“He mostly just kept to himself.”
How well do you know your neighbors? Sure, you might have a passing relationship with the family next door, and perhaps there’s one really friendly neighbor a few doors down who likes to stop and chat about the weather.
But what about that one house? You know the one. It’s the house that trick-or-treaters aren’t allowed to go to. Maybe the yard’s unkempt, and the guy who lives there only shows his face at midnight, creeping out with a bag of garbage that seems to be squirming a little bit. The blinds are always shut, except on occasion, when you see a pair of eyes glaring out from the bottom of the window.
The folks at Dynamic Pixels understand the perils of your seemingly average residential community. While it looks pleasant and ordinary on the outside, the suburban landscape of Hello Neighbor is a far cry from Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. The man across the street is up to no good, and it’s your job to infiltrate his house and discover the dark secret that’s hiding in his basement.
Hello Neighbor presents a new kind of survival horror, as you engage in a game of cat and mouse with a single, hostile AI. The playing area is small and claustrophobic, mostly confined to your neighbor’s home and yard. The moment you cross onto your neighbor’s property, you soon realize that your run could end at any moment.
The neighbor’s house has several windows and doors, but most locations are locked. At first, I was able to get through the front door without any problem, as the neighbor lounged in his living room watching television. From here, you must stealthily move about the house, careful not to step on any bear traps or walk in front of cameras. At first it wasn’t too hard to explore the house, until I realized that I needed to get into the living room where the neighbor was.
When you alert the neighbor to your presence, the game becomes a panic-filled chase scene. You can attempt to hide in wardrobes or under beds, but the neighbor will check them diligently if he suspects that you’re around. His vision and hearing are uncanny, and he can run faster than you can.
This interaction against a single AI is surprisingly difficult and intense, easily as scary as your average survival horror game, despite the lack of popular tropes. There’s no blood or monsters, and the neighbor himself isn’t really a scary looking dude. All the tension comes from being constantly hunted. The game advertises that there aren’t jump scares, but that’s not strictly true. It’s pretty easy to get surprised by your neighbor, and when that happens, the music hits a crescendo that might indeed cause you to fly through the roof.
Each time you’re caught—at least in the alpha build—you’re sent back to your own house across the street. After I was caught a couple times, the neighbor began to adapt. No longer was the front door unlocked, which meant I either had to ring the doorbell to lure the man out or break through one of his windows. Any one of these actions attracts his attention, and he will sprint to the location of the noise as quickly as possible. You can do this to lure him about, but it must be planned carefully. It’s easy to corner yourself and have your run end prematurely.
This adaptive AI promises to be one of Hello Neighbor’s signature features. The neighbor is designed to react to your behavior and sets traps based on your tendencies. The neighbor will board up windows that you frequently bust through, and set bear traps in well-tread areas. He’s also adept at finding shortcuts and is willing to smash his own windows to get to you.
The neighbor’s ability to pursue you relentlessly provides a laudable challenge, but in its current state, it can also be frustrating. Part of this is the result of the game’s objectives, since you don’t really know where to find the items you need in order to unlock the basement. Tracking them all down can be a chore, particularly when you’re trying to avoid and fend off the neighbor. Not knowing where to go is one problem, while having a relentless force on your tail is quite another. Scouring rooms while also keeping constant tabs on the neighbor’s location felt kind of impossible. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic evolves as the game’s development continues to take shape.
Where Hello Neighbor shines best is in its potential. The game provides the kind of nerve-wracking thrills that will excite horror fans and presents a scenario that is unlike any other games you might have played. The adaptable AI is already strong in so many ways, changing the challenges you face every time you come after him. It will be fun to see just how much the game evolves and how wickedly intelligent your adversary becomes in the final build. I can’t wait to play more Hello Neighbor. This is definitely one game to keep our eyes on.