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Hello Neighbor 2 (XS)

By Lee Mehr 07th Jan 2023 | 3,272 views 

While it's not difficult to surpass the dreadful original, Hello Neighbor 2 too often feels satisfied with the bare minimum, while also implementing avaricious launch-day DLC elements.

Reviewer's Note: All of my time with the game is based on Version 1.12.

I’m utterly fascinated by the Hello Neighbor series.  Not in a good way, mind you.  More of how despite finding its initial start (Hello Neighbor) to be a dogshit experience I couldn't finish, there’s still… something interesting about how it’s arrived at this level of popularity: a prequel, several spin-offs, supplementary books, a short animated series, an upcoming VR-focused game, and, finally, a mainline sequel.  Its intersection of jibber-jabber English, self-described “family-friendly horror,” the Illumination-esque cartoony aesthetic, and Mr. Peterson’s old-timey fit tied to a decent stealth/puzzle-platformer concept has this strange draw on enough people.  Perhaps what lures me back to Mr. Peterson’s old house is this simple curiosity: could Eerie Guest & tinyBuild get the formula right this time?  Sadly, the answer is still a firm no.

While the seemingly quaint town of Raven Brooks captures a 1950s-esque Americana exterior, something darker lurks within.  That’s where you, a shlubby investigative journalist, decide to investigate the goings-on of the infamous Mr. Peterson.  Upon arriving and immediately seeing him recapture an abducted kid and lock him inside, he spots you and gives chase.  Eventually, he catches up and steals your camera.  Now, it’s up to you to reacquire your photographic evidence and extricate that child.

Rather than re-using the first’s template of beginning outside Peterson’s house, your freedom of movement is expanded to a modest hub of Raven Brooks.  Another odd disparity is that a cop is now guarding the home, instead of Mr. Peterson.  So now on top of managing to “secretly” kidnap children in broad daylight, apparently many of his neighbors are on the take?  Trying to make sense of this sequel, and probably the whole series, is about as useful as finding religion at a strip club.  Even at the start, with its goofy gibberish language and silly persona, you can tell this non-story is just fodder for YouTube explanation videos.

It’s better to shut your brain off and think of this more as a sequence of scenarios than an actual plot.  There’s a structure in the sense that more areas unlock each day and hints at stranger phenomena happening.  Even on the box art, there’s this strange crow-headed man-thing and some suspicious symbolism, but it’s all smoke and mirrors; in fact, it brought to mind a recent false advertising court case, because some details in that pre-order trailer (released ~10 months ago) simply aren’t here.  To add insult to injury: the denouement is empty sequel-bait.  Virtually nothing evolves from the beginning to the end and then it has the audacity to pull that move.

To reach that deflating finale, you’ll have to sleuth about collecting keys scattered across Raven Brooks.  After the first visit to a worn-down museum perched above this New England hamlet, you can easily tell this is Mr. Peterson’s home away from home and where the kid is held hostage.  The overarching structure is quite simple: each day unlocks a new place where you stealthily complete puzzles in order to find the next important museum key; on top of those static brainteasers, you have to elude a dynamic enemy AI.

The fundamental conceit is sound – especially how the guards would allegedly react to your behavior over time, but the execution is often in shambles.  The central issue stems from enemy AI that’s both magnanimous and moronic.  Like the original, you’re able to magically reset alert levels by stepping off the property line; should Mr. Peterson give chase, just step foot onto the museum’s lawn and you’re out of his clutches.  He’ll glower directly at you and then internally say “Drats!  You’ve slipped through my fingers once again!”  Both the horror and stealth are implicitly diminished when the stakes are so low.  Granted, getting caught makes you lose the last item in your hand, but that’s such a minor speedbump since you know where they spawn anyways.  The context is also strange for a grown man to be caught trespassing and then gently set right outside the vicinity again.

A patrolling enemy’s threat is also lessened by hilarious inconsistency.  The donut-scarfing policeman was harmless once he locked himself into a bugged routine of stepping into the kitchen, spinning around, going out to the side porch for a quick walk, making a loud sigh, opening the exterior kitchen door again, repeat.  Since I didn’t need anything else from there, the rest of my time was spent solving puzzles whilst hearing his recycled sigh and a creaking door open and close.  A similar thing happened with another person I alerted who decided to just stand outside in a random corner.  That isn’t to say everyone is braindead, but there’s such a wild variability.  Not even the sequel matches the original’s announcement trailer from years ago; this AI isn’t trusted enough to tie its shoes, let alone dynamically adapt to your tactics.

Erratic AI is all the more disappointing since several puzzles hit the threshold of... serviceable fun.  There aren’t any mind-blowing enigmas to unravel, but there’s typically a nice tempo and I like how often they marry with a visual theme.  The ornate fence surrounding a well-off musical maestro also houses some of the most lavish & melodious brainteasers.   Within each level/house, you’ll find some basic accessories: a pair of scissors to cut cobwebs, crowbar for removing wood planks, and so on.  While these are more typical hurdles, there’s a solid mix-up between them, code-cracking, and other platforming-focused challenges.  Again, none of them will have you thinking for days on end, but it’s nice for this type of E10-rated game to push players to solve through environmental clues.

The athleticism tied into some puzzling can be a sticking point too.  First-person platforming can be a tricky thing to manage, and Eerie Guest seems to agree.  While most areas do enough to offset inherent jank, some tasks require more precision than the game’s systems can handle.  A few tighter platforming spots can unintentionally result in clambering up random objects or invisible textures.  The technical issues can also be a slight eyesore.  While never detrimental to the point of quitting, even the Series X version had this uncapped sub-60 framerate; this often resulted in on/off instances of screen tearing, like some frames are randomly stripped away.  It’s such a weird sensation.

When you take in the overall structure, what’s left is a semi-functional stealth/puzzle-platformer that still hasn’t found firm footing for its core conceit.  Sure, it meets at this weird intersection of stylized Illumination art direction, “kid-accessible” horror tension, and seedy underbelly of a quaint suburban town.  The aesthetic and soundtrack can get repetitive, but still have an appeal between eerie and bouncy.  That being the case, you still need more than half-baked concepts and a few decent brainteasers.  As I mentioned above, I wonder how tinyBuild would navigate potential updates to false advertising laws with regards to gameplay.  You can still find years-old Alpha builds showcasing different animations and suggested features that simply aren't here.  What is this patchwork sequel and why is this backstory one of its most interesting qualities?

To throw yet another wrench, the $39.99 price point is quite overvalued for 3-hour completionist run.  To make matters worse, this launched with three separate launch-day DLC packs: Hello-copter ($5.99), Back to School ($14.99), & Late Fees ($14.99).  If those extras seem too pricey, then fear not!  The Deluxe Edition goes for a cool $59.99 before taxes.  It should go without saying that this execrable behavior further sullies my already-impoverished enjoyment with it overall.  Sure, there are always the uncomfortable views towards other monetary policies (especially in AAA games), but this ranks as the most underhanded in a middle-market game I’ve reviewed.

Hello Neighbor 2 falls into this weird space where the game proper isn’t outright awful like the original, yet everything surrounding it is.  Even without keeping up with its odd development cycle, there are telling signs of incomplete functionality and missing content.  There are sparse competent facets worth recognizing, but the overarching structure feels supported by shoe strings and bubble gum, further compounded by tinyBuild’s avaricious behavior with launch-day DLC.  When all of these elements come together, it makes you wonder how this series hasn’t been buried by its low-quality streak.  A mystery perhaps more confounding than the one about Mr. Peterson.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

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This review is based on a digital copy of Hello Neighbor 2 for the XS

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