For over 10+ years, the indie game horror scene has continued to find major success and given way to some of the best entries in the genre. Among them, we’ve continued to see popular games that use and twist children’s entertainment-like mascots to horrific, unsettling effects. My Friendly Neighborhood, released on PC on July 18, 2023, is one such game that stands out not only for its clear Sesame Street-inspired aesthetics but for pushing itself to be a full-fledged Survival Horror experience, something we don’t often see in indie horror games. So, with your weapon in hand, welcome to the abandoned yet active set of the Saturday morning puppet show, “The Friendly Neighborhood”.

First Person Classic Survival Horror

Besides its aesthetic, one of the most striking aspects of My Friendly Neighborhood is just how inspired it is by the original Resident Evil. Exploring the abandoned TV studio of “My Friendly Neighborhood” is akin to exploring the Spencer Mansion where enemies, in this case, “friendly puppets”, lurk around every corner, and progress is gated by puzzles requiring specific items in classic Survival Horror fashion. Even transitioning from room to room mimics the quick first-person shot of the door to segment the map and enable puppets you’ve defeated to get back up for the next visit. To stop the puppets from becoming active enemies once more, you need to tape them down with the limited amounts of duct tape found within the environment, similar to burning the bodies of zombies in Resident Evil. Taking it a step further, saving the game is limited by coins you find that activate the save station, a finite resource that can also be spent to replenish your health so you must choose wisely.

Through and through, My Friendly Neighborhood is an ode to classic Resident Evil and the genre as a whole. It’s easily my favorite aspect of the game, but it does still come with the same issues that some may find tedious. Constant backtracking, picking specific routes to avoid combat and resource hits, and limited inventory space that must also carry key items to progress can be found throughout My Friendly Neighborhood. To a survival horror fan, these are mainstays that come with the territory and My Friendly Neighborhood isn’t going to be the game that sets out to solve what some may consider age-old problems, but I don’t think it needs to be either.

Would you Kindly Not Pick up that Wrench

Where My Friendly Neighborhood does tend to fall short is in its combat, something that isn’t overly detrimental to the experience as a whole, acting as a side piece to exploration and puzzle solving, but is still disappointing, nevertheless. With a very limited arsenal at your disposal, the moment-to-moment combat is nothing more than serviceable and is, ultimately, held back by an archaic damage system. Early on you have access to a basic wrench and a pistol that shoots metal letters of the alphabet. The pistol itself works and feels adequate, often acting as the go-to weapon, and plays like a standard gun in any other game, only this time with a 26 ammo clip for the alphabet. It’s a quirky aesthetic, for sure, but other than that it offers nothing truly unique to the experience nor do any of the other weapons. I found the wrench, particularly, lacking across the board. However, this wasn’t due to the item itself but how health was designed, making the wrench fairly impractical.

Unlike many contemporary games, My Friendly Neighborhood utilizes a health system that tracks the number of hits taken rather than unique amounts of damage. In essence, it utilizes a set number of “hearts” over a traditional “health bar”, which translates to dying upon the fourth hit of any and every enemy. At its core, this old-style approach to the health system is what I find holds the game back the most. In a first-person game where it can be hard to judge the distance of attacks or where hits can come off the screen with ease, it never felt good to be close up and personal even when trying to use the wrench as a finisher. This is because, while you take a specific number of hits, enemies do not operate on the same level, or at least not on the surface. It can take any number of shots to successfully down a crazed puppet so it becomes near impossible to gauge when to go in for that last bop on the head. Due to this, combat often feels stale during the short time with the game as there’s just enough ammo throughout to ensure you can stick to the limited ranged weapons, instead of experimenting with a unique set of tools.

A Quirky Story and Atmosphere

Of the many aspects that comprise the experience of My Friendly Neighborhood, there’s no doubt that the Sesame Street “gone wrong” aesthetic is paramount among them. You play as Gordon, a down-and-out repairman sent to disable a recently reactivated broadcast tower at an abandoned TV set for a children’s puppet program. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that the various puppets that make up the “My Friendly Neighborhood” show are more than your average inanimate objects as they attempt to stop you from shutting them down for good.

To my surprise, while short and simple, there is a story at the core of My Friendly Neighborhood centered around themes of being tossed out by society and finding renewed purpose. This plays out further through options objectives Gordan can complete throughout the station that are not aimed to harm but instead help the outcast puppets. To that end, My Friendly Neighborhood isn’t a full-blown horror game despite playing into the unsettling nature of walking and talking puppets with off-kilter things to say. It has a jump or chase here and there, but it’s significantly more tame than many of the other well-known series in the same vein. However, it’s certainly atmospheric and lends itself well to being a Survival Horror experience rather than a traditional Horror game for those of us with a lower tolerance for frights.

My Friendly Neighborhood does a lot with very little as an indie survival horror game during its 5 to 6 hours for a single playthrough. In some ways, what’s here could not support more than that so the game ends up completing without feeling like it overstayed its welcome with what it does offer. It’s a charming ode to classic Resident Evil that could use some cleaning up around the edges but, ultimately, was worth my time exploring the abandoned TV station as I hoarded ammo, picked up diary entries and news articles, and fought my way through persistent arm-wiggling puppets. It’s far from perfect due to some inconsistencies with the combat but, it’s impressive what such a small team, developed by brothers John and Evan Szymanski, were able to accomplish with My Friendly Neighborhood.

Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5 – Good

My Friendly Neighborhood is a short and sweet, classic Resident Evil experience with a lot of charm in its unique enemies and story. While the game’s combat systems are only serviceable, the atmosphere, exploration, and puzzle-solving ultimately outweigh it.