is blocked by a wall that can only be opened via a switch inside the room it leads to. There’s a hole in the roof, however, it is only accessible via a ladder at the back, which is always locked with a wrench. I mean… you’re kidding me, right?
You can’t tell me that this doesn’t break immersion, unless you told me that the physics bugs already broke that, in which case, I’d understand, but surely you can’t defend this type of layout. This padding, this inane way of looking at things from this angle, and accepting their placement. It’s puzzle design that’s confusing for the sake of adding length to a game, and not for the sake of deterring players.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that I’m harping on the length quite a bit, and that’s for one simple reason: The game can be completed in less than thirty minutes, easily. You might be thinking “well, that’s impossible! Not without any form of glitch!”, and you’d be right, but it just so happens that using glitches isn’t just more fun to do, but sometimes actually necessary.
Act 2 is a perfect example for this, in which you have to escape the house now that the neighbor’s kidnapped you. He’s somehow managed to build an entire wall around the house, with the only way out being a trampoline, locked behind a gate which also needs an impromptu staircase built up to it, because there’s a net around said trampoline. No, no, wait, it gets worse.
Now, the actual way to do this is you have to flick three random switches around the house that will cause a valve to fly off a pipe, and then you have to use the valve around various sections of the house which will drain an impromptu pool that will kill you because of a toy shark that somehow heat-seeks onto you if you step into it. Wait, wait.
Now, after you’ve done that, there’s another valve, and after you’ve used this valve, then finally the gate opens, but now you have to build that staircase. Simple! All you need is a bunch of boxes that you have to stack into a one-two-three-four-five manner, pray that the boxes don’t actually clip into one another and cause a violent explosion of cardboard, and now you can actually jump onto the trampoline and escape. What’s wrong with a fucking locked door?
Anyway, it sounds easy, right? Well, how about the more fruitful endeavor of building the same staircase on top of a balcony, and then flying over the small gap in-between the gate and the archway above it, leading you to the same exit in about a tenth of the time it took to do the actual solution? It took me TWO. HOURS. Two hours to do the solution the way the game was intended, and that’s because the neighbor is a cheating piece of shit.
The only way you could consider this neighbor’s actions as “Advanced AI” is if it’s being held to the standards of the AI that possessed the HECU soldiers in Half-Life. He doesn’t react to your previous paths or put precautionary traps near where you were caught last time. He simply runs around the map and teleports to a location where he hears a noise. The only time he ever reacted to my previous attempts was with a bear trap at the front door, and after playing through Act 1 four times, this was the only thing he would ever do. Anything else was either invisible, or the AI is trash. One or the other.
If he catches you anywhere other than outside, then you might as well write your will and accept your fate, because he will pull every cheap trick in the book in order to catch. He’ll supposedly throw tomatoes and glue at you to halt you, even though it’s never actually animated, and he’ll jump from buildings and drops that would surely kill you if you attempted, all in the vain attempt to make you restart from your house.
I also cannot stress enough how much the physics are broken. Items will constantly clip through the floor, including quest-important items, and some of the physics-based puzzles rely more on luck than anything else. There’s an elevator in Act 3 that only moves up or down with a switch on the other room, and you have to throw some random object with the right power and trajectory in order to get to the top. Provided that you don’t clip through it, of course.
There’s a reason for that though, isn’t there? Yeah, you already know what I’m talking about, and that’s the fact that almost the entirety of Act 3 is a dream sequence, which could explain the doors in the floor and the asinine level design. Intentional obtuseness is still being obtuse, however, and when you think about it, how many games have designed their dream sequences to be flat-out insane puzzles that need to be beaten to continue, and only the most broken and fragmented humans could possibly understand? What’s the answer you’re thinking of? None? You’re correct.
In every games dream sequence with a floating door, or an item that’s impossible to get, or an antagonist that seemingly cheats in order to beat you, it’s never done to sabotage your playing time. It’s always done in the name of symbolism; being artsy-fartsy with their visuals, and hoping to be a highlight of their game. It’s not done to be a way of laughing at the player, and even then, you know you’re in a dream sequence! You don’t know that you’re in a dream sequence in Hello Neighbor until after you’ve completed it, you just assume that some time has passed and that he’s returned!
The more you think about this game as a game, and not as some feverish experiment done by the CIA in order to track down the greatest enigma-solver, the more it hurts. The ending of Hello Neighbor genuinely bought tears to my eyes, and not because of its “heartfelt” message, but because I had wasted so much fucking time fannying about a house that was a part of my imagination. The art of a trick, I suppose.
If you want to see something really depressing, however, compare the screenshots of the full release of Hello Neighbor to the previous alpha builds, and wonder where it all went wrong. What was once lit with moody lighting and had an edge to it, now looks like something unfinished, shoddy and amateur. It’s like the Mighty No. 9 screenshots, but more melancholic.
What of this “heartfelt” message, however? Well, it turns out that you have accepted the fact that you were kidnapped. You have come to terms with it, which strikes me as an odd thing to come to terms with. I mean, the only way to look at a kidnapping, like a kidnapping victim, is “well, I got kidnapped”. Weird how he comes to terms with this kidnapping after he’s been evicted from his lavish apartment as well, and now he’s homeless, with his old abode being a burnt down wreck with barely any furniture. Hope you enjoy the winter, dumbass.
There’s no stealth in Hello Neighbor, not unless you count the closets and one bed you can hide under. There’s no survival in Hello Neighbor, because that implies that something was to be lost if you were caught, and that’s not counting your sanity and the controllers you throw at the wall trying to figure the fucking thing out. There’s no horror in Hello Neighbor, because that implies that the neighbor was actually being a sneaky boy himself, and not just spawning around the map and glitching through shit to catch you.
Hello Neighbor is like the launch trailer for Sausage Party. You saw these actors playing poorly-animated pieces of food, and you think to yourself “Huh, that’s kind of a funny joke”, but when you realized that it was going to be an actual movie, you did a double take. You think to yourself about how they could possibly make the idea of talking food a worthy movie experience, and lo and behold, it’s one of the worst movies you’ve ever seen.
The same can be said for Hello Neighbor. You see Markiplier play it for a few minutes, and you think to yourself, “oh, well that’s kind of a neat idea for a small micro-game, but there’s no way they can flesh that out into a fully-paid experience”. Lo and behold, the game comes out three years later, and you’re left scratching your head, wondering how something like this can even be considered worthy of a thirty-dollar price tag. The answer? It isn’t worthy.
In the end, Hello Neighbor is a testament on how not to make a game, and its only applicable use that wouldn’t result in the degrading mental state of a human being would be if people used it as examples on how to make a game better. As much as I’m trying not to be exceptionally mean towards games nowadays, I genuinely can’t think of a single reason as to why you should play this game, other than the example above. It’s the worse game I’ve ever played, and I pray that the bar doesn’t go lower than this.
Oh, that missing script “Easter egg” thing? Walking through unfinished and unrendered landscapes and buildings isn’t an Easter egg, no matter how much Gamerscore you give me for wasting my time with it. I mean, I could make a better Easter egg than that. I could reference Rear Window, for example. Hell, it’s possible that I could create a game with that Easter egg… Maybe…
Hold that thought.
This review of Hello Neighbor is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
A game of such insane, inane and asinine design, it's a wonder the game didn't blow raspberries when I started it up.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.