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My Friendly Neighborhood Preview

My Friendly Neighborhood Preview

For a fraidy-cat, I play a surprising amount of horror games. I suppose that I do actually enjoy a spooky and frightening situation as a source of tension, but I’m just bad at handling fear when it comes around. That’s why I prefer horror in games and books! This way, the horror only really exists while I’m engaging with them, and as soon as I’ve stopped interacting with one such work, I can allow my anxiety to relax. The same cannot be said of a film, where I may find myself trapped in a dark theatre where pausing is impossible and running away would just disturb the experience for other movie-goers. So, when I heard about My Friendly Neighborhood, a little indie horror title that claims to deliver on “solid scares” as opposed to gore fests, I knew that I had to give its demo a shot. Just… maybe not with the lights off.

My Friendly Neighborhood Demo Screenshot Mouse on Rock

My Friendly Neighborhood is a survival horror title produced by DreadXP. It is developed by the brother duo John and Evan Syzmanski, with John (also known as Ducky) handling the majority of the game as a full-time developer. Evan — alongside a multitude of other people whom we shall attempt to credit where their work is brought up — takes charge of many large portions of My Friendly Neighborhood, including the gorgeously decrepit environmental art which makes up the television studio that the horror title’s demo takes place in. As a whole, the game follows the adventures of Gordon, a handyman sent by the city to investigate the strange and violent broadcast of the titular childrens’ show My Friendly Neighborhood. Many years ago, the classic kids’ program brought a smile to many a face with its colourful cast of puppets, but until recently the show had fallen into obscurity. Now the old broadcast has started up again from its abandoned studio, presenting the audiences of today with laughs and puppet cannibalism in equal measure. It’s up to the player, as Gordon, to get inside and stop the broadcast.

After picking between two difficulty settings (Normal and Survival, with two more hidden difficulties that can be unlocked in subsequent playthroughs), the demo begins in medias res with Gordon, voiced by Tom Schalk, falling into the studio’s sewers. During a brief chat with an odd worm-like puppet named Ricky — whose voice actor has gone entirely uncredited and absolutely does not sound like any prolific YouTubers, why are you looking at me like that — Gordon and the player learn that they are in the realm of Ray, a large and grouchy janitor puppet portrayed by Paul Greene-Dennis. Given that Ray’s fingers are too large to use buttons, he’s unable to use the elevator in order to escape the sewers, though he is still perfectly capable of using the pipes to move around. On Gordon’s journey to find the elevator for his own sewer escape, Ray acts as an omnipresent force, seemingly always somewhere in the pipes and ready to strike.

My Friendly Neighborhood Demo Screenshot Toolbox2

Assisting Gordon (and the player) in his escape is his trusty toolbox, which is adorably adorned with his own name. Acting as an inventory, it is here where we begin to see a strong Resident Evil influence, as the toolbox only features a limited amount of space, represented with a grid. Carefully managing this space is integral to seeing success, particularly as some of the more useful items take up two slots in that grid system.
Also helpful are two firearms that fire letters of the alphabet as ammunition. One of these guns is modelled after a pistol (called the Rolodexer) and the other after a shotgun, though it’s up to the player to find the latter weapon somewhere in My Friendly Neighborhood’s environment. Both models — as well as those of the various puppets Gordon meets, befriends, and fires the alphabet at — were crafted by Akuma Kira. The visually impressive gun models really stick out, looking as though they’ve been cobbled together out of office equipment.

In the next couple of rooms (which are accessed via doors in an animation not dissimilar to those used in Resident Evil), the Rolodexer proves much less impressive in taking down the puppets that roam the halls, though that’s hardly a fault for a survival horror game. There are three of these enemies, each looking like they’ve just come off of Sesame Street’s stage with colourful felt for skin. Arms awkwardly held up, these puppets don’t start out noticing the player, but when they do, they start walking towards Gordon in an effort to hug him to death. They can only be stopped by firing letters at them until they are blown away. With the Rolodexer, it takes a varying amount of letters to take them down, though headshots prove to be a perfect remedy for that issue if the player has good aim. The shotgun, on the other hand, tends to quite easily blow away any given puppet with just one shot or two. This is balanced by the very small amount of ammo available for that weapon, alongside the fact that every three rounds take up two slots in Gordon’s inventory.

