Developer / Publisher – tinyBuild Games
Price – US $29.99 / CAN $34.99 / EU €29.99 / UK £27.99
Release Date – May 25th, 2023
Input – 2 x Touch Controllers
Play Area – Seated, Standing, Roomscale
Store Links – PlayStation, Steam
Reviewed on – PSVR 2/PS5
For those looking for a review for the Quest 2 version of this game, check it out here!
I honestly hadn’t heard of this franchise until Sony announced this game late last year. From what I saw, it looked interesting as I enjoy puzzlers and love stealth games, especially in VR. The premise here is a little odd to say the least as you play as one of 5 children in their attempts to rescue their friend who has been abducted by a weird guy who lives in an even weirder house. What ensues is puzzler that requires you to jump from kid to kid as you slowly unlock new routes and mysteries and when it works, it’s good fun but when it doesn’t…it can be frustrating.
A very brief introductory stage takes place in a backyard and let’s you mess around with the various toys each kid has (like a bat, slingshot & Magnifying glass) before tossing you into the first stage which tasks you with sneaking into the old man’s house and acts as a tutorial, fleshing out the various obstacles you’ll have to contend with. You’ll learn how to use your 2-way radios to hop from kid to kid as each of them will only be able to access different sections of the house with many doorways being blocked by locked gates that only the man has keys for. This is essentially the core of the game as you’ll have to try and discover, access, and unlock other areas of the house to access more areas of the house to access more areas of the house and so on and so forth. It’s here where I stumbled as I almost immediately forgot some very key mechanics that held me up at the game’s onset. I’m honestly not sure if its poor game design or my own stupidity, but I struggled in the beginning thanks in large part to the fact that I forgot that each kid has their own special toy to help get them around the house. I think this is in large part due to the fact that the walkie and toy are positioned on your invisible chest a little too low and a little too close to you that they aren’t in sight unless you look directly down at them. Regardless, once I clued into that, unravelling the mysteries of the house became easier, but in no way is it easy.
I fully admit that my own stupidity got in the way in the beginning, but I don’t think all my difficulties fall on just myself as on more than a few occasions, it seemed like I was just guessing at solutions in a game that let me experiment where I shouldn’t. I shoved a crowbar through a hole in a wall only to have it disappear where I left it and not respawn until I quit and reloaded the game. This happened with a key I didn’t know where to use where reloading my game had it respawn back on the man, forcing me to wait impatiently before I could get too it again. The man will wander the house and you need to avoid him because if he catches you nothing too dire happens, you just end up back in control of kid in a nearby treehouse where you can choose which kid you want to control. I’d argue that the lack of stakes here does make failure moot, but the number of times I was caught early on just trying to figure out the game has me thankful that there were no real consequences as I had almost given up, not caring whether I was caught in favor of just trying to make any progress. I’m done whining about that though as once I did start to figure out the game loop, I enjoyed the game much more, hopping from kid to kid and working together to slowly gain access to more and more of the house. It’s in those moments when solutions were falling into place and I felt like I was making significant progress did the game become quite fun. Unfortunately, at numerous times, I did hit that wall where I couldn’t find the missing item I needed to move forwards, casting me back into that trial and error type puzzle solving that typically yielded little result until I had my next ‘Ah-ha’ moment of clarity.
For those who enjoy such things, there are coins hidden throughout the game that when found can be placed in a birdie-bank back in the tree house. Also in that treehouse is a manual save button though I found the auto-save function to be so reliable that I often forgot to save on my own.
Avoiding the old man is fun as there are a few hiding places that help keep you out of his view with the most important ones being the closets, which allow you a decent view of the room you are in and also act as spawn points for each child. For the most part I found hiding to be fair though on a few occasions I did feel like the man shouldn’t have seen me when he did, though as I said, almost no progress is lost should you get caught so it’s not that big of deal. According to the developers, the game will take anywhere from 3 to 9 hours to beat with myself landing close to the middle of that mark. It’s worth noting the lack of comfort options as outside of an automatic height adjustment, and adjustable/removable blinders there aren’t any and sadly, you can only click-turn or use the teleport option in combination with a thumbstick to move and then face the direction you want which is, as always disappointing.
I also encountered a fair bit of jank on both the PSVR 2 and Quest versions of the game, with item collisions causing some very erratic behaviour, especially when hiding in closets while holding said item as it would often get caught on closet doors and forced me re-enter and exit them to unstick the item. This also occurs if you get too close to walls while holding items with other minor issues like the man turning on the spot once he catches you, my hand not letting go of objects or grabbing the knob on the other side of the door and a host more minor issues that did plague both versions of the game, though the PSVR 2 version did run much smoother overall, so much so in fact that I never tried to play the Quest 2 version again.
Unsurprisingly, the visual style used here is identical to the previous iterations of the game with everything looking very cartoonish, to a point where I’d swear it was a game designed for a younger audience save for the fact that the gameplay definitely skews to a slightly older audience. Outside of a smoother experience is a graphical upgrade that isn’t leaps and bounds ahead of the Quest 2, but adds enough details, assets and cleaner textures that just make quite literally everything in here look better. Reflections of light on doorknobs, glowing effects on those coins, a magnifying glass that actually magnifies and tons of improvements all add layers to the PSVR version that the Quest is missing. Exploring the house is fun and every unlocked door offers up something new to discover with the story quickly moving past the initial premise into something a little deeper and a little more surreal, offering some unexpected settings. There’s way less pop-in and the clarity of the textures compared to Quest 2 version and even better balancing in the ambient lighting allowed for better views of the house and the stuff inside it, essentially making it easier to see and solve obstacles that requires a closer eye. Is it the best-looking game for the PSVR 2, not even close, but compared to the Quest, it shines and is the version I recommend people play.
When it comes to stealth games, audio is probably one of the most important aspects of the genre as it’s critical to know where your enemies are and in Hello Neighbor, this is a mixed bag. Spatial audio is used and it’s relatively easy to hear which direction he may be in, but I found it impossible to tell if he was above or below me forcing me to use the various distraction at your disposal to guarantee I knew where he would be. It’s absolutely maddening to think your safe only to hear the tense tune kick in, letting you know that he’s seen you, and that unless there’s a closet out of his sight nearby, you are caught. There is a light soundtrack at play here, though it typically falls into the background letting the sounds of the house be your guide with little else going on as the kids and man only utter singular grunts, groans or exclamations if anything at all. Overall, it’s an underwhelming audio package coming up at best as serviceable and at worst…barebones.
Search and Rescue, regardless of the headset, is honestly a mixed bag of fun and unique puzzles marred by some obtuse choices that ruin that fun. I did enjoy parts of this and when I was on a role, navigating through and around obstacles that challenged me, it was great. The PSVR 2 version is the better version to play, but it’s still fraught with issues that make the asking price for this feel a little high. There is enjoyment to be had for sure, but it’s just as annoying and I expect people who have never played this franchise to wonder what the fuss was all about in the first place…I know I am.
tinyBuild provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!