Hello Neighbor has been bringing randomized and thrilling adventure across quite a few games since the first one’s launch in 2017. However, the series had yet to tap into VR until the all-new Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue from publisher tinyBuild and Steel Wool Studios. The idea of running from and dodging the creepy Mr. Peterson as you puzzle your way through his equally strange house doesn’t sound all that bad, and in fact there are some pretty good ideas here. However, being thrown immediately into the deep end, a bevy of wonky VR interaction, and a lack of must-have settings make Search & Rescue a hard sell on anyone but dedicated Hello Neighbor fans.
Hello again, Neighbor
Not that it goes out of its way to tell you in the game, but Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue has you playing the roles of five different children that are looking to get inside of their creepy neighbor Mr. Peterson’s house and save their friend, whom they believe he kidnapped. Nobody talks in Hello Neighbor. There is no text, and the tutorial to the game is mostly a series of pictures when you come close to something you can interact with. If I didn’t know what Hello Neighbor was, it would be difficult for me to know why these kids decide to sneak into Mr. Peterson’s house, or why Mr. Peterson’s house is fixed up like a mad man’s evil scheming lair. It just kind of throws you in and sends you on your way.
I will credit it for at least giving you the tutorial that guides you into what you can interact with and how, but ultimately, what happens is Mr. Peterson kidnaps a kid and the rest of the neighborhood kids go to save them. There are five kids, each with their own hiding place in a section of Mr. Peterson’s house and a walkie-talkie that allows you to switch between them. They are all separated inside the house by doors only Peterson can open. One kid has a bat and can break stuff like pottery to get Peterson’s attention or discover hidden items. Another has a slingshot that can hit otherwise unreachable objects and make them available to her or another. As you explore the house, you’ll find you can open paths for the other kids. Then you can use the walkie-talkie to switch between them and open their own paths in different ways.
I like the multiple character aspect of Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue. It was satisfying to get my hands on a key for a multi-locked door with one kid on the second floor and then drop it down through the floorboards to the first floor. Then, another kid can grab it and fit it into the locked door blocking the path of their other friend. Just as well, you can find codes and puzzle answers around the house that you can then switch to another kid with access to the locks or obstacles they fit. It’s a neat setup, and made even more interesting by the fact that Mr. Peterson is a persistent threat, wandering around his own house. Thankfully you can bring his attention to another part of the house and then hide.
Being seen by Mr. Peterson is frightening as all get-out. There isn’t much room to get away from him if he spots you. Thankfully, if he catches a kid, you just switch to another kid and that one starts from their last hiding place. I actually kind of wish there were bigger stakes, such as losing access to a kid for a while or forcing the others to do something to break them out. The stakes just kind of aren’t all that heavy after you realize getting caught is only a minor inconvenience.
As much as I can appreciate quite a few parts of the puzzle and hide-and-seek setup of Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue, there’s a lot about its VR gameplay that leaves me cold. For one, there are barely any accessibility options in the game. You can choose your height, your dominant hand, and a couple other things. However, the ability to choose between smooth and snap turning is not here, nor is tunneling vision, torso-size adjustment, standing or sitting gameplay, and other simple options I would expect to see in any VR game at this point.
The sub-par offering of options extends to the gameplay as well. Traversal isn’t terrible in Search & Rescue. In fact, I found it on par with a game like The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners when it came to climbing and vaulting over objects. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about handling carried objects or using them. Using any two-handed object like a crowbar to remove nailed boards felt horribly unresponsive.
Between the jank of trying to pick up a bat, grip it in both hands, and then swing it around, I felt like a drunkard, wobbling over every bit of the process, and the bat’s responsiveness to my movements either lagged behind my hands or just glitched out till I had to drop it and pick it up again. This kind of interaction was common throughout my experience, especially with doors that, no matter how I pushed them, would seemingly magnetize shut in my face until I just barged through them like a thug instead of a kid trying to be sneaky. At the very least, one-handed and small objects like keys, magnifying glasses, and even the slingshot seem to work well and are fun to handle.
I mentioned torso size options being a problem before because Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue also attaches important equipment to your body. Every kid has their walkie-talkie hanging on their right-front hip, and often a gadget special to them somewhere else, such as one girl having a flashlight on her left hip. I’m not a small person, and because there was no options for my size, I really had to push into myself with the controller to grab these gadgets sometimes.
Call the search off and try again tomorrow
Despite the stark lack of context, Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue has an interesting house to explore with fun environmental puzzles, an unnerving persistent threat, and an interesting dynamic between the kids all working to help each other move forward in the house by degrees. It’s just all gummed up in unreasonably janky interactions and contrivances. I’m also not thrilled that it does nothing to ease you into the game, making it an utterly confusing experience for anyone who hasn’t been on board with Hello Neighbor already. I would like to think this can be a starting point of what to do and what not to do for tinyBuild and Steel Wool Studios if they go for a VR Hello Neighbor again. The puzzle and environment design is good, but they need to put a lot more time into what makes both a comfortable and responsive VR experience.
This review is based on a digital Meta Quest 2 copy supplied by the publisher. Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue comes out on May 25, 2023 on the Meta Quest 2 and PC via SteamVR.
Hello Neighbor VR: Search & Rescue
- The house layout is fun and mysterious
- The environmental puzzle design is clever
- Some of the gadgets feel great to use
- Very slim accessibility and comfort settings
- Glitchy VR interactions in numerous cases
- Two-handed objects felt unresponsive