Gore is not always needed in the best horror games, and My Friendly Neighborhood is proof of that. DreadXP's new first-person shooter is a unique experience, a satirical spin on conventional survival horror as well as a dedicated scare-'em-up in its own right.
Solving puzzles and sprinting across an abandoned film set is made even more eerie when I'm chased all the while by aggressive, unnervingly cheerful marionette puppets, sometimes even speaking in unison. Managing a dwindling supply of ammo and health items – alongside keys, puzzle pieces, and speed-boosting candy bars – is just one other thing I need to be mindful of, and if I stand still for too long, I know that she might find me. In short, My Friendly Neighborhood encapsulates the best of Resident Evil without spilling a single drop of blood, showing inventive flair when it comes to child-proofing the genre and sacrificing absolutely nothing in the process.
One of my favorite things about My Friendly Neighborhood is how lovingly it pokes fun at survival horror tropes. It takes the plucky Resident Evil 2 heroes' sudden plunge into a world of zombie-infested chaos and amps it up by ten, this time showing handyman Gordon, our unwilling and wholly uninterested protagonist, approaching his last job of the day with decided disdain. Sent to an abandoned TV studio to dismantle a satellite dish and stop it from interfering with regular news programming, what he finds there is definitely a job well above his pay grade.
As Gordon explores a labyrinth of abandoned stages, costume cupboards, prop departments, and green rooms, he discovers an unnerving story underpinning the children's TV show that once called this place home. So begins a fascinating gameplay loop, balancing tension with moments of levity to create a well-paced adventure that had me giggling at one moment, hissing profanity at the next.
My Friendly Neighborhood has all the hallmarks of a good survival horror yarn, except for the blood and guts. There's inventory management to keep you on your toes, with your attaché case quickly gettin' crowded should you decide to hoard those health potions, and in lieu of collecting ink ribbons, you can't save your game unless you've collected tokens to use in a safe room.
Instead of setting fire to crimson heads as in the first Resident Evil game, you can truss up an incapacitated doll with gaffer tape once you've battered it to the ground with a wrench. Just like how setting fire to a crimson head stops it from reanimating, dolls in My Friendly neighborhood can't break free from the tape. Not doing so means that the doll in question will be standing up again and chatting away once more next time you pass through the room. There's a scarcity of tape to be scavenged from the abandoned film set, however, so I made sure to save up my tape for particularly crowded or high-traffic areas I might return to.
Same same but different
The Resident Evil comparison isn't something DreadXP is trying to hide in My Friendly Neighborhood. In fact, it openly celebrates and references it constantly.
One standout Resident Evil callout for me is when, upon entering a large lobby for the first time, you hear a rhythmic banging as a shadow on the wall in front of you shows a puppet flinging itself against a locked door. In my mind, this is an immediate nod to the vending machine zombie of Resident Evil 2, only the first time you come across his My Friendly Neighborhood counterpart, you have no choice but to sneak through another door since you don't get your first weapon for a little while longer.
The puzzles in My Friendly Neighborhood are deceptively challenging at times. Puzzles are a mainstay of the survival horror subgenre, and despite being pitched as a "kid-friendly horror game", these moments can be real head-scratchers. An example of this is when you come to your first large-scale sound stage and find a clock on the wall of a pizzeria. I had no idea what to do with it at first, and with the inquisitive cooing of Tyrant stand-in Pearl the Giant Scary Bird Lady (or so I have nicknamed her) constantly pecking away outside, I decided to leave this puzzle for later.
A few more rounds of the stage showed me that the clock arms actually corresponded to wall-mounted lockboxes hidden around the upper levels of the stage, and to unlock each one, I would have to go back and forth between the pizzeria and these very large, very exposed high storeys without being seen by Pearl or chased by a puppet.
My Friendly Neighborhood is an excellent indie pick for any huge horror fan, but it's also a great entry point to the genre for those who get a little squeamish. Exploration-based storytelling is interspersed with manageable high-pressure situations to turn up the heat, but being so focussed on solving puzzles, you get used to the creepy dolls' chattering after an hour or two. As long as you don't have a deeply debilitating fear of The Muppets, of course.