My Friendly Neighborhood Review – S is for Spooky

Looking for a survival horror game that is as silly as it is scary? My Friendly Neighborhood is for you! The developers John and Evan Szymanski filled the game to the brim with an interesting story, creative level design and the most loveable little death puppets you’ve ever seen.

My Friendly Neighborhood almost got me with its pacing. At first I wrote it off like any other survival-horror-fetch-quest-cheap-scare game. Sure, there is a lot of searching that you have to do, with some light (but not too easy) puzzles. There is actually a story here, and not some roundabout confusing one thrown together to fit a theme. As much as you see your player character, an old grumpy repair man named Gordon, as someone unrelated to the rogue puppet problem, your own story starts to tie in. What you thought were mindless felted horrors soon take on a deeper meaning. The story isn’t directly spoken, it’s found through notes on desks and newspaper scraps laid about.

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The story hits some intense moments at times. To the point you forget that they’re puppets (can puppets have feelings??)

The gameplay mechanics are very similar to a lot of other horror games. You are given a couple of weapons (they shoot out metal letters like a typewriter, which is pretty cool), a space management inventory system, and sparse supplies. What can make My Friendly Neighborhood challenging and scary are the limited number of saves that you’re given. You can only save at save stations that are delicately placed throughout the area, making the struggle to survive the devilish puppet hugs teeth-grinding. There were moments where I completed large portions of the game only to flub and lose all my progress. Puppets can be unforgiving.

A lot of the frustration comes from My Friendly Neighborhood  not giving the player enough information. Sneaking around enemies is difficult because you’re not sure how preoccupied they are when they’re chatting with themselves. You aren’t aware of how far away they can see you. You don’t know your attack distance or their grabbing distance to attack you. There’s no way to sneak up on them when they’re not paying attention. Without a retina dot on your screen, your aiming is ambiguous. The whole act of trying to survive in this survival horror is tedious, frustrating, and unnecessarily difficult. Health meters for both the player and the enemies are puzzling where you can’t tell how many times something will be hit before it perishes. The act of knocking out the puppet enemies leaves me with questions and more frustration, as they will wake back up the next time you enter the room unless you tape them, and supplies are terribly limited. Lack of user feedback and communication unfortunately drags the game down.

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Not if the controls are this janky, Ricky

What My Friendly Neighborhood lacks in player feedback, it makes up for in pure charm. True, this is supposed to be a “horror game,” but the design doesn’t push the horror theme past some creepy ambiences and a couple jump scares. Since most characters are alerting you of their location constantly, there aren’t any true jumpscares. My Friendly Neighborhood  does well in context storytelling. Walls are covered in revamped classical paintings featuring the puppets’ faces. Papers line the desks, strewn about. Each building has their own treatment, where the sewers are dark and murky while the offices are wood-carved and velvet carpeted. To break up some monotony, new enemies are introduced as you explore the area, but once you meet a new enemy they appear everywhere you go, making areas feel indistinct from another. What makes My Friendly Neighborhood excel is the humor that is laced through every notch of spooky that is in the game.

At first you may feel that the world loops irrationally around. You choose doors at random. Some doors are locked, apparently for no reason. It’s only when you start to pick apart the story, hidden in every nook, that the maze straightens out. It’s “non-linear,” as you can’t reach the end of the game straight from the beginning, but the path you take is not a straight line. My Friendly Neighborhood requires memory, and tests you on your surroundings. While most locations have maps, you find yourself without one. When you were scavenging through the hallways, did you happen to notice the sign? Turns out, that was a clue to solving a puzzle. Where did you see it last? Even with maps I bumbled around the halls, scraping the edge of my brain on where I’m supposed to be. In the end solving the puzzle makes you feel smart, but a lot of the time searching for the last key you missed can be a slog.

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Not to brag or anything, but I’m truly amazed on how well I remembered where everything was

The art in My Friendly Neighborhood nails the Sesame Street theme in all the right places. Each character has their own unique look, distinguishable from everyone else. The only thing that would make the living puppets more believable would be higher resolution to see actual felt, but that would probably require a larger developer team. I found myself staring at the depth the world had. Even if you move from location to location, if there’s a window in the room you can peer out and see a vast scene. Every detail of the levels are marked with flair, from puppet emblazoned classical portraits to funny quips tagged onto the walls. Honestly if there weren’t so many puppets that got in the way it would be a fun area to simply explore.

The audio is probably the most annoying thing and wonderful thing at the same time. The chatter of the puppets is incessant. You will be driven mad from their goofy monologues. Once I found myself talking along with them, I knew I snapped. There’s only a small batch of dialog lines that are said, but each character says them in a slightly different way, confusing words or changing the story. There are some that disturb me, like when it sounds like they’re trying to talk with something in their mouth, and some that make me giggle every single time. At times the mumbling can be overwhelming, and the distance in which you can hear the audio can glitch out and cause enemies to sound a lot closer than they are. The other music and sound effects are consistent and fitting. You will always know when you’re in a save room or shooting your Rolodex. My Friendly Neighborhood wouldn’t be what it is without its sounds.

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Whatever you’re doing with the letter “A” in a bathtub is on you. I won’t question it

In summary: My Friendly Neighborhood Needs better controls and player feedback in terms of gameplay mechanics, but overall the story, art, music, and level design make the poor design choices easy to forget.

Jordan played My Friendly Neighborhood on PC with a review key. 

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