There have been GIFs and trailers showing off the gameplay of My Friend Pedro for years, and I’ve always had the same question when watching the game’s stylish action: Will I be able to do that?
And after spending some time with the final version of the game, I can say that the answer is yes.
My Friend Pedro is a 2D, side-scrolling shooter where I can slow down time, split my aim in two directions, choose the weapon — or weapons — I’d like to use on the fly and even spin to dodge bullets coming at me. Fans of serious action films know that bullets can’t hit a spinning target, making the spin command one of the most powerful moves in the game.
My Friend Pedro is a video game pastiche of action films like The Matrix, John Wick, Equilibrium, and anything else that features combat that can be described as “gun fu.” My focus is on killing everyone in as stylish a way as possible while also stringing together different attacks to keep my combo meter up.
I learn how to assume that every time I see a piece of metal hanging in a level, there is an enemy nearby that will be hit if I ricochet some bullets off it. Glass exists only to be broken, and every hanging rope hints at a vertical firefight that will kick off once I start sliding down. Every time I see something that looks like a setup, I can feel comfortable knowing that will be a payoff if I use it in the manner intended.
Which is where the real joy of My Friend Pedro comes in; I always felt like I was having a conversation with the developers and level designers as I jumped down a vertical shaft, splitting my aim and spinning to avoid bullets flying at me. The environmental design has a way of signaling what I should do next if I want to see something really cool, and trusting in my gut about how to move and where to send the bullets usually ends with an impressive-looking series of kills.
The game even makes it simple for you to pull your own social media-ready GIFs from your performance to share with friends. It’s not a matter of whether I can do the cool things I saw in all those early trailers — I can, and so can you if you’re even just passable at action games — but whether I can build from the scenario that’s been so clearly planned for me and take things into creative directions.
Each level works to keep me constantly moving. I may have to roll under a barrier and pop up with my shotgun to take out a goon in front of me, only to jump onto a rope over a vertical tunnel, sliding down while splitting my aim so I’m firing to the right and the left, timing my shots to the speed of my descent, taking out enemies on both sides.
Then it’s a matter of jumping through a glass window, surprising the two enemies inside the room. One is close enough that I can kick him and save the ammo; I take out the other with my handguns. I could have rolled or spun to the middle of the room to kick over a table for cover, but that would have cost time and might have negatively impacted my combo counter. A nearby room with metal plates hanging from the wall close to two switches that open or close doors gives me everything I need to know about the parameters of a puzzle, but the trick will be to figure out how to ricochet my shots off the metal to hit the switches to keep me moving forward while also killing the enemies around me.
If I have time to pause for breath that probably means there’s a cleaner, more elegant solution I need to find, one in which I never have to stop moving or firing. It’s an exhausting, exhilarating game in which I’m always scanning the environment for hints about what to do next, and then practicing the run until I also know the best way to handle it.
I can return to any of the levels after I’ve completed them to try to beat my letter grade, high score, and shortest time to completion in each one, while also checking out how other players faired on the scoreboards.
Replaying levels as I go, especially in the earlier sections, proves to be a winning strategy. The biggest challenge early in the game was to remember all the tools at my disposal to keep myself safe while murdering my way through each level, and figuring out how best to use each one. The controls themselves are easy to pick up and learn, but repetition brings a better understanding of possible tactics and whether each one will increase my score or decrease my time. I strongly suggest playing with a gamepad if you’re picking the game up on PC, however.
Experimenting with the different weapons, environmental attacks, kicks, and strategies that help me string a series of kills together can be time-consuming, but that’s where the fun is. Each level is set up so even middling players will be able to do something cool, but where can I take each strategy from there? What are the attacks and approaches I’m not seeing the first time I play each area?
Every combo can be held a little longer, and I can always retry a level to see if I can run through the whole thing without taking a single bullet. The challenge isn’t so much in whether I can beat each individual stage, although some are doozies, but in how I can improve my score and master all the movement and offensive options at my disposal.
The game’s liberal use of auto-aim makes sure I need only put my bullets near my targets to connect. So much about the experience is there to help me win, and win in cool ways, rather than work against me. But I have to at least meet it halfway, and then get ruthless at trying to do things with fewer pauses, more combos, and using more of the environment.
Maybe that’s the secret to becoming someone who moves in as deadly a fashion as John Wick; realizing that everyone involved in shooting the scene was dedicated to making the character look as cool as possible.
My Friend Pedro is set in a world where the amazing moments have all be set up ahead of time, and it’s your job to follow the lead of the developer during your first pass, and then see how you can improve it as you repeat each level time and again. And the shooting is stylish, and rewarding, enough that I want to do just that.
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