Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Taylor: 'Hello Neighbor' falls short of being good

Dustin Taylor

By Dustin Taylor
Jan. 3, 2018 at 5:15 p.m.

"Hello Neighbor" offers a suspenseful game for a few minutes but then wears thin.

The announcement trailer for "Hello Neighbor" showed a suspenseful stealth survival horror video game that tasks players with trying to find out what sinister event is taking place in a neighbor's basement.

A short time later, it was revealed that the scary neighbor would have a smart artificial intelligence that would learn from the player's actions within the game. If a player goes through a certain window a lot, expect a bear trap there in the future. Go through the front door? Cameras will be installed at some point.

This sounds great, but sadly it never came to pass. At least, not as far as I could tell.

I never saw any real changes on the neighbors' part to try to make me change my tactics up. Being caught wasn't even that big of a problem, as boxes that I had left stacked were left untouched or a key that I had picked up was not confiscated. Essentially the game allowed me to keep trying what I wanted, chipping away until I would get a critical piece done, then continue on without him altering anything about the home or taking anything from me.

This by itself would not be completely horrible, but unfortunately the puzzles within the game often make no real sense and often context clues are not given so that we may figure it out. Instead, players are left to blindly put it together themselves.

To advance forward in the game, at one point there was a hole in a wall that was covered up by a painting. Aside from smallest area of bare wall visible on two sides of the painting (I thought this was a glitch once I noticed it), it didn't seem to really convey anything. It was luck that led me to realizing that it could be messed with.

The logic behind many of these puzzles is absent. It often felt like I was playing an adventure game back in the '90s. A puzzle or two would be a misstep, but most of the puzzles being that way is far worse. It impacts the fun and challenging aspects of having puzzles in the game.

The controls do not help, either. They are not very precise, so trying to jump from one spot to another or trying to flick a light switch or jump through a window is just a hassle. It's easy to mess up and wound up getting caught because of it.

Stealth-wise, the game is hampered by level design and many stealth elements. Aside from hiding in a closet or something similar and just trying to be sneaky, there's nothing really sneaky about the game.

The first act takes place in a small home. This means there is limited space to move around and figure the design out without the neighbor running into you. Worse still, whenever the player is close to him, ominous, stressful music plays. Run! Except, not really. This is no actual indication of whether he sees the player or is aware of you in any way.

At first I was constantly panicking due to the music, which is quite suspenseful. After enough near heart attacks, though, I came to realize that it didn't really mean anything as it could not be trusted and was simply artificially creating suspense. After a while, it simply became annoying to listen to.

The second and third acts open up to bigger areas to explore and allow a somewhat easier time to avoid getting captured. But then the puzzles just become harder to figure out.

The controls do not feel like they were designed for a stealth game. There is no crouch button, no lean or climb ability, plus the weightless controls make it feel more like a first-person adventure exploration video game. Nothing about the way the player moves or interacts feels right for this genre.

"Hello Neighbor" offered the idea of an interesting, suspenseful game. Unfortunately, the end product ended up feeling like a beta version that still requires more polishing.



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