I’m not a fan of horror games by any means, which made me rather apprehensive about jumping into My Friendly Neighborhood from developers John and Evan Szymanski. Here we have a game where I must traverse into a studio to disable an antenna, a relatively easy task to complete if it wasn’t for the massive amounts of murderous puppets. Another notch on the belt of the “horror but made from something cute” genre, My Friendly Neighborhood has something that other games that fit this niche don’t—a personality.
At the very core of the genre, the idea of something cute and cuddly actually being a tool for murder is a subversive and overplayed concept. Unlike other titles, My Friendly Neighbor has a sense of style and tone that goes back and forth between quaint and genuinely intriguing. Characters like Ricky the sock puppet add a sense of humor to this world and inject the player with enough chaos to fully accept what this game is giving you: a world that truly exists within it’s own means. It is pure insanity, and this game knows that it doesn’t work in a realistic manner at all, so it embraces every possible ridiculous angle it can to deliver a unique experience and a welcoming jump for those, like me, who really despise survival horror.
Honestly, calling this a horror game is a bit of a stretch if we are to be honest, but that isn’t a bad thing. It is absolutely a survival game, but a horror one it is not. It is like a Stephen King movie where the game balances itself on a tightrope between horror and thriller. This comes down to how we perceive horror these days, unfortunately. Jump scares popularized by the low-effort Five Nights at Freddy’s games were once the standard in the horror genre because something popped out at you. Here, though, the horror is the environment; it is the giggling muppet around the corner and the silhouette of a giant bird anxiously checking every window for you.
If this isn’t a horror game, then what is it really? Well, it is a puzzle game. As many other titles from our gaming history have shown, puzzles and horror go together like chocolate and peanut butter or Metro Boomin’ and the Spider-Man soundtrack. My Friendly Neighborhood’s horror is so milquetoast while the puzzle aspect is absolutely rewarding. Who needs atmosphere when you have a puzzle that requires me to think long and hard about what I am doing? To me, the real horror is my inner thoughts while I try to figure out a punch card system. What is this, my day job?
Even moving around the environments is a puzzle. No matter how rewarding it is to knock a muppet in the head with a wrench or blast them away with a pistol that shoots letters, it is always a risk. Combat is not the strong point of the game, and that is fine because you can easily just walk away. Problem is, any muppet you took down gets back up once you traverse through a door, which makes you think about where you are going and how you are going to get there.
When it comes to the technical aspects of My Friendly Neighborhood, the game makes lemonade out of lemons. Sure, there are several aspects of the game that feel awfully antiquated, such as the lack of an auto-save feature, no crouching or jumping, and just a generally low-detailed environment. Nevertheless, while they seem negative, they combine to present a net positive. Stealth mechanics are kinda low, and enemies make themselves known when they are chasing you, so it all comes down to either running for the closest door or wasting your precious ammo.
My Friendly Neighborhood is a neat experience that is commendable. In a world of jump scares and bland, YouTuber fodder, the game stands out. It isn’t necessarily because of the muppets or the fact that the main character is named Gordon as an homage to the Sesame Street character; it is because, as a full package, the game works. It has a solid ebb and flow that is rewarded and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. If this is the game that a team of two people can put out, I can’t wait to see what they can do with more.
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