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Five Nights at Freddy’s, a point-and-click survival horror game developed by Scott Cawthon, has garnered some pretty impressive responses. Many players have called it the scariest game in years. However, upon seeing the basic premise of the game, one could stand to be a bit sceptical.
The player takes a job as a night time security guard in Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, an obvious mimicry of the popular American restaurant, Chuck E. Cheese. The game mechanics are simple. You click to view various security cameras across the restaurant, watching out for the psychotic animatronics (robotic puppets meant to simulate living creatures) which are casually set to ‘free roam’ at night. That’s not the first thing that is eye-rollingly tongue-in-cheek. Throughout the first five minutes of game play, you are repeatedly given lists of what to watch out for, what to avoid, and that if you are caught by these animatronics they will probably kill you.
Upon my first play through of this game, I wasn’t overly inspired after seeing the hype it had received. On your first day at the job, after getting a bit of background information from a voicemail, you’re left in charge. You can choose to view security cameras, open or close the doors to the security room, or switch the lights in the hallway outside on or off. All of these actions consume power, and quickly. If you run out of power, you are left defenceless and in the dark with no way to stop the animatronics from reaching you. While that adds a tense, unique dynamic to the game in forcing the player to carefully monitor their power usage if they wish to survive, it does raise the question of why somewhere with famously murderous animatronics chose doors which require power to close – a slight flaw perhaps.
As you flick between the cameras, you notice that the animatronics tend not to stay in one place for very long; a habit reminiscent of the weeping angels in Doctor Who. From time to time you may hear quiet singing or happy music, then perhaps a creak – soon, you find yourself checking the cameras with more and more frequency. At first, this may simply be for lack of other things to do. When you aren’t monitoring the cameras, your only other pastime is staring at the office wall, flicking hallway lights on and off. However, as soon as you see that the creepy robotic bunny has left its original position, the obsessive camera checking does very much err on the side of paranoia.
It could be said that Five Nights at Freddy’s is not a very unique concept. As mentioned earlier, the way the animatronics function is not a new dynamic in gaming. For example, one of the most recent famous indie horrors, Slender, worked in much the same way, and held a level of tension and genuine terror that is hard to rival. Sadly, Five Nights at Freddy’s does fall a little short of that. However, it is the stylistics within the game that define it: Five Nights at Freddy’s is not a typical horror game because at first, you barely think it’s a horror game at all. Yes, the title page is eerie, but when the game starts, it seems more humorous than scary. The light hearted manner in which the ex-employee details previous ‘accidents’ is worth a smile, and you think that you’re in for a game which is just a laugh one minute and a quick scare the next. That deteriorates quickly. By night three, perhaps four for those with stronger nerves, the happy atmosphere only intensifies the nightmarish sense that’s closing in as you desperately switch between cameras to find the grinning fiends before they find you.
The main problem with Five Nights at Freddy’s is that the manner of the gameplay is somewhat repetitive. Once you’ve mastered observing and conserving power, it’s not much of a challenge, and there isn’t much else to do. There is also the risk that you might be inclined to give up on the game early, as at first, it doesn’t seem to live up to its reputation as terrifying – that comes later. That being said, this ‘terror’ isn’t exactly the kind we’ve grown to expect from a lot of recent horror games. Five Nights at Freddy’s churns out jumpscare after jumpscare with no real commitment to a deeply disturbing storyline. Again, like games such as Slender which preceded it, Five Nights at Freddy’s operates on panic rather than really frightening anyone. It’s more a game to play with a few friends to get a couple of laughs from their reactions than one that really gets stuck into your psyche.
Overall, Five Nights at Freddy’s is worth its price. While I would not call it the scariest indie game in recent years, it is still impressively creepy, especially in its ability to ramp up the tension levels from nil to hair-raising in such a short amount of time. It may not have unique mechanics, but its stylistics definitely make up for that. For those looking for a game with a deep storyline and truly unsettling horror, Five Nights at Freddy’s probably isn’t quite what you’re looking for. If you want a few quick scares and some good laughs, it’s worth checking out.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is available to download on iOS, Android and Steam.