Every Saturday morning, the children and homemakers of My Friendly Neighborhood gather around the sofa and watch the puppet show, The Friendly Neighborhood. If you watched Sesame Street, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Nothing harmless. Just plain, old, fun puppetry. When several years go by, new mascots take over birthday balloons and cakes. The show's budget dwindles a bit more until the Sunrise TV Studio Lot production studio is forced to close its doors for good.
Life goes on as usual. People have started to forget about The Friendly Neighborhood. As if the show can sense it, they mysteriously interrupt normal programming with one last episode you will never forget. It starts off normal with the same colorful cast of characters making their silly jokes. Before long, though, it becomes apparently clear that this isn’t the same family-friendly holiday special everyone held dear. Something has gone completely amiss, I mean, are those puppets eating each other?!
Steam’s overwhelmingly positive response speaks for itself that My Friendly Neighborhood perhaps holds immense potential for a hell of a good time. It’s a first-person survival horror game that was only recently released for PC platforms via Steam and Itch.io with the console versions launching at a slightly later date. Curious to know what all the fuss is about? Perhaps find out the good, bad, or ugly before jumping head-first into the game? Well, tag along on our My Friendly Neighborhood review down below for everything there is to know about the new game.
What in the World is Going On?
Here you are, enjoying live-action news on the television when it suddenly flickers and starts to show a puppet show. It’s charming at the start, so you pay no mind. However, things quickly take a turn for the worst when the seemingly friendly puppets start to feed on each other’s guts.
Immediately, Gordon O'Brian, a disgruntled handyman-for-hire (also you, the player), is called on to stop this nonsense. The night is closing in. He’s unhappy with his employer. But he forges on, hoping the job doesn’t take too much of his time.
Upon arriving at the abandoned puppet show’s Sunrise TV Studio Lot production studio, he’s greeted by Ricky the Sock. Oh, yes, an actual sock who you’re forced to ask repeatedly where you can go to disconnect the show’s antenna while he tirelessly and enthusiastically announces the return of The Friendly Neighborhood show.
A Little More Comedy Than Horror
You should watch the exchange between Gordon and Ricky the Sock. It’s quite hilarious and authentically puppetry. Gordon plays his part exceptionally well, showing just how unbothered he can be. While Ricky the Sock is joyful and just wants to help Gordon out with some much-needed advice. He tries to convince Gordon not to disconnect the antenna, but Gordon acts like he doesn’t care.
Onward into the playthrough, the writing and performance follow the same grid line. They are thoughtful to mimic puppetry as much as possible. And the performance is equally stellar. You’ll meet many interesting puppets after Ricky the Sock, including Norman the Not Ernie, who seems more normal than the rest, albeit erratic and needy.
Due to their isolation, most of the other puppets you run into have adopted a violent nature. And they aren’t afraid to voice their gory strings of thought out loud. One puppet you meet teaches you how to count by eating your own hands, while another talks of taking your closest friend and separating all their parts into little piles based on color.
It says in the description that this is a survival horror game, but the absurdity of it all would have me burst out in laughter rather than cling to the edge of my seat. More times than not, My Friendly Neighborhood doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s perhaps what’s so grand about this game.
Into the Unknown
There are three main gameplay elements that take center stage. The first is exploration. From the start, it’s clear that Ricky the Sock isn’t going to be much help finding the antenna, so you set out on your own into the studio’s offices, sound stages, and even sewers with no backup. I’d have loved to see some uniqueness tied to the puppetry theme, but the intricate design of the levels still does a good enough job to keep me engaged.
One thing that oddly kept the exploration journey intriguing was having no compass or directional arrows to show me where to go. Rather, I had to subject my surroundings to memory and backtrack my way to them if I needed to. The map isn’t completely useless. It tells you which room you are currently in. And which rooms you still need to visit to discover “something.” That something can be an item you need to crack a puzzle or a resource to use in combat. You won’t really know unless you head on over there.
There are also safe rooms, which you search for to find additional storage, heal, or save your progress. And it gets trickier because healing or saving needs precious tokens you must scavenge for across the levels. It can create tense moments of deciding whether to cash out on health or save your progress. But it can also be a nightmare if you’re fed up and want to quit but can’t find the safe rooms any faster.
A Puzzle A Day Keeps the Puppets Away
Next up are puzzles. They are surprisingly moderately challenging. Sure, some will take a millisecond to crack, but others actually need you to pause and think through the solution. Plus, there’s a good enough variety to keep the playthrough interesting.
Is there a clue you’re missing? Did you maybe spot it somewhere while exploring? You have to find said clue, or you won’t be able to progress further into the story and unlock new areas. It’s a good bargain for a game like this, where the locations you visit intertwine to make the entire level design prudent.
Fight or Flight?
Finally, we have combat. Surprisingly (I feel I keep saying that word a little too much), the combat adopts a Resident Evil playstyle. Sure, it’s not gory. We wouldn’t want actual bullets flying around a kid-friendly studio. Instead, you have toy guns in all shapes and forms, from shotguns to revolvers, that use an alphabet Rolodex to shoot giant metal letters at incoming puppets.
Taking a puppet down may take four or so bullets, and they won’t stay down for long. Not to mention bullets are scarce. So, there you have it, a thought-provoking combat system that won’t settle for mindless shooting. One of the solutions is to scavenge for duct tape to tie down fallen puppets. Another is to run and hide.
The latter is a little frustrating in boss fights because I managed to run away and wait out the countdown with one of the bosses without facing any repercussions. Apparently, wussing out of boss fights is completely okay. Anyway, the combat is fun, close-quarters fights are nearly useless, which is exactly what I expect from a survival horror game.
A Few Other “Nays”
There are a few voice lines that I was forced to relisten to, some of which do their job the first time. The second is plain annoying. Some of the combat was inconsistent, where it would take three or four bullets to take down a puppet, then take five or six bullets to take the same down in the next room. That kind of thing wouldn’t bother me so much, except that bullets are quite scarce, and using them sparingly pays off.
A few bugs pop up now and then, too, like unlocked doors on the map showing up locked in person. While the map doesn’t give away too much, there are a few moments where you may sincerely have no clue of what to do next or where to go, which leaves you wandering aimlessly, hoping to, by some miracle, run into the solution. All of this is to say that My Friendly Neighborhood is nowhere near perfect. Yet, the imperfections seem negligible compared to the cogs that run smoothly.
Each element that makes the My Friendly Neighborhood wheel go around does so almost perfectly. The writing and performance are spectacular and quite funny. It’s the kind of dark humor that fits perfectly with the puppetry theme of this game. There’s also a clever gameplay system to speak of that finds a way to knit together your entire playthrough.
Each room you explore possibly holds the key to unlocking a new area or has the item you need to survive. My Friendly Neighborhood isn’t at all a scary game, which I believe wasn’t the original intention. Instead, it creates a whimsical, tense adventure that definitely has more than meets the eye.
My Friendly Neighborhood Review (PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, & PC)
A Whimsical, Tense, Mysterious Survival Horror Game
Take Sesame Street’s lore and combine it with Resident Evil’s gunplay. That’s My Friendly Neighborhood in a nutshell. It’s not as scary as Five Nights at Freddy, but for what it lacks, it more than makes up for it by providing a funny, terrific experience.