Hello Neighbor

I very recently posted some thoughts on the brand-new Hello Neighbor 2. Specifically, I thought it felt like two games in one — a very good puzzle game and a very bad stealth game.

But here’s the thing. At that point, I had never played any of the previous Hello Neighbor games. And Hello Neighbor 2 isn’t even the second one; there are at least a half dozen of these things. While I did have some issues with Hello Neighbor 2, there’s something strangely compelling about its surrealist world, and I wanted to spend some more time in it.

Thankfully, the original Hello Neighbor is on PS Plus right now, so I could give it a whirl without having to pony up any cash. So here I sit, three days later, typing up some thoughts about the super-weird experience I’ve been having. At this point, I have completed a full playthrough of the game (and I have the super-rare No More Fears Trophy to show for it).

Hello Neighbor

Anyway, I think it’s safe to say Hello Neighbor is something of a cult classic. It was never met with critical adoration (the PC version is currently sitting at a Metacritic rating of 38/100), but enough people dig it that it’s continually getting spinoff games to build out the franchise.

And to be fair, I’ve found a lot of criticism of the game that I think completely misses the mark.

For example, I’ve heard some folks say it’s not scary (though this criticism seems to be more commonly hurled at Hello Neighbor 2 than at the original game). I honestly don’t really care how scary (or not scary) a horror game is, so this criticism doesn’t really resonate with me. I also think there’s more to the horror genre than scares, and that Hello Neighbor isn’t strictly a horror game. I would describe it as a game that borrows a few themes from horror, but does its own thing. That, in my opinion, frees it from any obligation to actually be scary.

I’ve also heard people say that the story makes no sense. My interpretation of Hello Neighbor is that Acts 1 and 2 are childhood memories that are partially misremembered, exaggerated by the mind of a child, and that Act 3 and the Finale are a dream that incorporates elements from those misremembered memories. So it doesn’t have to make total sense — the game builds out a surrealist framework to create something deliberately disorienting and strange. I think complaining that Hello Neighbor doesn’t explicitly make sense would be like insisting that “There’s no biological mechanism by which a human being can turn into a bug overnight” is an apt criticism of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

Hello Neighbor

That’s not to say Hello Neighbor doesn’t deserve some of its negative marks. In fact, I think the Nintendo Life review is very accurate in pointing out how the obtuse nature of the puzzles combined with the janky physics lead to an extremely frustrating experience.

I think it’s also fair to point out that the game doesn’t really work to prevent you from getting into impossible situations, where you’ve solved puzzles in the wrong order and now your only recourse is to restart the current act and do it all over again (I had to restart Act 3 at least three times because I got myself into these irreversible dead-end situations). Actually PC Gamer’s review is pretty spot on with this quote:

Hello Neighbor is best thought of as a puzzle game where you’re frequently set back to the start of a section with very little you can meaningfully do about it. 

I think the most accurate description of Hello Neighbor is that it’s an excellent concept that was executed exceptionally poorly. I think that “player explores a house that is inexplicably growing to make use of impossible, disorienting architecture” is actually a killer premise for a video game. In fact, I think it’s such a great concept that I find myself constantly being drawn back to Hello Neighbor, despite how much I hate actually playing it.

Hello Neighbor

Yes, the third act of the game pretty much broke me, and by the Finale, I hated my very existence for continuing to play this shoddily made, janky piece of garbage. But at the same time, I did in fact finish the game, and I’m glad I did. And now, I’m thinking about checking out some of the other spinoffs.

I can’t shake the feeling that Hello Neighbor is actually a brilliant piece of art that was handled by a development team that didn’t have the technical chops to bring the vision to life. And so I keep thinking I’m finding flashes of brilliance inside this janky mess of a game.

I hate the stealth sequences, and I hate the fact that the game communicates its rules so poorly. For example, there’s one sequence in which you must quickly move between hiding spots inside lockers while a team of mannequin workers is idle. There’s a bell that rings between “shifts,” so you can tell when it’s safe by listening for the bells. However, there is one mannequin that’s still active during breaks, so you can still get caught when you’re doing exactly what the game is trying to tell you to do. This muddies up the objective, and it can lead people who are doing the correct thing to believe they are actually doing the wrong thing. This creates an extremely frustrating trial-and-error experience, where you’re not really sure if you’re doing it correctly or if you’re just exploiting some broken game mechanic, which ultimately leads to an extremely unsatisfying conclusion to a super-frustrating puzzle.

However, I love the design of the house. I love the looming feeling of dread coupled with the disorienting dreamlike logic of it all. I think some of the puzzle solutions are brilliant, and that the final boss fight is another extremely clever idea (only one that’s horrendously mishandled). I think the umbrella item is super fun to play around with. All of this adds up to a pretty compelling experience, albeit an extremely flawed one.

I don’t think I’ll ever play Hello Neighbor a second time. I’m just not that masochistic. However, I can’t deny that I find myself drawn to its surrealist world, and that I find myself thinking back on the experience with some fondness. And I can’t help but feel like that should count for something

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