I love The Muppets and Sesame Street. With their loveable puppets and goofy characters, these shows are quintessential children’s TV. However, I also have this odd fear. What if the puppets in those shows were real? Like actually existed in our world? Would they all be immortal? Powerful? Controllable? Lucky (I guess) for me, a new hit horror game on Steam lets me live out this scary scenario.
Launched on Steam on July 18 (and coming to consoles at a later date), My Friendly Neighborhood is a first-person survival horror game set inside an abandoned and aging television and movie studio. When the studio’s large antenna starts broadcasting again, disrupting other channels, you’re tasked with entering the facility and shutting it all down. But remember when I said the studio was abandoned? Well, all the humans left. But the full-sized puppets are still hanging around, and are very much alive and murderous.
I think some of the best, creepiest horror games, movies, and stories are ones that start with and focus on a simple goal. In the case of My Friendly Neighborhood, it’s turning off the broadcast tower inside the spooky, puppet-infested studio. This goal keeps you focused throughout the game, so even if you don’t look into every nook and cranny to figure out the lore behind what happened before you arrived, you’ll still feel like you understand most of what’s happening.
Puppets + Resident Evil 4
While My Friendly Neighborhood looks a lot like Five Nights at Freddy’s in screenshots, the actual game plays a lot more like recent Resident Evil titles. Played in a first-person perspective, you feel slow and weak in MFN. While there are weapons, you have to be smart about when to fight and when to run, as the puppets you encounter can kill you quickly and get back up once you leave an area and return. The only way to keep them down for good is to bring a roll of tape, with which you can wrap them up and secure the area. But there’s only so much tape, so much ammo, and far too many puppets. So you’ll need to manage your resources wisely to survive and finish your job.
A shout-out to the inventory system in My Friendly Neighborhood: It appears to be directly inspired by the wonderful attaché case found in Resident Evil 4. Managing and sorting that case, carefully placing items in just the right spots, made me so happy. Leon S. Kennedy would be proud.
MFN’s puppets and the world it builds for them are fantastic. The puppets perfectly match the kind of foam-and-cloth characters you’d expect to see on a puppet-themed TV show, complete with colorful clothes, stringy hair, wild movements, and silly voices.
But these characteristics are twisted in MFN to make the puppets terrifying. They’ll endlessly wave around in place while loudly chattering about basic life concepts like the mail or brushing your teeth, but if you stick around, their conversations with themselves devolve into madness and disturbing imagery. At one point a character started talking about how they live in your TV and eat the channels you don’t watch. Then he asked the kids watching to use a hammer to break the screen and set him free. (Kids at home, don’t do that!)
Hey, you stupid puppets, shut up!
Similar to in Resident Evil, to finish My Friendly Neighborhood, you’ll need to solve some odd puzzles. Early into the game, I had to win a board game against a creepy puppet. Another time I had to use circuit breakers marked with card suits to solve a door puzzle.
Unfortunately, at times I found myself wandering around looking for one last item or puzzle piece. Even though the map is good and most areas are well designed so you don’t get too lost, getting stuck in an area meant hearing the same puppets over and over. Fear turned to annoyance at that point as dialogue began to recycle.
It didn’t help that the game has limited saves based on how many tokens you collect, forcing you to possibly lose a large chunk of progress if you can’t afford to save. And then you get to hear the puppets some more. Ugh.
While the puppets and their dialogue can get grating, the rest of MFN is such a creepy blast that I barely cared. The writing is strong, slowly building up the mystery as to what was really happening here while never forgetting the man you play as is just a random dude completely out of his depth.
If you’re looking for a horror game that doesn’t overstay its welcome, has some great ideas, and is genuinely creepy, you should check out My Friendly Neighborhood. It will take about six or so hours to complete, and it’s a wonderful (and horrifying) ride from start to finish.