Five Nights at Freddy’s (PC) Review

The Short


Pros

– This is technically a spiritual successor of Night Trap. Just…think about that for a moment

– Evokes a certain sense of uneasiness throughout, which then becomes genuine stress

– Does well at using it’s limited controls to make you feel powerless, increasing the spooks

– Animatronic anything just gives me the jibbilies

– The jump scares are surprisingly decent

– Despite it’s simple graphics, the ghetto feel actually works to the game’s creepy benefit

– It’s short length is a plus; it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome too badly

Cons

– Game usually ends up relying on jump scares after the first or second night

– Doesn’t do as much as one would hope to mix up the formula

– Gameplay mechanics themselves are fairly simplistic

– Why would the guy come back after the first night?

– Seems a little too much “Made for YouTubers”

Nothing seems wrong, everything is fine.

The Long


What a weird gaming world we live in. With the rise of YouTube Let’s Players like PewDiePie, Game Grumps, and others, indie devs now have an outlet to reach millions of people should they be lucky enough to be chosen by one of these crazy game-playing behemoths. Whether you love them, hate them, or find them obnoxious and wonder what the big deal is, it’s pretty certain the face of gaming exposure has changed, for better or for worse.

One of the things that made these Let’s Players so prominent early on was their reactions to horror games. Played in the dark, eyes wide and headests on, people apparently got a kick out of watching other gamers totally freak out on camera in ways that were absolutely not made up or overexaggurated in any way. Games like Amnesia and Slender went from niche horror titles to cultural megahits, and other games that were easy for these YouTubers to react to (Surgeon Simulator, Happy Wheels, Flappy Bird) began to emerge to embrace this new market.

Now we have the latest in this low-budget, high on jump scares endeavor, Five Nights at Freddy’s. While I don’t want to say the developer went out of his way to make a game that YouTubers would play and promote (which is exactly what happened with this game), I will say that there wouldn’t even be a market for this kind of game if the floodgates hadn’t already been opened. Because, you see, this game is basically the Sega CD disasterpiece, Night Trap. Yeah. Really. That alone makes me want to love it.

But is it actually a good game? A bad game? And, more importantly, is it 2spooky4me? Well, fill out your job applications and stay away from Chuckie Cheese, because we’re gonna find out.

This seems fine. Everything here is fine.

The plot of the game is relatively simple. Starved for work, you take a five-day gig at Freddy’s, a sort of Chuckie Cheese style pizza place for kids. The job seems simple enough: sit in a room as a night security guard from the hours of ten to six, and at the end of the week collect your $120. It’s apparently in like 1987 or something because the cameras are all garbage and everything looks…well, like it’s from 1987, which explains the $120 being actually worth it for this job. Only not really.

The first night out you get a phonecall that goes straight to your voicemail from someone who claims to have been the previous person working there. Apparently at night the animatronic creatures (there are four total, one being the titular “Freddy”) are allowed to wander around on their own. No biggie, but if they manage to find you their screwed up programming will read you as an exoskeleton missing it’s suit, and then stuff you into one of the spares they have lying around. Which wouldn’t be a problem except bones and vital organs don’t really mesh will with the complex machinery inside these things. So basically they’ll kill you. What kind of freaking job is this?

THINGS ARE VERY QUICKLY BECOMING LESS FINE.

The way to prevent yourself from being brutally murdered by these straight up freakin’ creepy animatronics is to either keep an eye on them (as they are aware when you are watching them over the cameras) and, in case of an emergency, close one of two doors leading to your office. The big trick is that doing anything (even just sitting with the light on) drains your very limited supply of power. Pulling up the cameras, switching cameras, and even having the light that flickers on and off in the dark hallway outside the open door drains the power just a bit. Closing the doors in particular is a massive power hog, which means you have to keep them open as long as possible unless you want to be out of power at 5 AM and at the mercy of these things.

