‘Hello Neighbor’ is an unfinished look into a fascinating breed of terror

Hello Neighbor feels a long way from the finish line, but its unique concept makes it worth watching.

Hello Neighbor is available right now in alpha form on the game’s official website, where a FAQ section still notes that the developers “are not announcing any console plans at this time.” That part will likely change soon, as the “stealth horror” game emerged this week onstage during Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation as an Xbox One console exclusive (meaning it will ultimately be out on Xbox and Windows).

It’s part of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program, which is the company’s effort to court indie developers onto Xbox. But despite appearing in playable form during the E3 Xbox showcase, Hello Neighbor still feels early in development.

Get to know your neighbor

The premise is tantalizing. Your new neighbor is hiding something, and you’re dead set on finding out what. But he’s kind of a creep, so your plan involves sneaking through his house to discover what’s in his basement.

A key point in Hello Neighbor, is the intelligence of your creepy stalker.

TinyBuild Business Development Director, Yulia Vakhrusheva, said the focus is on tense, stealth-based horror. Watching some of the trailers and other videos the developers have released so far can bring to mind the early sections of Resident Evil 7, where an invincible, creepy hillbilly man stalks you through a mystery-filled house. 

A key point in Hello Neighbor, though, is the intelligence of your creepy stalker. Vakhrusheva said the antagonist uses “an advanced self-learning AI which progresses along with the player” and “learns from the player’s actions.”

Here’s the idea. As you hunt around the house searching for clues about your neighbor, he’s doing the same to you. His AI detects paths you take and objects you interact with, then sets traps or tries to otherwise impede you in dynamic ways based on your own actions and choices. It sounds ambitious, and it’s the kind of thing that’s hard to demo, given that the whole system won’t unveil its potential until you’re hours in.

Strange solutions to mundane puzzles

When your neighbor finds you, he gives chase, and he’s apparently hard to escape. We didn’t get to witness that during my demo. Instead, we played a brief tutorial section where we learned the basics of interacting with Hello Neighbor’s world. While poking around you’ll eventually find a key that you have to place in a briefcase to progress through a door, and on to the rest of the game.

In this state Hello Neighbor feels unintuitive, unfinished, and uninteresting, despite its poppy cartoon visuals and unique concept. It doesn’t provide enough feedback regarding what is or isn’t interactive, and the very idea of dropping a key into a suitcase so you can open your own front door has zero logic to it.

When I finally made it to the next scene, I found myself stuck in the front yard. I tried to open a door by throwing the key at it — because I had no idea what to actually do — and the key disappeared, rendering me trapped outside forever.

This is the danger of showing off a game that clearly isn’t ready for public consumption. Giving pre-alpha demos to supporters on your website is one thing, but the pressure’s exponentially higher when you’re on the floor at E3 next to Xbox games like Forza Motorsport 7, Sea of Thieves, and Minecraft. With that in mind, it’s impossible to judge Hello Neighbor based on this clearly unfinished demo. 

After all, Resident Evil 7’s opening hours are arguably its best, and a whole game built around that kind of tense stealth horror — not jump scares, Vakhrusheva told me — could be great. That feeling of tension will stem in part from that very unique setting: “You’re doing something bad, after all,” she said. “You’re breaking into the guy’s house.” And nobody wants to get caught doing something bad.

Hello Neighbor will be out August 29 on Xbox One and PC.

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