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Review: Hello Neighbor (Xbox One)By ringlord71 At 14.04.2018 10:36

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From the cute art design of the town and the characters within it, Hello Neighbor seems to give the impression that the overall themes of the game are not to be taken too seriously. However, it soon becomes clear that this is not the case, and within this humorous-looking Pixar-esque story, is an absurdly dark and unnerving experience. The horror elements on display are both mechanical, as the boy must lurk quietly around the house without getting busted by the neighbour, while disturbing visual elements come into it as the game progresses to really heighten the tension.

Mechanically, this plays out like a weird, hybrid version of Home Alone. Rather than having the boy defend his house from an intruder, the protagonist is instead doing the breaking in. The neighbour is an AI adept at learning player-patterns, making it harder and harder each time. If the boy gets busted by the neighbour, he resets to outside of the house, and must again attempt to successfully make it into the basement. This time around, though, the neighbour will set traps, using the same pathway that the boy's prior attempt had taken.

The more the boy gets found out, the harder the next attempt becomes. Previously unobstructed doorways may have bear traps placed in front of them, as well as a bevy of other traps that the neighbour sets up around the house. The game uses this mechanic very well and, because of it, the stakes rise with every re-entry, while trying to keep eyes peeled for both the neighbour and the traps and obstacles.

The sound design further complements this entire experience, as the boy cannot possibly always keep his eyes on the neighbour. This means that listening in on nearby footsteps, doors being opened or closed, or any other variety of sounds that the neighbour is making, is vital for survival. Thankfully, the house is full of hiding places, as well. Cupboards and under the beds are some handy spots, although be sure to not be seen crawling in or under there, for the villain of the piece surely won't fall for that.

Unfortunately, all these mechanics fall under the crushing weight of the nonsensical mission objectives and poorly implemented controls and motion. While the base objective is to find a way to get into the basement, the boy must search every nook and cranny in the house to find keys that unlock doors, and to find more keys to gain access to other parts of the house, before finally discovering a way into the basement. While this is not unlike many games of old that had extremely brief mission parameters, there still had to be a logical solution to the puzzle. Hello Neighbor instead opts to go for the abstract form of puzzle solving, with trial-and-error on everything being the main requirement for figuring out the solutions.

At one stage deep into the action, trying to figure out what exactly the game is trying to get the boy to do is complete madness. Without a clear objective, and no obvious signals to point the boy into a specific direction, many hours can be lost running around in circles without any idea or clue of what is expected to progress the story. While titles can sometimes benefit from abstract objectives to encourage exploration, Hello Neighbor becomes a bit of a joke with it all, as the solutions show themselves to be nothing more than dumb luck most of the time.

This is unfortunate, because the overall mechanics of picking up objects to affect the environment, making noise to distract the neighbour is a fun mini-game. However, the controls also seem to become the enemy at stages, due to the inadequacy of picking up objects and placing them where the boy wants to. Sometimes buttons must be pressed multiple times to perform an action, due to the first press not registering, or pointing the first-person crosshairs at a designated spot for the item drops is off-course for where the item drops. While this shouldn't be that much of an issue, building box towers to reach higher platforms means that stacking boxes should not have to be a constant fight with the controls.

What makes the control scheme worse is the lack of any sort of tutorials. Mid-way through, it turned out the boy could peep through keyholes, while sprinting or jumping was discovered entirely by accident. This would have been handy to feature either in the pause screen menu or at the beginning, but for some odd reason these points are completely ignored.

Further aggravations are created by the broken physics engine, as the boy's hopes for survival are entirely dependent on whether the game wishes to function properly. Sometimes the AI neighbour will get stuck on environmental objects or fail to perform tasks that he is clearly trying to do; or when trying to sneak into the house, a ball might bounce off a window without breaking for whatever reason; or inventory items will just magically vanish upon getting caught - and not the "reappearing in its default" spot, either. When the boy gets caught, he resets outside of the house with all his inventory items intact. However, every so often, he is stripped of everything, and they don't reappear in their original positions to be recollected. They are simply gone, and God forbid that a required key to unlock the door is what vanishes, because then it is truly bye-bye.

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Final Score
[i]Hello Neighbor[/i] looks like a great collection of different mechanics, with a horrifying stealth game embroiled in a reverse [i]Home Alone[/i] scenario. With a gripping premise, and a clever AI programme that allows the neighbour to constantly learn the boy's routes, to set traps for the next attempt, this appears to have all the promise in the world. Instead, after a few hours of playtime, it is clear that Dynamic Pixels needed to keep this game in the oven a little longer, as the physics bugs, inventory glitches, and poor control explanations make this experience a horrifying one for the wrong reasons. This is a mess of broken mechanics that has a lot of potential, but unfortunately potential is all that it has going for it.



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