Like I said, Night Trap. You can’t leave the office; the only controls you have are deciding when to look through the cameras (which have pretty crappy, usually black-and-white picture, and one room doesn’t even have visual just sound) and when to shut the doors. As part of the trick, there are blind spots between the rooms closest to you and your actual room, which means you’d best be putting the camera interface away (which takes up the full screen) and checking the space just outside your doors (which is just a flickering light in the pitch darkness) unless some freaking robot duck sneaks in when you aren’t looking and turns you into a mobile Mickey Mouse.

I REGRET EVERYTHING!

The various characters have a variety of nuances that you have to learn quickly. Most will only move when you aren’t looking, but there isn’t enough power to keep an eye on them at all times. One just sort of wanders, heading for you then giving up and moving around a bit. The other can teleport (yeah, not fair), though the game gives a faint audio cue when it’s about to happen. Freddy…I don’t know what he does, just kind of lumbers about and makes me upset. The worst is the creepy wolf guy (see above) who is normally hiding behind a stage curtain. But if you don’t look at the curtain (or, inversely, look at it too much) he’ll suddenly burst free and make a beeline straight for you (the only character you can see moving on camera). He’ll pound on the door for a while (or murder you, again, see above) before retreating and the process cycles again. Having it trigger on both “too much” and “too little” was a clever idea, meaning you are constantly stressed out.

And hoo boy, this game is super stressful. The limited vision, the constant worrying about power, the characters that move erratically and then stand perfectly still when caught on camera (or in your field of vision, standing outside the door before they come in to get you) all compiles to a massive, stressful bundle of fun. With so much stuff to manage and the constant fear of getting jumped or missing someone, the game thrives on making things miserable. The worst is having to, on occasion, switch off the cameras because you know you’re draining too much power, meaning you are sitting there for one, two, three painful seconds wondering if they’re coming for you. And when you do run out of power? Well, they don’t come straight for you, but you bet when you hear that little musical jingle, Freddy is coming. He’s coming to getcha.

You stay there, rabbit. No tricks! Tricks are for kids!

So the big question is this: is this game actually, genuinely scary? I’ll preface my answer with the usual that comes with spooky stuff: your mileage may vary. The game doesn’t rely on blood or gore to provide it’s scares, and I commend it for it. The creepy atmosphere, voicemails, and dead silence save the hum of your fan and the click of switching cameras are more than enough to unsettle. However, after a while (usually around day three), it stopped being scary and was just stressful (but in a good way).

The main reason for this is twofold. The first is the game is extremely reliant on jump scares. Now, it’s jump scares are actually pretty dang good, especially when you are playing the game the first time. There’s a massive beginner’s trap on day two that I won’t spoil, but needless to say if you don’t listen to the voice mail very intently, you are gonna have a bad time. Nothing is worse than the long pause when the power is out and you see Freddy’s eyes glowing, and it’s 5 AM which means it just might, might roll over and you’ll win. The screen grows dark and…

Well, either a massive scream of horror as Freddy encompasses the screen taking you, or the 6 AM rolls over. Either way, you’re gonna jump.

You really are a prima donna, aren’t you?

There are other jump scare tricks. The fox, as mentioned, can make it from his stage to you in just a few seconds, often resulting in a frantic button press for the door (or a screaming yell as he bursts in to murder you). Other characters can sneak into the room while you are looking at the cameras, and the game is evil in that they will wait for you to lower the interface at your own discretion before attacking. It’s a clever trick that makes you scared to to just about anything.

But at it’s core, all these things are just what I said before: jump scares. That’s the main crux. They are very obviously jump scares too, because the sounds they make are horrifically loud compared to the rest of the game and sound worse than Nazgul screams. Like the rest of the game, they evoke overwhelming stress, and usually cause a pretty good jump and a cuss word.

The issue is that eventually jump scares get old. After the fifth or sixth time of getting jumped, getting caught off guard is less frightening and more just stressful and annoying. Once you learn the audio cues that they’re in the room when your camera is up, you can expect the “scare” before raising the camera. Is it still startling to have a sudden burst of noise pierce the silence? Yeah, but that’s startling, not scary.

As a self-proclaimed expert on ducks, I can say with a 98% certainty that they don’t have teeth.

