The horror genre has been pretty sparse as of late, what with one of the only science fiction horror series recently turning more towards action adventure than survival along with the Resident Evil franchise following suite. Now Frictional studio’s Soma is being teased, and the greenlight darling Routine is very slowly being updated, without any idea of when it will be released so it looks to be a sad year for horror games. The new Alien Isolation looks pretty set to mend the gap but until then we thought we’d look at a little known indie game that is fast gaining infamy within the steam community. This title is none other than Five Nights at Freddy’s.
The controls for Five Nights at Freddy’s are deceptively simple and amazingly frustrating to master. It’s mostly a point and click game despite the fact you don’t move yourself. Your character, Mike Schmidt stays within the security room the whole time and has access to a number of cameras stationed throughout the pizza parlour. The power for the cameras work off a generator and there’s a finite amount to it. While clicking on the cameras with the mouse in order to check what’s being shown through the lens uses up power, so too does having the door’s shut so you have to juggle when the best time to have them open or shut is. The animatronic animals roam about the place as you wait for 6am to roll over and you have to do this five times, with the difficulty jumping over the course of the subsequent nights . If you check a camera nearby and see one of the automatons close to your door, it is best to button down the hatch on that side so the furry avatar can not see you. Periodically if you can’t find a certain animal that you were viewing previously, it is wise to hit the light near the door as you will have only a few seconds to check if one of them is in the doorway and act accordingly.
The AI in Five Nights at Freddy’s are fairly straightforward, with Freddy being the most random as well as by far the most inactive. He can seemingly teleport from his place to just outside the door, and often will do so if the doors are closed too long on nights three to five. He also tends to avoid the camera as much as possible so you really need to look closely to see if you’ve caught him while moving. One of the other AI, “Foxy” generally doesn’t move much from his area of Pirates Cove, but as soon as he does and you can’t find him, you should check your door, because he’s there and wanting to make you the next endoskeleton for another suit. Bonnie the rabbit is pretty inactive for most nights and often a way to avoid him entirely is to not look at the camera that encompasses his and Chica’s area. Chica the chicken will generally run like a bat out of hell straight towards the player’s location, and is the most active of the animatronics after night 2. Oh by the way, did I mention that if you fail to manage your power levels effectively and run out, all the doors open and you are fair game for Freddy to come and dismember you? At that point it’s a matter of pure luck if you make it to the next night or not, and once the lights go out Freddy and his friends become far more active.
For an extremely short title, the mythos of Five Nights at Freddy’s has a surprising amount of depth to it. You start the game as Mike Schmidt, taking over for the last guy (The Phone Guy) who leaves recordings for you each night with tips on how to survive as well as blurting out legal stuff and making reference to “The bite of 87” a dark chapter in the company’s history as well as the “Incident” where five kids suddenly went missing one day. This extended story is told through posters on the walls that are ever changing, occasional hallucinations and easter eggs, as well as through the Phone Guy leaving messages for you each time you survive onto the next night. There is a lot of speculation regarding the story and the mysterious “Golden Freddy”, but it’s been strongly hinted by the game’s lone developer Scott Cawthon that the animatronic suits penchant for homicidal violence and dismemberment may not be entirely governed by subroutines and programming guidelines. I can say this much without giving away spoilers though. The concepts and execution through which the story is told is rather terrifying and will likely stick in any gamers mind long after the fact.
Graphically Five Nights at Freddy’s is nothing spectacular and it is partly because of this that makes the game so terrifying. Perhaps it was the artistic choice of pre-rendering everything or perhaps those were the only tools Scott had to work with (he is only one guy after all) but Five Nights at Freddy’s is reminiscent of old horror games in the vein of Resident Evil, Scratches, Alone in the Dark, Dracula and many other greats of yore. The game doesn’t even let you alter the resolution or graphics, without editing game files. This old classical, outdated less polished presentation actually serves to make the game ever more off-putting. The characters are goofy looking, look like they’re about to fall apart and the corridors and rooms are dimly lit. Whatever the reason for the aesthetics it adds greatly to the atmosphere and adds an extra edge to the fear.
Music-wise Five Nights at Freddy’s is fairly bare. There are little tunes here and there that play when you run out of power or when a robot is singing. These tunes often denote the arrival of one of the animatronics into the security room and usually signal your doom. Occasionally you’ll hear the cries of children when switching to certain cameras, as well as the clanking and moaning of the animatronic animals. Freddy himself can be heard sometimes laughing in the background and it’s downright terrifying. Other than that the sound design is pretty decent. If you view the kitchen from time to time you’ll also hear pots and pans crashing about and the whole soundtrack plays well enough on the ears to really unnerve you and pull you into the game.
I personally found Five Nights at Freddy’s to be horrifying. Five minutes before writing this review, I had screwed up and Chica got into the security room, my right door wouldn’t close, nor would the light work and I could see her in the corner of the room. I knew I was done for. It was still 4 am and all I could do was wait patiently and pray for 6 am to roll around. I got to 5 am waiting and watching the left door periodically flashing the light on and off, not daring to use any of the cameras for fear that Chica would gank me when I did. I was so close, I had nearly completed the 4th night, and I was so proud of myself. It got to the point where I estimate I had roughly 20 or so seconds left til I’d have have beaten it and I kept checking my left door. Alas I was a second too late and Foxy burst in screaming at the top of his lungs. I had to stop playing after that.
Five nights At Freddy’s is not a game for everyone. Unfortunately it has very little to no replay value even if you include the 7th custom night where you can change the difficulties of the automatons. At first glance the atmosphere, sound design and graphics combine in a ghoulish way to make you afraid of your own shadow. The game does this well, but where it is let down is the fact that apart from the oppressive atmosphere, the main thing the game has going for it is jump scares. Granted the same jump scare will likely hit you several times before losing it’s effect, but it doesn’t hold much longevity. Nonetheless it’s an impressive endeavor and if you manage to spend Five Nights at Freddy’s you won’t want to return until daylight.
Anyone interested in getting hold of the game, check it out here on Amazon.
"If you manage to spend Five Nights at Freddy's, you won't want to return til daylight."