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Five Nights at Freddy's (PC) artwork

Five Nights at Freddy's (PC) review

"(Jump Scares) are just an implement in the horror tool shed that can be used to good or ill effect just like any other"

Jump scares have gotten a bad rap lately. You'll often see horror movie reviews that say things like, “This stupid movie has to resort to cheap jump scares” or “This great movie doesn't need jump scares to be scary, it has atmosphere.” The thing is, there is nothing wrong with jump scares when they are done right and not used as a crutch. Most movies that are denigrated for having jump scares are just bad movies, it's not necessarily the jump scare's fault. And plenty of great horror movies have jump scares that make them fun and scary, like one of my personal favorites, Drag Me to Hell. So don't be alarmed when Five Nights at Freddy's warns you at the beginning that it is full of jump scares. They are just an implement in the horror tool shed that can be used to good or ill effect just like any other.

Five Nights at Freddy's is, I guess, a point and click horror game. It's very simple; you are stuck in one room the whole time and can only really click on five things. You are hired as an overnight security guard at a Chuck E. Cheese esc. kids fun-time venue. It's a magical place with a cafeteria and animatronic animal friends that sing and dance. But at night, the place is not so happy. The animatronics wander the halls in free-roam mode, and if they run into a human they can have quite a violent reaction. So you sit in the control room and monitor the characters from security cameras, and if they try to get into the control room, you slam the door shut. Survive the night without using up all the battery power in the cameras and door controls and you're good. Get caught by an animatronic or run out of power and something real bad is going to happen to you. Actually, something bad is going to happen to you in real life too; a jump scare so terrifying it will send your heart-rate through the roof even if you are totally prepared for it. And you won't be prepared for it about half the time.

All of this might sound a bit silly, but after the first time you play it, you will realize just how deadly serious it is. Everything about the design of Five Nights at Freddy's is leveraged masterfully to fill you with a terrible sense of paranoid dread. The building has very few light sources at night. Things are real dark. Like, real-life dark. Many videogames have this version of night where you can still see everything. In real life, darkness is weird, and it is possible to make out shapes and forms in near complete darkness. This is hard to simulate in a virtual world, but you certainly get a bit of it here. You can stare right at a character standing still in the darkness and just barely be able to tell it is there. The animatronics themselves are also terrible to behold. They are the kind of horrifying that can only come from something that was designed to be fun for kids but is instead nightmarish in appearance. And the fact that you know they are menacing and silently out to get you makes the whole endeavor very stressful. It's so stressful in fact, that I had a weird time dilation experience. I had read that each night was about 4 minutes long, and I believed it. Turns out that that is true for the mobile version, but in the PC version I was playing it's more like 8 minutes. I had played many rounds when I finally figured this out, so I was so intensely focused that I couldn't tell the difference between 4 and 8 minutes. I'll tell you, time slows to a crawl when you are stuck in that small room and feeling threatened on all sides. Sound design is just as creepy as everything else with sinister carnival music and terrible baritone laughter emanating from Freddy himself, quiet footsteps passing nearby you, and unseen actors banging dishes in the kitchen.

As I said in the beginning, you can basically only click on 5 things. You are in the control room, which is just big enough that you can't see the whole thing and need to pan around a bit to check both sides. On either far side are 2 buttons, one to turn on a light that lets you see if anything is in the hallway directly outside the door, and one that closes the door on that side of the room. You can also move your mouse over a bar at the bottom of the screen (you don't actually click it, now that I think about it) that makes you look at the security camera. On the security camera screen, you can't see the control room at all, only the view of whichever of the facility's cameras you are currently looking at. There is a mini-map in the corner and you can click on any of about 10 or so rooms to switch to their camera and get a look at what is going on. Everything you do uses battery power. Why things like the doors and lights are run by a battery, I'm not sure... You have a remaining power indicator that counts down from 99% as well as a usage meter. For each thing you have activated, the usage goes up by 1 and the power drains faster. For example, if you have a door closed and are looking at the camera, your usage is 3 (because it is always at at least level 1 even if you are doing nothing). So the name of the game is using as little power as you can while still not letting anything get into the control room.

Don't expect to see a lot of movement or animation in the game. You almost never see Freddy or any of his friends move. You just see them holding still in a camera view. And then you look away and look back, they are gone and you find them in another room, staring blankly into the camera, deadly still. You need to track their movements on the camera to make sure they aren't getting too close to the control room. If you think they are close by, you can turn on the hall light. And if you see them standing there in the doorway, you better slam that door shut quick. For most of the game, Freddy's 2 cohorts, a bunny and a duck, will be the most active, patrolling all over the premises before making a move toward you. But as the game's 5 levels progress, you'll also have to deal with a fox that lurks behind the curtain at his broken stage show attraction before bum rushing you, and then finally, Freddy Fazbear himself. Freddy and the fox work on a different set of rules than the bunny and the duck, and dealing with all of them at once is very hard and stressful.

The game is really, really good at producing genuine tension and upsetting scares. But it is unrelentingly difficult in the later stages. I had to look up guides and tips for the last few nights and still had some trouble beating the last night after probably 15 + tries. I love difficult games, but I felt that the difficulty was a bit misplaced here. Two reasons for that. 1. The game primarily consists of waiting through the night, often with big stretches where nothing is really happening as tension builds. That's not something that you want to go through 15 times. 2. The jump scares in this game are amazing and often shocked me even when I knew for certain they were about to happen. Most of the times that they didn't get me was when they became a bit routine after doing multiple tries in a row. “Time to get killed again.” To the game's credit, I was scared several times even when I had this almost bored attitude. I think it would have been more appropriate for the last level to take like 5+ tries. Then all my memories of it would be intense and scary and I wouldn't have the memories I have now of being so frustrated and bored that I almost quit. Your boss, who calls you at the beginning of each night, gives you a few tips about playing the game, but I would have appreciated if he pointed out a little more clearly how the AI on the more advanced animatronics worked.

The game's story is just a pretty simple set-up on the surface. Buried in the details, however, there is depth. When you're done with the game, try reading about it online. You'll see that if you piece together some of the things that your boss says to you over the phone at the beginning of each level with some newspaper clippings and such that you can see in the security cameras, a background for what is going on emerges with some pretty interesting implications... and a friend of mine who is really into the series (there are 4 games in total) assures me that the story is one of the best parts of the total Freddy's experience. Reading posts online will also point out the insane level of detail present in the game's backgrounds and a whole lot of creepy changes that can occur if you are paying very close attention.

I wouldn't normally want to knock a game for being challenging. During the first couple of nights, I was sure I was going to give Five Nights at Freddy's a 4 out of 5 for its tense scenario, overpowering sense of paranoia, and truly frightening jump scares. I'm bumping it down to a 3 for being too hard towards the end for the reasons I stated before. Horror games need to be hard; dying has to be possible to inspire fear of dying. But making this game too hard lessened the horror as I got bored and the scares became somewhat routine. Five Nights at Freddy's is a true achievement in horror gaming atmosphere, jump scare design, and even in use of AI. I'm just desperately hoping that the second game balances the difficulty a little more so that the game stays at its spookiest for as long as possible. Five Nights at Freddy's is a 3 out of 5.


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (October 24, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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