Saturday, 29 October 2016

Hello, Neighbor! - Pre-Alpha Demo Impressions

"Hello, Neighbor!" isn't something I say often, or ever, since I don't speak to my neighbours, but since it's the name of Dynamic Pixels and tinyBuild's upcoming stealth horror, it's something I'm happy to add to my vocabulary. Even in such mysterious circumstances as this: 

Across the street is a man. There's something strange about him. Something shines from behind his basement door, which is padlocked and boarded up. Just what is he hiding back there? Well, in Hello, Neighbor!'s pre-alpha demo, that's what I aimed to find out.

Here he is. Looking out the window like he doesn't have some terrifying secret hidden in his basement. Douche.

At its core, Hello, Neighbor! is a game which has players exploring the house of the man across the street, whether he likes it or not. And he really doesn't. The ultimate goal is to find out what is locked away in his basement. The only way to do this, however, is to sneak into his house and gradually work your way through using items you find, such as keys to unlock doors, hammer to pry off boards, and codes to enter into keypads. 

In order to get enough time to do actually do this, or to explore a room that the neighbour is currently in, distractions are key. For example, do you want to go into the living room where he's watching TV? If you smash a window, turn on a radio, or open the garage door, to pick out a few examples, he'll get up to find out what it was. While he's up and about, it's time to move. Be quick, though, because you never know when he might be back.

If he comes back to find you snooping about, you'll know about it. The music becomes almost deafening as he chases you down, and if he catches you, you wake up back in your bedroom across the street. Only next time you go back to the neighbour's house, things will have changed.

You see, Hello, Neighbor! features procedural AI that can, and will, adapt. During one of my many short playthroughs (I wasn't very good at snooping), I got my foot caught in a bear trap. Shortly afterwards, he appeared, and I found myself back across the street. Then, knowing my weakness for this method of capture, I found that he'd put another bear trap right outside the front door. Clever bastard. 

While Hello, Neighbor!'s premise and procedural AI definitely have promise, the early build that I played through felt like just that. I was able to somehow glitch through a wall and hide under a bed without ever stepping foot inside, and the neighbour himself would often get stuck inside objects. Though this seemed like an invitation to explore the rest of the house in my own time, it actually meant that he was sometimes stuck inside the very room that I wanted to be in. If he then spotted me, he'd break free from his glitch-trap and catch me. It almost always made me jump...

In addition, I had to guess what the controls were, as the escape button closed the entire demo rather than bringing up a menu, like I'd thought it would. In a demo as tense as this, it would have been nice to know the controls from the get-go. The latter issue is obviously very minor, but adds up to the unpolished feel that can be expected at this stage in development.

Regardless of the few bugs mentioned above, which really aren't that surprising inside a pre-alpha build, Hello, Neighbor! has my attention. From the very first trailer, I've been captivated by the game's unique style, making the world and its characters seem surreal and larger than life, much like the world of Albino Lullaby, another one-of-a-kind horror that I reviewed in 2015. Everything is extremely colourful and hides a much darker tone behind its cheerful exterior. I can't wait to peep through its curtains, explore its rooms, and, ultimately, find out what's hidden in the depths of its basement.

You can find out more about the upcoming horror game on its website, sign up to play the pre-alpha demo for yourself here, or even purchase the game on Steam, as it's just enter Early Access release with an updated demo known as Alpha 1 (featuring more items and a two-story house). Happy hunting.

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