Pesky neighbours, they’re always up to no good. When they’re not nicking the missus’ parking spot, mine are always flying their drone out back, having fun in their swanky Jacuzzi, carrying out DIY home improvements, and gifting us with fruit from their massive garden (actually, I’m hoping to make a nice apple pie from that). Grrrr, the temerity, if only I could get into their house and have a good snoop around, I’m sure I’d find evidence of scandal or deviousness.
For curtain twitchers like myself then, Dynamic Pixels have devised the ultimate nosy neighbour simulator in the form of Hello, Neighbor!. It’s not due out until summer 2017, but in the interim you can get a taste of the core gameplay via the public pre-alpha demo they released at the weekend.
The demo begins with you staring out of your bedroom window at the property across the street. It’s night time, nobody seems to be home, and the front entrance has been left wide open. Through the lounge window a door underneath the stairs can be seen. Perplexingly, there’s a green exit sign above it, and the door is clearly ajar. An intense orange glow pours through the gap into the darkened room, sinister and alluring in equal measure. What could possibly be in there?
Obviously, I’m supposed to go check it out. I head across the street, casually strolling into the residence of a complete stranger. There’s no sign of activity, and all the hallway doors are locked, so I cautiously head towards the living area and the mysteriously luminescent portal. Just as I approach it, I’m abruptly spun round, now gaping into the face of a moustachioed man who seems to have materialised out of nowhere.
Next thing I know I’m safely back in my bedroom, but now it’s day time in this leafy suburbia, and I can’t help but notice that our tank-topped antagonist has employed some additional security measures. He’s presently sat in the living room watching TV. Guess I’m going to have to get creative.
So, I grab an old-fashioned alarm clock from the pile of junk conveniently sat outside my own home, once more heading towards the source of my burning curiosity. I wind up the clock and throw it round ride the side of the house, then quickly hide behind his car. After a short wait, it goes off and out comes Mr. Weirdo to investigate.
Once out of sight I sneak in through the front door and search the living room. Bingo, there’s a key behind the TV. I can hear him walking around the front. Nervously, I use the key in the padlock now securing the basement door, but it takes several seconds. The ambiance increases in intensity, so I know he’s close. Click, it’s open. Just the wooden board and the numerical lock to deal with now. But he’s in the hallway, where do I go?
Too late, I’m back in my own home again. This time it’s evening. But wait, I’m locked in my room and what the hell is that outside? It’s the neighbour peering through my window, and he’s suddenly ginourmous. A huge, black rubber-gloved hand is reaching through the hallway into my bedroom. I try to get away, but there’s nowhere to go. Then it’s morning. A standard-sized neighbour is outside changing a wheel on his shiny red car.
Welcome to the bizarre reality of Hello, Neighbor!, a twilight zone where normal things don’t happen very often. Essentially a stealth game stuck in a sort of Groundhog Day loop, the premise is fairly simple: find a way through the house and into that room without the neighbour catching you. The twist is, it’s impossible to do it in one go as the things you need won’t have all spawned. So, you have to tackle each barrier to your goal one at a time. In the case of demo, you need to find the key, a hammer, and the door code.
Each time you’re caught the level resets and the time of day changes (you can also do this yourself by choosing to sleep). Windows are repaired, doors are closed again, and objects (unless safely stashed in your own house) are put back in their rightful places. And various other things are slightly randomised, including what the neighbour will be up to. Sometimes he’s sat on his couch, other times he might be in the garage or outside in the garden.
But here’s the clever part, the AI adapts to your tactics. Keep using the front door? Next time it might be locked or guarded by traps and sensors. Fond of using a back window to get in? Expect it to be boarded up soon. Always getting caught with the key from the living room? It could end up being relocated. Is your favourite trick using the radio to create a distraction? He might not fall for that next time.
As such, Hello, Neighbor! requires patience, persistence, and cunning, and there’s an appreciable sandbox feel to the gameplay. There’s certainly a lot of joy to be had in experimentation, exploration, and playing around with objects and the environment. Virtually everything can be picked up and/or used in some fashion. You can smash a window with a frying pan then place a box down so you can climb through. Junk can be thrown to disable traps, set off sensors, or create a simple distraction. Chairs can be used to barricade doors. There’s usable flashlights and binoculars to be found. You can hide in wardrobes, search through drawers, and turn lights and devices on and off.
The demo is relatively short, there’s only one floor and it ends as soon as you open the basement door, but it’s damn good fun and it’s definitely got me yearning for more. The quirky, cartoonish visuals look great, the suspense is intense, and the chase sequences are terrifying. Plus, I loved all the little things for you to discover. Copies of Goethe’s Faust, the Eye of Providence, furniture sometimes on the ceiling, and strange lights occasionally emitting from rooms. This promises to be an adventure full of humour and inventiveness.
It’s unclear what Hello, Neighbor!’s full structure will comprise, and there is the danger that it could quickly become repetitive and tedious, but the developer assures us that it will be dynamic and shift around, featuring multiple locations and a full-on story.
Currently there are only plans for a PC version. Dynamic Pixels have stated that while a Mac version is possible, they’re “not talking about console versions at this point”. You can download the Hello, Neighbor! pre-alpha demo from their website here.