The second issue is the lack of variety. The game basically plays all it’s cards on the third day: you are introduced to all the characters, and you can start learning their patterns. Beyond that it’s just the difficulty ramping up: the AI gets smarter, and…well, that’s it actually. There isn’t really any dramatic changes to formula. It would have been cool if after a few days they started cutting the wires on certain cameras, or using decoys to distract you. Maybe mix up their movement patterns a bit, or introduce a few more animatronics into the mix (or even put you in a different building). The game’s brevity is it’s strength in this regard (only five days and a bonus, extra hard sixth day if you hate yourself) seeing as I’d say it still maintains it’s spooky atmosphere up until the end of day three, but then it stops being really scary and more of a game you are playing, and in that regard it’s about as exciting as playing Night Trap. Which is not very exciting at all.

So, in a way, this game is a perfect fit for this generation of “horror” fans. People who like quick jumps and rapid fire scares, that aren’t really satisfied with slow burns unless they quickly result in ramped up jump scares (or gore splatter). It’s less “horror” and more “thriller” (or “suspenseful”), as the slow burn followed by the sudden, rapid release, then followed by the slow burn again is pretty much a staple of how to create smart tension within horror games (see P.T. or Silent Hill 2 for good examples of this). But I will commend it in that it starts as a spooky slow burn: the first two days are genuinely unsettling, even if you do manage to not get jump scared. It’s just too bad it couldn’t keep that momentum going.

Nothing to see here. That’s good, right? Please? I want my mommie…

Graphically the game does wonders with it’s obvious low budget. The entire game is pretty much a still shot with a camera fuzzy VHS filter put over it, with random layers of when the beasties are there put on top of it to spook you out. What really works is their details in lighting; they’re really good at taking a dark scene (like the one above) and then slyly sneaking a dark shadow that wasn’t there before, or some glowing eyes peeking out of a corner. Some are more obvious (as you can see from the screenshots earlier in the review), but considering this isn’t even as complex as, say, the FMV filled Night Trap, I have to hand it to them: they did a whole lot with next to nothing.

The only real animations are when you are assaulted and the freaking nightmare-fuel running fox (who runs like Crash Bandacoot, which if you think of that makes him way less scary). Their animations are really janky and the models fairly low-budget up close, but it fits both the theme of the animatronics and the fact that this game looks like a game from the late 90s/early 2000s. It has that “3D is just getting started on PCs so we’re gonna pre-render everything” look like from the Fallout games, and I actually kind of love it for it. It’s a throwback to a graphical style that nobody ever throws back to (thank goodness they didn’t make this game with pixel art), and one I have a lot of nostalgia for. I’d like to see it done more (famous last words here…).

Crash Bandacoot is coming for your babies.

Not gonna lie: I went into this game fully expecting to be an elitest reviewing jerkbag and give it a low score because I thought it was just pandering YouTube bait. Hey, at least I’m being honest here.

But after playing through it, my opinion changed to one of genuine reverence to this developer. Is this game scary like a Hitchcock movie or other classic horror games? Maybe at the beginning, but not really. The gameplay is intentionally overly difficult (what is this place powered on, double-a’s?) as well as extremely simplistic, the graphics are mostly static images, and it’s riddled with jump scares. But despite all that, they managed to create a fun, genuinely unsettling horror game, that takes a relatively untapped formula and uses it very effectively to do exactly what it sets out to do.

It isn’t too long, and doesn’t really outstay it’s welcome (any longer and I’d have griped about how the gameplay gets stressfully tedious). It’s scares early on are genuine and downright unnerving, and the style is one I really enjoyed.

But perhaps the biggest catch? It released at only $5. That’s insane. Truly, I find it hard to believe.

Ok, I’m done, that’s enough heart attacks for today.

Will I play this game again? Probably not. Not because it spooked me (which it did, at least at first), but mostly because this game is so damned stressful I can feel myself losing my hair. But will I recommend it to a friend so they’ll have a hellish 2-3 hours for the low low price of $5? Abso-freaking-loutly.

Nice work, Scott Cawthorn. Eat up all that free YouTube marketing. You totally deserve it.

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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