Sunday, 20 February 2005
If you've ever had neighbours from Hell, you'll know that they're very irritating and should be avoided as much as possible. Need we say more?
Everyone had that one neighbour. Y’know, that guy who insisted on keeping your football when you haphazardly lofted it over into his back garden? That old bat who purposefully parked her dirty Vauxhall Vectra in that spot where you played curby? That creepy over-sized lay-a-bout with the “no trick or treaters” sign in his window? We all had a Neighbour From Hell. However, judging by our demographic of gamers, nerds and the occasional Average Joe who gets tricked into clicking the AltGaming link, none of us did anything about it. Neighbours From Hell invites you to do what you always wanted to do, and get your own back on those lethargic hell-bringers. For just shy of twenty quid, JoWood promises puzzle-based satirical thrills.
And that precise reason rendered our approach to this title cautious and a little unwilling. If something launches at a budget prize, you just know there’s something a bit iffy going on, because well, hardly any budget titles are sincere in their claim to be just that, budget, it normally means they’re a bit pap. However, the low price-point is undoubtedly due to the fact that the PC version’s minimum requirements list a 166 Mhz processor. For the computer-illiterate, this roughly translates to about ten years ago. That said, we approached JoWood’s puzzler with an open mind, because well, we had Neighbours From Hell. They made our lives a misery. We wanted revenge. Hell, James still cries at night after the whole sock-in-bucket palaver.
You’re thrown into the role of Woody, your average middle-aged bloke, who, like James in his childhood – is haunted by a filthy, gargantuan slob of a neighbour. His devilish antics make Woody’s life a misery: hell, Woody can’t even enjoy a nice snooze in his front garden without having his neighbour, Rottweiler, interrupt his dreams with fumes from what appears to be some kind of tractor/lawnmower hybrid. And he’s had enough. With this in mind, Woody takes it upon himself to sneak into the home of Lucifer’s playmate, and do a Che Guevara. Except replace the evil dictator with an annoying neighbour. Oh, and not only that, he enlists the help of a television crew. To film it. Don’t ask us. Wacky hi-jinks (we’re told) ensue, with Woody’s goal being to terrorize his neighbour by playing practical jokes on the lout. Which is where you come in.
Looking in from a pseudo-2D viewpoint, the player’s goal is to avoid Rottweiler while at the same time foraging for items around the location that could aid Woody in his quest for revenge. Your slobbish neighbour trudges down his pre-determined path around the house, partaking in around three to five activities while he’s at it. So, he might pop into the kitchen for a slice of pie, head down to the toilet for a slash and then make his way back up to the front room for a cold Budweiser in front of the television. And this process loops, and loops and loops. Amazingly, he can consume vast amounts of beer and still keep to this rigid routine. Strange. While he’s pottering around, Woody has to sneak around and sabotage these activities in order to distress his arch-enemy, utilizing the objects he’s acquired as a result of his foraging. This might entail swapping shaving foam for whipped cream, or putting a firecracker on his birthday cake – and then Woody can retreat to a hidey-hole, before the camera pans to the action, and the aforementioned Wacky hi-jinks ensue. Repeat this a few times with the various activities Rottweiler takes part in, and you’ve completed the level. Now, repeat. Twenty-three times. Suddenly, the price-point becomes understandable.
The aesthetics are respectable while not quite living up to the comic-book art direction promised by the press release – a few Batman-esque sound effects emblazoned across the screen is about the limit of the correlation between the aesthetics and comic book art – and are reminiscent of Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit: somewhere between 3D and a ball of clay. The animations are a little dodgy, but suffice, while the in-game music is one man’s suicide warrant and another’s trip down memory lane.
This shouldn’t be fun. It’s riddled in tedium for heaven’s sake. And for the most part it isn’t. You’ll play a few rounds, and once you’ve got over the USP, you’ll return to the couch to watch some Stargate and wish you’d spent that twenty quid on a Mother’s day present. But there’s something inherently satisfying about the gestation within your brain that tells you that the laxatives you just found would go down real nice with those beers your neighbour’s digging into. For those few levels where the prospect of revenge is riveting and compelling, Neighbours From Hell is an enticing manifestation, but you’ll soon come to realise the limitations of the gameplay mechanic. That said, we invited some young scroats of the street into the office, and they seemed to have some fun for a while. Although, they soon got bored and undoubtedly went off to put a real firecracker in someone’s birthday cake. Neighbours From Hell is hard to recommend, while the budget price-point has to be take into account: the process of lowering its price fails to counterbalance the limitations and hellish tedium that Neighbours From Hell plays host to.