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

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