“No! Bad touch! Get the hell off of me!”
This is one of the many, many things I shouted in the early minutes of My Friendly Neighborhood as I found myself ensnared in the felt-covered clutches of the game’s many leering mascots. By the time I finished playing through it, however, I was surprised by how much I came to sympathize with these terrifying, beady-eyed creatures. It turns out they weren’t (intentionally) trying to suffocate me to death or flay me inside out. Deep down, they just wanted what anyone wants: a friend and a purpose.
The new title from John Szymanski and Evan Szymanski (who happen to be the brothers of Dusk developer David Szymanski), My Friendly Neighborhood is a survival-horror game that pits players against an onslaught of unsettling sentient puppets as they attempt to shut down a mysterious signal being broadcast from an abandoned television studio.
Similar to games like Five Nights at Freddy’s and Bendy and the Ink Machine, My Friendly Neighborhood’s particular horror aesthetic is derived from taking otherwise benign examples of children’s entertainment from the early-to-mid-20th century and twisting them into something macabre and malicious.
The puppets of My Friendly Neighborhood draw obvious parallels to the likes of Jim Henson’s Muppets and Sesame Street. They’re twisted facsimiles of iconic children’s edutainment that have presumably been brought to life and transformed by the same malicious signal that has inexplicably taken hold of the airwaves.
The other most obvious inspiration for My Friendly Neighborhood is in the moment-to-moment gameplay — it takes cues from classic survival-horror games (primarily the Resident Evil series) in forcing the player to navigate the labyrinthine corridors and secret passages of the studio complex, both to escape from the corrupted denizens of the compound and uncover the truth of what happened there. The game offers an array of weapons and tools to aid you in this mission, each one just as unconventional and comical as the very horror in which players find themselves.
There’s the “Rolodexer,” the game’s equivalent of a traditional sidearm pistol; the “Novelist,” an improvised shotgun-like armament that blasts enemies with a confetti burst of letters; handheld “Punctuation” grenades that explode into a clattering mess of symbols; and the “Conclusion,” an oversized Gatling gun that makes short work of the game’s more pernicious adversaries.
My Friendly Neighborhood especially shines in how it forces you to weigh short-term solutions against long-term challenges. Ammunition and other resources are scarce, while the puppets themselves are technically immortal. The game offers a solution to this problem in the form of duct tape scattered across the studio lot, which can be used to permanently incapacitate enemies. Upon leaving and reentering an area, the puppet will reawaken and proceed to chase you if you happen to cross its line of sight. You’ll have to use your weapons sparingly and rely on other tactics if you want to survive long enough to get to the heart of the game’s mystery.
Speaking of which, the world-building and narrative design in My Friendly Neighborhood is remarkable. Set in an alternate universe where an unspecified televised war and corporate consolidation have resulted in an erosion of community and shared values, the game’s story strikes an emphatically melancholic tone; this goes double for the protagonist, a disgruntled, down-on-his-luck repairman who may or may not have served in the aforementioned war earlier in his life. While the finale of the game may not capitalize entirely on the promise of its early hours, My Friendly Neighborhood is, on a whole, one of the satisfying new horror experiences in a year that’s had no shortage of terrific horror games to choose from. If you’re looking for a fun and unsettling survival-horror title that’s light on gore and heavy on spine-tingling thrills, I wholeheartedly recommend giving My Friendly Neighborhood a spin.
My Friendly Neighborhood was released on July 18 on Windows PC Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.