Buy 'NEIGHBORS FROM HELL': PC
In the world of electronic entertainment, no matter what the platform, we speak of genres. There’s strategy, turn-based or real time. There’s role playing and adventure. There are puzzle games, action games, and even tradition games. But every once in a blue moon a game like Neighbors from Hell comes along that doesn’t quite seem to fit with any of these standards. Like many games of this type, Neighbors from Hell vaguely borrows small gameplay elements from certain genres, but the end product is something entirely different.
Soon to be released from JoWood and Encore, Neighbors from Hell gives you control of Woody, the games protagonist. Apparently Woody has an obnoxious, self centered neighbor who he feels needs to be taught some important, at times painful lessons in life. Woody achieves this by sneaking into the target neighbor’s house and using various household products to play setup tricks on him.
But it’s the games presentation that ah…steals the show. You see, Neighbor’s from Hell is really a spoof on the current reality TV craze that’s been en vogue the last few years, and the game is presented as a live TV broadcast, complete with a soundtrack, director, and cheesy laughing crowd.
The main game is divided up into seasons, from season one on up. Each season has several episodes assigned to it that can be played. Each episode has a small theme that is actually designed to give the player an idea of what to expect. Episodes also have a minimum rating level that must be reached in order to be successfully completed, along with the amount of tricks available, as well as the time limit the player has to achieve their rating.
Once the game starts, the player is presented with the side view of the target neighbor’s two storied house. All of the episodes I played with the beta featured this same basic house with two levels. Whether or not later episodes allow for more levels I am not sure. At the same time, Woody makes his appearance. Again, everything is presented as if it was a TV show. Once actual play starts, the first thing you will want to do is observe the neighbor, who is usually on the top floor, focusing his attention on something specific, like watching TV or eating. The neighbor can move around freely, but usually does so in a routine manner. The idea then is to learn this routine, and proceed from there. If the neighbor should happen to catch Woody in his house, the neighbor beats him up, and the episode ends in failure. Once you garner an idea of what the neighbor is up to, your next task is to guide Woody around the house, searching through chest drawers, medicine cabinets, and similar areas, discovering various household items along the way. It is through the clever deployment of these items that you play tricks on the neighbor, which again is designed to enrage him. The more upset you get the neighbor, and the longer you manage to keep him upset, the better your overall rating for that episode will be.
Here is an example based on one of the games earlier episodes. In this particular circumstance, the neighbor is upstairs watching TV. Woody enters the house on the bottom floor. Every so many seconds, the neighbor gets up from his chair, walks into the kitchen, gets another beer, walks back to the living room, and sits back down to watch TV again. The neighbor goes through this process exactly the same way every time. Because the neighbor does not initially go downstairs, Woody has free rein of that particular area.
To start off, I guide Woody first to a small chest with drawers. In the chest, Woody finds a magic marker, and a handsaw. Next I guide Woody to the bathroom, where in the medicine cabinet he finds some laxative. Another look around reveals a bar of soap in the soap dish next to the bathroom sink. We then learn that we can remove the roll of toilet paper from the spool next to the toilet. It appears that we now have all of the objects available on this particular level. Developing my plan, I instruct Woody to place the bar of soap onto the bathroom floor. Next, I have Woody use the magic marker to spruce up a picture hanging on the downstairs wall, presumably of the neighbor’s mother. The next step involves a little timing. The neighbor goes into the kitchen, grabs a beer, and the second he goes back into the living room, I move woody upstairs into the kitchen. I have Woody use the laxative on the beer. I then have him quickly look around and he finds an egg inside the refrigerator. I have Woody take the egg, place it inside the microwave, and in a few seconds it explodes. Woody then hastily makes his way back downstairs, narrowly missing getting caught by the neighbor, who is entering the kitchen for another beer. The neighbor notices the egg splattered microwave and become upset. The crowd laughs suitably. The neighbor then heads back to the living room with another beer, which comes with a surprise this time. The neighbor takes the laxative laced beer back into the living room, takes a sip, and suddenly senses nature calling, apparently very loudly, as he makes a quick exit downstairs to the bathroom. When he enters the bathroom, he slips head over heals on the bar of soap Woody placed on the floor. The neighbor gets even madder. Muttering, the neighbor plants himself on the toilet. While that’s happening, I guide Woody to the neighbors chair in the living room, and using the handsaw, make a few fatal adjustments.
