Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 (PC) Review

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Five Nights at Freddy’s 4

The Short

Pros

– The (actual) final chapter in the FNAF series

– Story does well tying up just about everything major while leaving a few good questions

– Yet another sequel just different enough to be considered unique

– New “nightmare” designs are horrifying

– Focus on audio cues was a clever move

– Less reliant on “random” jump scares than FNAF 3; jump scares are earned this time around

– Atmosphere is phenomenal, as usual, evoking a childhood “afraid of the dark” primal reaction

Cons

– Gameplay is even more routine

– Seriously, you just do four things over and over again until you either win or die

– Tutorials are now just text boxes rather than the clever “phone guy” calls

– Feels stripped down when compared to previous games

– Between level “minigame” feels out of place

– A bit too difficult (Night 3 onward is insane)

– Audio cues are (in the current version) a bit too quiet to feel fair [Editor’s Note: This was hotfixed]

– Still running an archaic “engine” (i.e. no “back to main menu” option, ESC hard-quits, etc.)

Here we go again

Here we go again

Editor’s Note: Seeing as neither FRAPs nor Steam overlay let me take pictures, the images in this review are from the game’s Steam Store page. At least that means no spoilers, hooray! 

The Long

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of the Five Nights at Freddy’s series. People might argue I’m outside of the target demographic (being on the wrong side of twenty), but I find the somewhat simplistic gameplay mixed with the sort of primal childhood fears of animatronics and messed up toys weirdly captivating. Considering the games are cheap, short, and seem to come out every 3-4 months, they make for fun evening diversions for one or two nights before beating them and moving on (or digging around in fan theories on the internet). Plus, I remember going to Chuckie Cheese as a kid and being terrified of the animatronic band, so this whole series kind of hits a personal note with me.

It was widely speculated that FNAF 3 was the final one, given both the nature of trilogies and the fact that it wrapped up one of the series’ big questions (the murders) fairly handily. However, with FNAF 4 the one loose thread (which I won’t mention for spoilers) is finally addressed, essentially closing out the franchise. Scott has said this is the final game, though I doubt anybody believes him at this point considering the money he must be making.

FNAF 4 was scheduled for release on Halloween, then was pushed up to the beginning of August (with free DLC for Halloween). Then Scott was like “it’s done, so why not review it?” and released it today (7/23) for funsies. I gotta admit, I like this guy’s style; he’s a maverick. He’s like a reverse Valve, missing deadlines by releasing games earlier than expected.

So all this background aside, this is the final chapter. Is it good? Bad? Does it live up to the series’ expectations? Has Scott finally run out of ideas? Well…yes and no, to all of the above.

Chillin' in my room, praying a satan nightmare bear won't eat me

Chillin’ in my room, praying a satan nightmare bear won’t eat me

In a rather stunning departure from the rest of the series FNAF 4 has no cameras. You are not a guy working at a pizza place or a horror house at night. You aren’t in this for the paycheck. Instead, you are an unnamed and unknown child, awake in the middle of the night and convinced monsters are in his closet, in the hallways, and under his bed. Yep, Scott played Among the Sleep and decided he too wanted a creepy child teddy bear game. Your only weapon against these hordes of creepers? A flashlight, and being able to shut the door really well. Why he doesn’t just shut all the doors and lock them is beyond me, but then there wouldn’t be a game so whatever.

While compelling, it’s clear this game was made for fans. Those who have played the other three games will quickly figure out who this child is and how he fits into the overlying mythos, but anybody going in cold will be baffled. Part of the mystery is also what exactly these monsters are. Are they real? Figments of the child’s imagination? I don’t think people make animatronics with rows of razor-sharp needle teeth. Just saying. Probably against some international code.

Another downside to this is that, without a “phone guy” giving you tutorials in-world, the game starts with a bunch of overlying text boxes to teach you the ropes. Frankly, this is a big kick down in the immersion factor, which is so very important for horror games. Luckily they are only there on the first day (and you can dismiss them easily), but I would hope for a more elegant way to display that kind of information.

I love you, Freddie.

I love you, Freddy. (Spoiler: I don’t love him, not at all)

Gameplay has been streamlined down to it’s absolute core here. Previous FNAF games did well eliminating things that were less in tune with spooking you out and adjusting gameplay in unique ways. FNAF 2 removed power (save a flashlight) but also doors, FNAF 3 had only one animatronic but a crazy computer system going against you, and so on. FNAF 4‘s streamlining is a bit more extreme. Cameras, the Night Trap hold-over and staple of the series, are gone. Now, gameplay consists of two things: shining your light and closing doors.

There are four places monsters can get you. Two side doors, leading into hallways, a middle closet (where Foxie will sneak in starting on Night 3) and your bed, where the Freddy plush will turn into Satan if you don’t look frequently enough (much like Foxie/Balloon Boy from FNAF and FNAF 2). The closet is pretty simple: shine the light in there, if Foxie is in there (often accompanied by a creepy noise) close the door until he backs off. The side doors are a little more complicated. Moving to them has you stare out into darkness. Should Bonnie (left) or Chica (right) be there and you shine your light on them, they kill you dead. You instead have to listen carefully for sounds, and if you hear movement/breathing/anything, shut the door until the noises stop.

