01st Aug2018

‘Hello Neighbour’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

hello-neighbour-screen

I have the red key in my hand. It is pointed directly at the red padlock. The cursor is acknowledging the union of these two items. Yet no matter how many times I push the “Use” button, however rapidly and however strongly, it simply will not register, and the neighbour grabs me again.

It’s a scenario that plays out all too often in Hello Neighbour, a travesty of a so-called game which was already broken on its release on Microsoft platforms last December. It now comes to Nintendo Switch in a similarly dysfunctional state.

The basic concept is sound. You’re a kid who happens to witness what may be a murder through a neighbour’s window. You set about breaking into the neighbour’s house to uncover the mystery. It’s ridiculous, obviously – after twenty attempts at breaking windows and piling up furniture in order to gain entry, you’d think he’d simply tell an adult – but as a game concept it has potential.

Potential which is entirely squandered by virtue of the game being a complete mess on a mechanical level. Remember that early bit in Half Life 2 where it teaches you physics-based puzzle-solving by making you pile up boxes to escape a room? It took a bit of practice but in 20 seconds you’d nailed it. Well, in Hello Neighbour it took 20 seconds for the game just to allow me to pick up a box.

I wondered if I was missing something, so I repeatedly paused and checked the controller layout for missing action inputs. (Oh yes, there is no tutorial. Remember: this is a peculiar game with very specific mechanics, where the goal is deliberately ambiguous – and there is no tutorial to teach basic controls.) But no, there’s only one action button, and they couldn’t even make that work.

You’re not just fighting with the controls, you’re also at war with the neighbour’s AI. And I don’t just mean the way that he lays traps once he cottons onto your approach (that’s the game’s big selling point, apparently). No, I’m talking about the bizarre AI rules that seem to govern the creepy old coot.

Why does he still hunt me down when I’m standing in a different neighbour’s garden, yet I become invisible the second I step into the tarmac of the road? How is it that sometimes he can instantly teleport from one position in the house to another? Why am I having to wait for minutes on end for the guy to go back inside so I can begin another tiresome home invasion?

Why is it that the objects I’ve moved in the environment stay put after I’m captured, but the windows I’ve broken are magically replaced? At one point I could literally see the tool I’d used to break the window lying on the other side of the gleaming new pane.

Which brings us to the game’s engine. Dynamic Pixels have admirably aimed for 60fps (which is probably why the game looks like a cheap Nickelodeon tie-in from the Wii era) and it sometimes hits that target. But there’s no excuse for a seven-month-old game to still be suffering object-glitching on this scale. One time I had a whole chorus of household items juddering against one another, like there was something living under there. Also, the sound design is appalling (the ten-second loop when the neighbour turns on the TV is excruciating), with unbalanced volume levels and inappropriate foley choices.

There are three acts in total. The first is the aforementioned break-in. The second is a break-out. The third is a surreal nightmare on a larger scale. But make no mistake, it’s a matter of trial and error the whole way through. This is sandbox survival horror: Alien Isolation by way of Garry’s Mod, if you like. And not nearly as fun as that sounds.

Along the way are scripted interludes; interactive dreams which elaborate on the history of the neighbour himself. It’s not clear why you are dreaming of someone else’s past, but it doesn’t matter anyway because these moments merely exist to try to convince us that the game we’re playing is a complete item. They fail to do so.

Amazingly, tinyBuild have announced a multiplayer add-on for Hello Neighbour, even though it is objectively an unfinished game. Unfinished and outrageously low on content. Any longevity is purely out of the player’s bafflement about their purpose, not because they are busy enjoying the playground. It’s four hours at most if you know what you’re doing. But you won’t, and it’s not fun working it out.

They want forty quid for this pap. You’re better off watching a stream for free – it’s clearly what the game was designed for, and it will save you the agony. Or just avoid it entirely, like the neighbour you hate.

Hello Neighbour is out on 3rd August 2018 on Nintendo Switch.

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