My Friendly Neighborhood Demo Screenshot Shotgun on Wall

When not aware of the player (and even when chasing Gordon, to a lesser extent), each puppet delivers a variety of monologues at all times in peppy voices. What at first sounds like your normal childish fare on subjects like making friends or feeding animals at a park slowly reveals itself to be a twisted array of truly unhinged comments, such as instructions on how to eat your own hands or on the importance of finding friends that will forgive you beating the crap out of them. The first time I personally heard these speeches, I was in a hallway and unable to see any puppets, leaving me quaking in my boots as two puppets held wildly different conversations with themselves. Their voices overlapped around me, seeming to grow and shrink in volume, making me deeply unsure as to where they both were and unwilling to move forward. My favourite moment in the dialogue comes with that “feeding animals” monologue, which ends with how the puppet themselves only needs a friend. Could that be a sweet moment, showing that they only require friendship and that, deep down, these puppets are really just lonely? Or should we keep in mind that the reason we’re even here is because the cast of My Friendly Neighborhood were filming themselves eating each other on national television? I’ll leave that up to you, dear reader, to decide. But either way, I simply have to congratulate the puppets’ three voice actors (namely, Leo Wiggins as Norman, Natalie Roers as Junebug, and Joshua Michael Cookingham as Lenard) and the vocal director, Brendan Blaber (also known as JelloApocalypse), for how much these moments kept me on edge and made me chuckle.

Sadly, the amazing vocal performances worked so well with the game that I found myself really struggling at first, so terrified of the puppets that I used the Tape (a special item that permanently holds down any defeated puppet, as they will otherwise get back up if Gordon leaves the room) on every single enemy that I downed. I was soon out of tape and had to waste letters on numerous giggling puppets in close quarters. Needless to say, I did not succeed in my first attempt! However, after making my second attempt, I started to get into the groove of the game, arriving at the various puzzles littered throughout. Most of these involved navigating around the sewers in order to find various tools that help the player progress while also keeping enough room in their inventory to keep both the new items and enough ammo and healing items to see them safely around. There are also other conundrums, including memory and number puzzles, so there’s plenty of room for clever players to show their stuff.

I should also take this time to briefly congratulate composer Alex Popoff for the beautifully soothing jazz tunes that play in the safe rooms around the sewers, alongside the rest of the soundtrack. I likely would not have made it through the demo without having that music to unwind to between stressful puppet encounters.

My Friendly Neighborhood Demo Screenshot Norman on Ground

By the end of my first complete run of the demo, I had spent an hour on the game (40 minutes of which made up that second playthrough), found one secret video tape, and was already hooked. For my troubles, I unlocked a more difficult setting alongside several cheats, including an option to give the Rolodexer infinite ammo. This made each subsequent playthrough significantly easier, particularly seeing as one of the major differences between the settings was in how much ammo the player starts with and can find in the game world. Now, while not having to search for ammo (or even keep any of it in Gordon’s limited inventory space) was very helpful, the main benefit of the infinite ammo cheat lay in how it completely removed the need to reload. While this is true of any game with an ammo system, it was particularly helpful here, as I found myself often frustrated with how My Friendly Neighborhood allowed me to use the paper slips that served as ammo. As a way to keep the inventory difficult to manage, each stack of paper slips is wholly unique and cannot be combined with other slips. This means that each set of ammo takes up its own slot and that the player can only equip one of those sets at a given time. I’ll be honest: This is really clever and kept me from feeling like I was in control of the situation, as though I didn’t really understand how the Rolodexer worked and was unable to work with it properly. However, I also found myself unendingly frustrated. When I ran out of one set of slips, the gun would load up another set, usually whichever was the largest that I had. This meant that I slowly accumulated way too many small stacks of ammo, even when I actively tried to equip my smallest sets. I attempted to sort my paper slips in order of increasing size, but the game decided that more ammo was always going to be more helpful in the moment. Now, I do feel a tad silly complaining about an intentionally annoying gameplay mechanic, but I feel that this could be improved if the player were given more control over which sets of ammo would be loaded into the firearms next.

My Friendly Neighborhood Demo Screenshot Ricky Pilot Judge

All that being said, I hope it is extremely clear that I enjoyed my hour with My Friendly Neighborhood. I sometimes have a hard time sticking around with a horror game, finding myself quivering behind a door because I know that I will not like whatever is right behind it. When that happens, I tend to just stop playing rather than press on. However, at least in its demo, I never got to a point where I was incapable of making progress in My Friendly Neighborhood, even when I was still dreading the upcoming moments. This is one title that’s going on my wishlist and I think you won’t be disappointed if it goes on yours too.

So when My Friendly Neighborhood rolls around sometime in the future, I hope you’ll join me in saying, “Welcome to the neighbourhood!”

Erin McAllister

Erin McAllister

Staff Writer

Erin is a massive fan of mustard, writes articles that are too long, and is a little bit sorry about the second thing.

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