It’s pretty creepy, and a really novel concept for the series. FNAF 2 used sound as a sort of “early warning” for those observent (vents made noises, as did Balloon Boy), but for FNAF 4 it’s required. Which was probably so that when you are scared, the screams of the attack blow your eardrums out. Seriously, the sounds of them outside are way too quiet, but I’m not cranking my volume just to get jumpscared into space here. That should probably be addressed. [Editor’s Note: The volume issue was hotfixed]

All clear.

All clear.

As you would imagine from Scott, he does clever things with sound. One hallway has a clock that will chime, throwing you off. The other has outside windows where you might spot things. You can also sometimes see Bonnie or Chica lurking in the background, moving out of the light as you shine it. It’s genuinely creepy and evokes that feeling you had as a child, up late at night and worried for what might be in the dark corners of your room or hallways. Having to physically move (as you, the child, are very small) from area to area only adds to the suspense.

Unfortunately, it’s with the gameplay that FNAF 4 falters. See, you really only do those four things, and you just do them over and over again. Check door, check closet, check other door, check bed. You could just make a circle over and over again. Sitting in the middle of the room gives you no indication of what to do next (unlike in previous games, where backing out of the cameras was often essential to survive), so you might as well just shuffle around the whole time. If you have good enough hearing, you can kind of play this game on autopilot. That isn’t to say it is easy; the randomness of the jumps make it seem almost unfair in how quickly things can go from “nobody is around” to “Chica’s Cupcake murdered you,” but at it’s core you just check four places, over and over, and that’s the whole game.

One might argue the other FNAF games are similar, and that’s a bit true, but it did better masking it. FNAF 1 and you had to keep tabs on where creepers were, so you at least had an idea of when they were coming and how close they were. FNAF 3 slipped a bit with the random scares, but I liked having only one Springtrap to keep tabs on (kind of like Alien Isolation). Here, it seems almost completely random. I died at 1 AM on Day 2 by glancing over to the right door (where I’d been checking and had no indication of change), shone the light, and got Chica’d. It felt almost completely random, and without any “overview” like what the cameras provided, the gameplay gets stale fast.

To be fair, Night 5 (the final night) does have one pretty big switch-up that I found to be cool (and reminded me of FNAF 3). I actually liked this night best as it had more audio cues to let me know what was going on without having to check everything incessantly. I only wish more of the game had been like this.

My, what big teeth you have.

My, what big teeth you have.

The only final thing worth mentioning is the strange “minigame” between nights. Here, a toy Springtrap sits on a chair. Shine your light and you’ll stop him from moving, but your goal is to “catch” him when he’s standing on the X nearest you. There is no strategy here; it’s completely random, and if you say “bollucks to you!” and just turn your light off, he jumpscares you. The reward for catching him is two hours shaved off the next night, which is not only a weird reward, but completely breaks the immersion of the game. How does this work in context of a terrified child hunted by his nightmares? It’s a really strange inclusion, and honestly just felt like Scott wanted to stick Springtrap in the game somewhere, so we got this.

Graphically, this is easily the best in the series. The designs for the nightmare versions of the animatronics we’ve all grown to loath are appropriately horrific. The complete pitch black of looking out into the hallways (though realistically the right hallway would have some outside light shining in) evokes a primal childhood fear in me, and even though I keep saying “just turn on the lights and close all the doors, dummy!” I really liked the idea of being a child haunted by nightmares. Powerlessness is a theme of these games, and FNAF 4 nails that better than any other in the series. It’s just a damned shame you’re stuck in that one room, doing the same four things over and over again.

There's a monster in my closet.

There’s a monster in my closet.

So…is it scary? It’s certainly nerve-wracking. I had the same “I can’t play more than a few minutes of this at a time” reaction that I had with all the games. I’d say it’s the tensest since the first game (were I to rate them in terms of a “Nathan-Has-To-Take-a-Break-o-Meter,” it would probably be 4, 1, 2, 3) and again, I really like the child theme. I also like how it ties up story bits with a fairly tragic and actually emotional side-story, presented between levels in the usual “retro graphics” style used in the previous games.

To be frank, however, I’m pretty disappointed. While the previous three games have been scary, I’ve still considered them fun to play. There was a sort of manic chaos that permeated them and exacerbated the already rising tension I felt at trying to not get murdered by Chuckie Cheese monsters. This time around, you can see the seams a little too much. The text tutorial, weird minigame, and routine gameplay breaks down what would otherwise be the best game in the series, at least tonally. The high bar of entry (you’ll have to have played 1-3 to understand 4) and unfair monster movements just make the game feel like a chore, something FNAF 2 almost slipped into but just missed. It’s a damned shame.

Please go away.

It’s like all my childhood nightmares made flesh. Or…robot, I guess.

 

As it stands, this is the first FNAF game I’ll only recommend if you already like (and have played) the other games in the series. It’s a decent enough closing note, and its heart is certainly in the right place, and holy cow mad props to Scott for churning out four totally decent games in under a year. But I think the formula is finally starting to get stale, and it’s a good thing he hung up his hat on a still (reasonably) high note. If you love the series, you’ll still enjoy this one, but remember it’s better to burn out than fade away. Also this game (like the rest of the series) I swear is funner to watch others play rather than play yourself. Which is probably why YouTubers love it to death.

I still wasn’t ready for Freddy, but I’m sad to see him go.

Three out of five stars

(but if you haven’t played or have no interest in this series, shave a star off).

Finally, an appropriate time to use “2spooky4me”

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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