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My Friendly Neighborhood Review: Not Quite A Horror Show

EDITORS' RATING : 6 / 10
Pros
  • Fantastic world design
  • Entertaining puzzles
  • Fun weapons
Cons
  • Forgettable characters and story
  • No real scares

A PC code was provided to SVG for this review. My Friendly Neighborhood is available now on PC. It will be released on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S at a later date.

Once upon a time, "My Friendly Neighborhood" was the hottest show on television. Millions of kids would sit down in front of their TVs to watch their favorite puppet friends teach them about counting, reading, and being better friends. But nothing lasts forever. Eventually, the show's popularity started to fade, and its studio had to be shuttered. Then, out of nowhere, the lights in the building came back, and the show started hitting the airwaves again, but this time around, the puppets were in control, and they weren't so keen on teaching kids happy life lessons anymore.

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You don't have to suffer from pupaphobia to find that premise bone-chilling. "My Friendly Neighborhood" has you exploring a virtually abandoned building, piecing together clues and puzzles while being chased down by murderous puppets of all shapes and sizes. On paper, digging through the grave of a hellish "Sesame Street" styled show sounds like a terrifying experience, but in execution, "My Friendly Neighborhood" almost never lands a scare.

Luckily, the gameplay just about makes up for the lack of horror. "My Friendly Neighborhood" is overflowing with engrossing puzzles, engaging level design, unique weapons, and a surprisingly level of commitment to its premise. You might not ever jump out of your seat, but if you're a fan of survival horror games with a heavy "Resident Evil" influence, then you'll still enjoy your time with the game.

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Last job of the day

Gordon is a handyman-for-hire who really needs to hold onto his current job. That's why he doesn't immediately call it quits when puppets on the decaying "My Friendly Neighborhood" set start attacking him when he's trying to shut down the studio's antenna. What's supposed to be a straightforward gig immediately gets complicated when the building's elevator won't take him to the roof. Gordon's alternative route to the end of the work day takes him through sets, sewers, and executive offices, and all the while, he's solving puzzles and fighting for his life.

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The story doesn't necessarily add much to the overall experience of "My Friendly Neighborhood." Gordon himself is so unphased by everything he experiences — from being violently attacked by felt pigs to commiserating with a giant green monster about how the past can never be retrieved – that he doesn't help immerse players in the horror. On the other hand, his bizarre interactions with the various puppets throughout the game make for some genuine, and clearly intentional, laughs.

While exploring the sprawling TV studio, Gordon finds all sorts of notes, newspaper clippings, and hints about the titular show's history. The notes are unobtrusive and don't serve to slow down the actual gameplay, but at the same time, piecing together Gordon's past and the rise and fall of "My Friendly Neighborhood" never manages to be interesting enough to warrant digging around for every scrap of lore.

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Puzzling through the environment

Though the story is easily ignored and the puppets aren't all that scary, the level design of "My Friendly Neighborhood" is a delight. From the first time Gordon steps onto an abandoned soundstage, it's clear that the developers went above and beyond in fleshing out the details of the studio. The neighborhood set is made up of multiple buildings designed to look like homes, laundromats, and pizza parlors that include some fun nods to real children's shows. The towering executive offices, sprawling gardens, and dank sewers are all compelling places to explore and give a real sense of depth to the world that the narrative doesn't quite capitalize on.

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Of course, wandering through the game's various buildings is no easy task. The "My Friendly Neighborhood" set is in disrepair, and everything from broken elevators to failing pneumatic systems will block Gordon's path as he tries to get to the building's antenna. Players will need to scour every inch of the rooms they encounter looking for keys, batteries, letter blocks, masks, and hints that will help them solve a multitude of environmental puzzles.

The puzzles are the main focus of the game, and while none of them are exactly revolutionary or even new to the genre, they all feel perfectly at home here. Each puzzle fits right into the world and makes sense in the setting. They also never feel repetitive. Every new area is filled with an assortment of new challenges, and while they might not stump genre veterans, they're difficult enough to require some careful thought and attention to the environment.

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Putting options on the table

In between solving puzzles, Gordon faces off against the remaining puppets of the old television show. He can use a rolodex pistol, typewriter shotgun, or alphabet grenade to blast strings of letters at oncoming puppets, or he can smack them out of the way at the last minute with a carefully timed swing of his wrench. Once taken down, the puppets, appropriately, go all rag doll and drop to the ground. If Gordon has tape in his inventory, he can lock them down. Otherwise, they'll be back in fighting form the next time he steps into the room.

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In addition to the fun weapons, "My Friendly Neighborhood" also throws a wealth of unlockables into the mix. Making progress in the game can open different modes, like Speedrun mode and Free-cam. Finding certain in-game items also opens the door to various cheats. Some are genuinely useful, like giving Gordon stretchy arms or a stronger wrench, while others are almost a joke, like turning on chipmunk voices for the characters.

Puppet woe

The biggest disappointment in "My Friendly Neighborhood" are the neighbors themselves. The guns, lighting, and overall tone of the game really take down the horror several notches, but even if the entire experience was dark, deadly, and serious, the puppets still wouldn't be scary. They're all supposed to be characters from the original TV show, but aside from one or two, none of them have any real personality or distinguishing traits.

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What makes the puppet problem even worse is that you're going to see the same handful of characters dozens of times in a single playthrough. Tape a puppet down in one room, and he might just show up three rooms later anyway. Even worse, the puppets talk constantly. At first they're prattling bits of show scripts and advice to kids are pretty funny, but when there's three or four puppets grouped together spouting lines in a room you have to cross through multiple times, the verbal vomit gets pretty annoying.

A memorable enough ride

Ultimately, "My Friendly Neighborhood" is a fun experience. The game fails to be scary in the slightest, but that might not have been its goal in the first place. Instead what the game delivers is an engaging series of puzzles, a goofy world, and an irreverent take on the survival horror genre. It never quite reaches the level of parody, though it might have been better if it had taken things that far.

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The story and characters will probably wash off of you after a day or two, but the setting and puzzles will likely stick around in your mind a little longer. "My Friendly Neighborhood" is a solid game, but it's the idea of what it could have been that's going to haunt you when it's all over.

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