Horror is one of my favorite genres. What’s great about horror is how much the genre can be made unconventional by breaking the rules of what horror should be. When I think of a good horror game, I think of games like Outlast, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc. Those games are immediately recognized in the genre for their dark tone and aesthetic. Tinybuild’s Hello Neighbor is considered horror, but one would see the colorful tone and silly art style, and have no idea this game is actually terrifying.
I got some hands on time at E3 with Hello Neighbor, and here I was able to get a feel for how the core mechanics work in this relatively simple game. Players take control of a man who suspects something sinister about his neighbor across the street, and it’s the players job to get to the bottom of what’s really going on. The game starts off pretty mildly and feels light-hearted, and then a few minutes later the tone is completely turned upside down. Players hear a screeching scream across the street and see their suspicious neighbor frantically go downstairs in their basement to stop the screaming. Something’s definitely wrong, and the basement is where players will find answers.
That is the general gist of how the concept of the game is introduced to players. The end goal of each game is to find a way into the basement without getting caught by the creepy neighbor. While that sounds extremely boring, it’s actually not due to the house having so many secret rooms as well as having four floors. Now this could the unconventional nature of the tone does interest me, but once I learned the concept, it just felt as just another run-of-the-mill survival horror game. That opinion was then thrown out the window as I learned the real genius of the game: the AI.
Similar to the brilliant Alien: Isolation’s Xenomorph, the AI of the neighbor learns the players strategies and movements to get the upper hand. Another unique aspect to the AI is how it reacts to the environment. If I knock over an object and don’t put it back where it belongs, the neighbor will notice this and start to suspect something is wrong. He may even end up setting up traps or closing off certain entrances if he suspects the player is in the house, thus forcing the player to try different approaches. This mechanic is also enhanced by the way physics work realistically. In my playthrough, I got startled and ran through a hallway accidentally knocking over a mannequin (why he has mannequin’s makes it even creepier). I knew it would look out of the ordinary having the mannequin on toppled over, so I had to nervously figure out exactly where it originally stood, while also knowing the neighbor could come in it any time.
Another instance that made me cringe was when I opened up a shortcut, only to have said shortcut make a loud screeching noise. You remember sneaking into the kitchen when you were little trying to be extremely quiet. Then the most abrupt sound happens and we all freak out internally, maybe even trying to close our ears hoping that if we can’t hear it, maybe our parents won’t. It’s these moments that added each moment feel intense in my quick demo. These instances seem like they could enhance the challenge, as nothing may ever according to plan, causing players to wing it half the time.
I see this is as a game that would’ve ended up having a cult following if it was critically successful, but Tinybuild has the full support of Xbox. This could potentially make it a financial success if done correctly. The unique art style and and brilliant AI will make this game stand out among the rest in the horror genre. I appreciate a game that tries to do something different. Hello Neighbor is still currently in Alpha for free and is expected to be released in August of this year for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One.
More information on the game can be found on their website.