Neighbours From Hell arrived to some consternation from the staff, followed by a slight amount of passing around, until eventually it fell down to me. It's like a helter-skelter effect with new games, you see: one look at the box, or a quick five minutes, usually determines who's going to get the game, with the really odd ones spiralling down through the ranks until they arrive on my lap. Neighbours From Hell got to the bottom rung pretty quickly it has to be said, but after a day or so I'm certainly not complaining, which really is quite unexpected.
I wasn't, for example, expecting to be reminded of the golden days of the LucasArts point-and-clicker, or expecting to be greeted by a simplistic yet strangely effective 2D engine, and I certainly didn't expect to start panicking when the bumbling fat-arsed neighbour blundered into the lounge, completely blowing away my chances of pulling off a carefully arranged series of life-threatening booby traps that he'd caught me setting up.
Neighbours From Hell is sort of a cross between Spy vs. Spy and Monkey Island. You, as a chap called Woody, are a contestant on the eponymous reality TV show and your goal is to boost audience ratings by playing practical jokes on your hapless neighbour as effectively as possible. You never take anything into the neighbour's house with you, and so your first task will involve searching for objects that can help you along. This is where the Monkey Island part comes in, as you begin picking up random objects and using them with other random objects until something works.
While you're busying yourself with rifling through his personal effects, your neighbour will typically be going about his everyday business. On the episode selection screen, you get a brief outline of what he's likely to be up to; cooking his dinner, sunning himself, doing the laundry and so on, and this gives you some idea as to how you might be able to best utilise that pair of pliers or bottle of wine you've just stumbled across. The trickiest aspect of the game is staying out of his way at all times because the instant he sees you the show goes off air, so it's important to try and learn the other fellow's routine as quickly as possible and even utilise stealth to sneak past noisy pets or your slumbering neighbour, or hide in cupboards or under beds just to avoid discovery.
Chances are, however, that you're going to get caught in the act the first couple of tries, but with unlimited attempts at your disposal you can spend as much time as you like perfecting your routines and timing your trap set-ups. You'll eventually memorise exactly where useful objects are likely to be found and how long you're likely to get in each room of the house before your neighbour will wander in, and the game ends up as an exercise in trial-and-error. Randomising item locations could have done a lot more to keep the player on his toes.
Love thy neighbour
NFH is made up of three seasons; six episodes in the first and two seasons of four episodes after that. If that doesn't sound like a lot, then you'd be right - the entire game will take you about three hours to complete, perhaps a little more if you're really determined to get a 100 per cent audience satisfaction rating on every level. To achieve that then you have to pull off every possible trick on that level and string them together in combinations, so that your neighbour doesn't get much of a chance to calm down - the longer he stays infuriated, the happier the audience will be and the higher the ratings will get. If you gain enough high ratings for the season, then you'll get a little trophy for your efforts.
But that's pretty much it. Excruciating brevity is Neighbours From Hell's most hideous drawback, and we can't imagine you sat there a week from purchase playing the same levels over and over. There's a disturbing lack of variety as well, as each season merely opens up a new room or two - the basement or the bedroom, for example - in the same neighbour's house, heightening the tension slightly by giving the neighbour more opportunity to stumble across you, but never really offering much in the way of fresh objectives or scenery to look at.
It's a shame Neighbours From Hell couldn't have been more expansive. The concept is fantastic, and for a while it's pulled off very well, but once you've electrocuted, burned, pricked, poisoned and injured the poor guy for more than an hour or so, you will find yourself hankering for more neighbours to visit and more houses to terrorise. We wouldn't blame you for changing the channel when they don't come.