As a final touch, I send Woody to the TV, where he readjusts the antenna, scrambling the TV screen. I then decide to hide Woody in the kitchen. Finished with his business, the neighbor suddenly realizes the toilet paper is gone, making him a little more upset. As the neighbor exits the bathroom, he notices the defiled picture of his mother on the wall. He becomes enraged, bending over backwards in a fit of lobe burning madness, so bad in fact, that he bellies forward, catching his breath. After cleaning up the picture, the neighbor heads back upstairs. But oh no! Instead of going directly to the living room, he has decided to go to the kitchen first to get another beer! I hastily move Woody back downstairs, going through the living room so as not to get caught. The neighbor grabs his beer, and then enters the living room, where he immediately notices the scrambled reception on the TV. More rage. He quickly jaunts over to fix it, and manages to get the screen back after a few seconds. Finally, he plants himself back into the now brittle chair, and goes head over heals. The neighbor becomes completely enraged, and the crowd gaffawls with pleasure. I must admit that I too enjoyed this episode immensely, and did some chuckling of my own.
The above description is based on a couple of different episodes mixed together, so as to avoid any spoiler type situations. It was a little wordy, but I figured it would be the best way to explain the game to the reader. The example is explained in such a way so that everything happens as it should, not only in terms of order, but also one trick right after the other. It is important to note that the goal is not only to enrage the neighbor, but to also keep him enraged for as long as possible. The neighbor calms down quickly, so the idea is to really nail him with at least two tricks back to back, and more if possible. The flip side is that the game is very clever this way, and doesn’t always make everything appear so straight forward. A lot of times you will only be able to create one or two circumstances in a row. The game is no less fun however. What’s more, in many of the episodes I played, there was no exact way to do things, making it even more interesting. Each episode has a set number of possible tricks in it, but you may only be able to reach that maximum number by doing things in a specific order. The best part however is that at the end of each episode, the game immediately allows you to play through it again, which in turn allows you to try different approaches, and different ways of doing things.
But by far the games strong suit is through its presentation. After setting up a trick, the game really does an awesome job of capturing the feeling of suspense as you wait for the neighbor to fall into yet another trap. The crowd noise is used quite well also, offering different levels of laughter suitable to the trick at hand. The graphics are also very good, and give the game its distinctive comic book style feel. Most of the animations are hilarious, managing to capture details like facial expressions and emotion. Sound is also used to great effect, including the soundtrack, which plays along with what’s going on with the game. If Woody is sneaking for example, the soundtrack simmers down to a more playful tone, and likewise, when things get crazy, the tempo really picks up.
Although it may sound complicated in terms of control, Neighbors from Hell is extremely easy to learn. I admit I approached this game with nightmare visions of icons, menu screens, and tons of clicking and scrolling. But the fact is, the control scheme is so easy and straight forward, I was amazed at how quickly I was not only playing the game, but even understood what was going on. Personally, I feel that both the games presentation and control scheme are definitely in contention for some kind of award. Both aspects of the game are extremely well done, and completely eliminate much of the mundane aspects normally associated with this type of game.
There are however, a few issues to get past, most of which are minor. Despite the praising of the control scheme, there are instances where you click for Woody to do something and he either doesn’t do it, or for some reason can’t do it. Another problem is that trying to figure out what tricks can be performed with certain items is often done through trial and error. Woody has to physically go to the location and attempt to apply one item to another before realizing that it won’t work. In a game where timing is important on so many different levels, both of these instances can be frustrating. For the most part, the split screen view of the house is pretty useful, but can create problems at times. The funniest part of the game is watching the neighbor react to a trick, yet sometimes you need to spring one trick in order to get the neighbor to change his routine, so that you can spring another trick. To get to the point, there are occasions where you miss a tricks entire punch line because you’re dealing with Woody in an area where you can’t see what’s going on. It’s minor, but it’s there.
But the biggest issue with Neighbors from Hell is the same as any other game of this type, and that is that while it’s fun the first time through, after you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it a million times. Games like this rely on a heavy amount of content, in this case episodes. Once you get through all of them, your only option is to play through them again, or hope the developer releases some kind of expansion pack, which will cost more money. There doesn’t seem to be any way for players to create their own episodes either, something that would have been a lot of fun. There does appear to be at least a fair amount of content with this game, and the episodes do offer some flexibility and replay value, but the point is, you’re limited to the content the game is based around. Once you’re done with that, you’re essentially done with the game.
But overall, Neighbors from Hell is a lot of fun. I see it appealing more to casual gamers, or for those gamers looking for something different. I do stand by my belief that both the games presentation and control scheme are revolutionary, and deserve special recognition. But at the same time, the game is too much of a niche product to award as a whole. In a lot of ways, Neighbors from Hell is just like the reality TV craze it spoofs off. People will come, and people will like it. My only question is, for how long?
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