My Friendly Neighborhood can easily be summarized as Resident Evil with puppets. On paper, it is another horror game following a trend. A trend of subverting or corrupting staples of analog TV, as seen in Amanda The Adventurer or Bendy and the Ink Machine. But even when that premise is worn down, the overall experience works thanks to engaging survival horror gameplay.
Today's Lesson Is About Ammo Conservation
You play as Gordon, a handyman that is on his last job of the day. That job is deactivating a mysterious broadcast signal coming from the studio lot of the old children's puppet show, My Friendly Neighborhood. Not long after his arrival, Gordon discovers a horde of puppets running amok. They are scattered throughout old sets and locations, acting unusual, and getting too friendly with anyone they see. If Gordon wants to deactivate the signal, he will need to watch his step and carefully manage every resource he has at his disposal.
As our preview can attest, My Friendly Neighborhood reads like surface-level dark joke. It's a survival horror game, complete with inventory management and elaborate key-hunting. Just replace the usual horror staples – zombies, skeletons, mutated monstrosities – with colorful puppets.
While that premise can get old quickly, this game makes it work. First, the game has a lot of discipline and restraint. There is no blood or gore in My Friendly Neighborhood, which keeps certain moments equally surreal and darkly absurd. This absurdity extends to Gordon's arsenal looking like something from Jim Henson's workshop. Aside from the wrench, all of Gordon's firearms are elaborate rolodexes that fire metallic letters like family-friendly ninja stars.
Second, the core gameplay is great, invoking the best design elements of Capcom's venerable horror series. Enemies can only be permanently defeated with rolls of duct tape, otherwise they will reappear when you re-enter an area. Duct tape, and ammo, are scarce, turning every encounter into a challenge of resource management and navigation. Even saving your game is tied to tokens, which are also hard to come by.
In addition, the game's puzzles hit the right level of challenge and complexity. There were several nail-biting spots where I had to give up healing items or ammo just to make room for several key items, knowing getting from point A to point B multiple times would be impossible.
Not only does this lead to great moments of tension when backtracking, it makes every new encounter with the puppets feel threatening.
I Love You. You Shoot Me.
What helps sell this darkly satirical tone is My Friendly Neighborhood's stellar atmosphere. The bright and cheerful sets and props, the appealing design of the puppets, the dark musty backlots, and the Deco office buildings all help portray MFN Studios as a believable place.
Another factor that contributes to the tone is in the worldbuilding and environmental storytelling. As you play through My Friendly Neighborhood, you can find old newspaper clippings and pages from old scripts. These pages flesh out the history of the MFN studio, its golden age of success, followed by its decline. While this information won't exactly be revelatory to those familiar with the game's inspirations - Sesame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, etc. - it helps humanize the cast; puppet or otherwise.
This can best be illustrated by how Gordon changes as a character. There are sections where he opens up about his past, how those harsh lessons of life contrast with the saccharine but earnest desires of the MFN crew. Much like the great survival horror gameplay, these sections show that the developers went the extra mile when making this whole idea work.
Won't You Visit Again?
There are a few spots where My Friendly Neighborhood does stumble. Gordon, while having some sympathetic qualities, still feels like a blank cypher for the player to control. While the voice-acting for the puppets are spot on, their number of their lines and barks are limited, meaning you'll hear a lot of repeated background chatter. While the game has some great art direction and map design, on a technical level it is rough with minor glitches and a few crashes. Lastly, while the final section is impressively creepy, the conclusion felt abrupt.
My Friendly Neighborhood more than makes up for it's technical issues with replay value. MFN Studios is packed with optional objectives and puzzles. Some of these you can easily miss on your first playthrough. In addition, there are multiple difficulty levels, unlockable modes and modifiers. There are even hidden collectibles that unlock cheat codes if you look hard enough. While my first playthrough clocked in at around five hours, these various extras made me start another run almost immediately.
My Friendly Neighborhood – Final Thoughts
My Friendly Neighborhood is both a tense and rewarding horror game. It goes one step beyond the basic shock of dangerous puppets thanks to some great survival horror design and a central narrative with a bit more going on than what you suspect. The result is a compulsively replayable experience, well worth a look for horror game and horror comedy fans alike.
My Friendly Neighborhood was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer over the course of 10 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
Disclaimer: Our reviews editor, Sam Guglielmo, works at publisher Dread XP but did not edit or view this piece prior to publication.
- Great Survival Horror Gameplay
- Fun, Accessible Puzzles
- Multiple difficulties and Unlockable Modes
- Minor Technical Issues
- Disappointing Ending