Hello Neighbor PC
You versus the guy you probably should worry about
Should we ever find ourselves seeking a change of career, we now know we can cross ‘professional burglar’ off the list. If there’s one thing Hello Neighbor has taught us, it’s that breaking and entering is a lot tougher than television and cinema have led us to believe. Then again, few movie thieves have ever come up against an opponent as smart and adaptable as the titular resident of the house across the way.
It’s the fierce orange glow coming from his cellar door, which is clearly visible through his front window, that first tempts you to investigate, not to mention that his front entrance has been left invitingly open. But no sooner have you reached for the handle than a loud musical sting plays and you spin around to see your neighbour reaching out two gloved hands to grab you. A quick fade to black and you’re back in your bedroom, ready for another attempt. This time, the doors are shut and your new nemesis is watching TV in the living room. Oh, and now there’s a padlock, a nailed-down plank and an electronic keypad preventing you from finding out what he might be getting up to in his basement. All of which only serves to make you more curious, and keener to return.
Two minutes in, and Hello Neighbor has already sunk its hooks into you. It cleverly taps into a rich vein of parochial paranoia – that nagging concern that the man next door might not in fact be all he seems – though in terms of tone it’s much closer to Joe Dante’s The ’Burbs than, say, Rear Window or Arlington Road. Your neighbour, dressed in a tank top and yellow shirt, doesn’t look especially malevolent on the face of things, but the context of the situation and what
You’re no nimble cat burglar – in fact, you’re made to feel like a bit of an oaf
little you’ve managed to learn from your time intruding on his property allows you to view him as evil: that moustache, after all, is ripe for twirling, and the arch of his eyebrow seems somehow suspicious.
Everything, in fact, is a few degrees off normal. Lights are either too bright or not bright enough. Household objects aren’t quite to scale. Some rooms are uncomfortably large and feel sparse; others are cramped, cluttered and rather claustrophobic. And you’re no nimble cat burglar – in fact, you’re made to feel like a bit of an oaf. Hopping up and over the furniture piled up around the back of the house is not an especially elegant process, even less so when you’re already sprinting away from danger.
It’s akin to a Roguelike in the sense that you learn more about your environment with every attempt, while randomised elements keep things fresh. As such, it’s not so much learning where everything is, but how to deal with the hazards you’ll face. Then there’s the small matter of dealing with AI that learns from your previous failures and adopts different strategies to cope – such as scattering bear traps across his front porch. Over time, you may internalise potential escape routes for every confrontation, but can you consistently remember where to go in a pinch? Though it is possible to briefly lose your pursuer in and around his house, returning to yours and shutting the front door only gets you so far. After one hurried retreat, we stood by the window only to watch him throw a bear trap through it.
Sometimes, there’s no telling where he’ll turn up, which means a successful run can be as much down to good fortune as skilful sneaking. No matter how quietly you creep, there’s not much you can do when you open a door and find he’s waiting on the other side, and there are often few obvious clues to his whereabouts. One raid saw us picking up both the hammer (to remove the plank) and the key (to unlock the padlock, a process that takes a few seconds but feels like an age), leaving us only needing to locate the passcode for the security panel. We were caught, but felt encouraged to finish the job on our next attempt – which lasted all of 12 seconds.
Tension is heightened by the jolting musical sting that plays each time you’re discovered. However, as with most contemporary horror films, the quiet-quiet-loud approach has diminishing returns. Even after more than a dozen attempts, the contrast between near-silence and sudden noise is enough to make you jump, but over time our gasps began to turn into sighs. At times, it feels as if the game’s been built for streamers rather than players – it’s easy to imagine a hyperactive YouTuber shrieking at the parade of jarring shocks.
Then, finally, the stars begin to align. We grab a pair of binoculars and bring them back to our house to observe from a safe distance. We employ the classic ring-the-doorbell-and-run technique, leading our neighbour around the side, knowing he’ll try to trick us by chasing us one way and then doubling back to catch us around the other. We race inside, and quickly tap in the passcode. The door opens, and… well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?
Your neighbour won’t always be keeping a watchful eye through his front window. One of our most successful runs saw us stroll through the front door unchallenged
ABOVE Hello Neighbor was developed as a direct response to the lacklustre AI of many modern games; the idea was to provide an opponent that could demonstrate a tangible capacity to learn and make tactical adjustments
Throwing tomatoes at the cellar door is not, it turns out, the most effective method of removing the three barriers to entry
The game is a step up in scale and ambition for developer Digital Pixels, which has been working almost exclusively in mobile gaming since 2004