Over the past several months, I have been following an intriguing indie game called Hello Neighbor. The premise is simple enough. Sneak into your neighbor’s house with the goal of finding out what he’s hiding in his basement. Of course, it’s hardly the player’s business what our mustachioed-neighbor does in the privacy of his own house, but let’s not get too caught up in that, okay? Well, after watching Youtubers work their way through Alpha 1-4, plus the Beta, the full game has finally been released, and…I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Before we move on, keep in mind that this review is not being written by someone who has actually played the game, just an avid viewer and theorizer. There will be spoilers for the Alpha and Beta versions of the game, but not the full game. Because…if you’re interested in Hello Neighbor, you’ve likely already seen the earlier releases of the game by now.
For me, Hello Neighbor was a unique experience partly because I had never before had the pleasure of watching a game as it was being developed. Watching it go from something very basic, where you lived in the equivalent of a shed and the neighbor didn’t even chase you, to something far grander with a massive, sprawling house to explore and a neighbor who would mercilessly chase you down, tossing jars of glue all the while, was rather fascinating. At least as far as the Alphas were concerned, each version of the game was totally different, with a new house to explore and puzzles to solve. I remember the very first time I watched the game (it was Alpha 1 or 2), the neighbor’s house had a weird classroom upstairs where mysterious paper airplanes would come from nowhere, a “security shark” (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what people are calling it), and a coffin buried beneath the floor in one of the inner rooms, with a mannequin of all things confined inside.
The game was strange and whimsical, but above all else, there was always the question of what the neighbor was hiding in his basement to keep us watching in utmost suspense. During a short scene at the start of one of the earlier Alphas, I recall the sound of a car crash emanating from the other side of the basement door, with a tire flying through just before the neighbor closed it. Though, back then, once you unlocked the basement door, you didn’t discover anything, but was, rather, captured by the neighbor and…buried alive! Later on, entry into the basement led to the discovery of candles and children’s beds. I think the neighbor’s gonna have a hard time explaining that to the police….
Despite this fascination I held for the game, I recall somewhat losing interest in Hello Neighbor with the release of the Beta. While the game was certainly not realistic (no glue is sticky enough to stop a person in their tracks), the addition of bizarre mini games, the ability to acquire a double jump, and the boss fight against a massive neighbor really didn’t feel like they fit with the game’s theme. At this point, I began to worry the game was veering off in a direction I wouldn’t like. Even so, I held on to the hope that they would pull it all together by the end and deliver something truly special.
And now that I’ve seen the full game, what can I say about it? Before we get in-depth, let’s get a few things out of the way. As far as minor gripes are concerned, I think they could have polished up the graphics a bit, and I was also pretty disappointed the game was so short. Seriously, the $30 price tag is asking a lot considering what you get…not to mention the fact that if you played/watched the early versions of the game, you’ve already seen most of it….
Moving on, I can appreciate the general feel of the game. I enjoy the game’s whimsy, for lack of a better word (again, let’s not forget security shark). Plus, I love games that make you think, and Hello Neighbor certainly offers some interesting puzzles, partly thanks to the game’s sometimes bizarre logic. Conversely, the solutions to some of these puzzles make no rational sense. I mean, at one point, you have to put a globe into a fridge, then place the globe into a pedestal while still icy, in order to freeze a room full of water. To this day, I continue to wonder how someone managed to figure that out.
As far as the neighbor’s supposed AI is concerned, I don’t feel it’s really as advanced as advertised. Sure, he puts security cameras and bear traps in places you’ve been a lot, but…that’s about it. To be honest, I didn’t notice any other intelligence at play. And if he catches you, there are no consequences, aside from having to walk back to where you left off. I guess it’s good the neighbor isn’t constantly hunting you down when you’re in the middle of solving puzzles, and his presence is still enough to keep you on guard. I was just hoping for more of what was shown in the trailer. You know, distracting the neighbor by calling him on the phone or turning on the TV. It seems the only strategy involved in eluding him most of the time is simply running as fast as you can.
Now, on to the most important part. What is the neighbor hiding in his basement? Well, I can’t tell you that. Sorry. I also can’t tell you why. And not just because I’m avoiding spoilers, but because I have no idea. Unfortunately, this is probably where the game fell short most of all. You see, the problem with mysteries is…if they’re answered, the solution is often not as good as the wild fantasies we had running through our mind prior to the grand revelation. And if they’re not answered in any clear way, we’re often left feeling dissatisfied.
The answer to Hello Neighbor’s biggest mystery…is kind of explained. To a point. And it’s also…left kind of ambiguous. We learn what the neighbor is hiding in his basement, and we get some clues as to why. But the neighbor’s motivations are never made super clear. And that wouldn’t be so bad if this was a game I wanted to keep thinking about. I’m kind of curious to learn more, and I appreciate the symbolism. But in the end, I feel like the truth is not really as exciting as I had been hoping for.
Then again, is it ever?
For a game like Hello Neighbor, I think this was inevitable. Mysteries die when they’re solved, and the best thing about Hello Neighbor was not knowing. Now that the game is complete, I don’t care all that much anymore. Does that make Hello Neighbor a bad game? No, not really. I appreciate new and interesting games such as this. It’s the very reason I love indie games so much. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Hello Neighbor, even if I was merely a bystander rather than an actual participant, and it would be unfair to forget that now that the game is over. It was an interesting diversion while it lasted, even if it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever want to return to the game in the future.
Hello Neighbor, it’s been fun. But now I guess it’s time to…sniff…say goodbye.
Dear readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did you play/watch the full version of the game? Were you happy with the game’s resolution or disappointed? Don’t forget to leave your comments below!
Image from Flickr User: AustriaGaming