The Five Nights at Freddy's series is a bizarre spectacle. The first game came out last year, and the developer imagined it would nab a few players and remain a fairly obscure indie title. Then it got picked up by some big name YouTubers, and since then has achieved a level of popularity even a lot of high-budget AAA games would be envious of. On top of that, it has probably the fastest production cycle of any series in the history of games, even in the independent scene.
In the span of a year, the one-man development team has put out four games, and each has a unique setting and varying character designs, as well as some significant changes in the mechanics of the games themselves, so this was not just a case of recycling old stuff for the sequels. Whatsmore, nearly every game after the first one defies all reason by being released far before their set dates and even being released so early and with no marketing strategy to speak of aside from existing, manage to grab everyone's attention. Admittedly, this review is late, but if you go based on the second release date, it's still fairly timed. Based on the first release date, it's early. So this seems fair.
Five Nights at Freddy's 4: The Final Chapter is meant to tie together the stories of the original three games and is undoubtedly a prequel. The actual timeline of Five Nights at Freddy's is a subject of debate, so it's likely you'll disagree with this interpretation, but that is part of the appeal of the series.
Supposedly, the story of The Final Chapter takes place in the inspiration for the pizzeria and later haunted house that are the subject of the other games, the titular Fredbear's Family Diner. Rather than a security guard, you play as a child who is visited by nightmarish versions of the characters at the diner where you seem to frequent, either because your family works there or just enjoys tormenting their young child. Like the other games, you must survive the night by learning the patterns of the nightmare versions of Bonnie, Chica, Freddy, and Foxy, as well as a new cuddly terror, Fredbear. Make it to 6AM and you are given the next tidbit of story, told in Atari-style pixel graphics. You also get to try your hand at "Fun with Plushtrap" and potentially get two free hours off your next night, though this is a next to useless buff since you almost never succeed on your first try.
Now, to get something out of the way: Five Nights at Freddy's has always been a game for a very select audience. This is one of the few games where the majority of people who refuse to play it do so not because they have no interest in it, because they actively avoid it. Yes, for some, it is the fanbase. The majority of people it seems avoid it because, put simply, it's very scary. Even the scariest games of all time can not claim to scare so many people away so easily. You might think "Well yeah, why not, it's all jumpscares" but that isn't what makes Five Nights at Freddy's truly scary, particularly The Final Chapter.
In theory, you could go through the entire game without facing a single actual jumpscare—they only happen when you lose. The more likely reason is this is probably the most stressful single player game I've ever encountered. When you begin the game, you are stressed because the atmosphere and tension is truly terrifying. You get used to this however, since realistically, there isn't much to change the tension until Night 5, which we'll get to in a moment.
However the difficulty increases to such a degree that what was originally stress induced by fright becomes stress induced by determination. This is one of those games where you feel inclined to beat it just to show it who's boss if you're man enough to take on the atmosphere. The reason it's popular with YouTuber's is it essentially combines the two Let's Play staples: scary games and rage games. So of course, not everyone is going to care for it, but if you're one of those people, you already know who you are, and the quality of the game won't make you any more likely to play it.
As for the quality, it's excellent. When the game was first released, it did have an issue with bugs, slightly more serious than the last few releases. These were fixed fairly quickly though, and at this point, the worst issue that can be attributed to gameplay is that at the start of the nights, you sometimes experience lag. Now, with that out of the way, the mechanics remain so simple there isn't a lot to say about them. Unlike the first games where you stay in one place, swiveling back and forth and viewing the world through a security camera, in The Final Chapter you must run between two doors and a closet, and occasionally check the bed behind you.
I can safely say that The Final Chapter is probably the scariest game in the series for one reason: everything in this game is counter-intuitive to every better instinct you possess as a human being. You must turn your back on the majority of the room for much of the time, and especially when checking the bed, this grates on the nerves to an impressive degree. In order to keep yourself safe, you can't simply slam the door. Instead you must sit in total darkness and listen to see what is on the other side. This takes some getting used to because who in their right mind would ever wait knowing full well there could be something waiting to chew your face off.
Listening is vital in this game. So vital that the reason it took me so long to beat up to Night 6 was because I was wearing my headphones backwards, something which I had never cared to notice before, but impacted how I played in this game. To up the difficulty there is a ton of background noises that don't mean anything, some of which sound very similar to the noises you're expected to listen for. This becomes so crucial in the later nights.
By Night 5 you only deal with one nightmare, Fredbear, who moves in on your quickly. The only way to stop him is to listen carefully, and know the difference between a fake laugh and the laugh that means he's right behind you deciding which dinner knife to use. This never stops being creepy. The combination of the reliance on sound, requiring you to ignore your natural responses to things that scare you, and forcing you to slow down, makes for a continuously agitating experience, and that is the entire point. The game does its job so well in this respect.
Graphically, it's okay. The graphics have never been the main selling point, though considering it was done on a shoestring by a single guy who originally worked at a hobby store, it would be far too cruel to judge. It's more fair to just it artistically. The series has experimented in different styles of scary, from uncanny valley, to disturbingly cute, to a grungy "delapitated carnival" look, to this game, which is based very much in what you imagine the nightmares of your childhood would look like. For the most part, this seems to be a matter of preference and there isn't any one style that is better than the others from an objective standpoint. Like the others, The Final Chapter's style fits with the theme and setting, and while some may not find the design of the nightmares as scary as the original animatronics, others will find them more terrifying. But this is a game where most people are going to suffer cardiac arrest from a cupcake, so how much does it even matter?
Now, to the story. I am going to stick a massive spoiler warning on top of this, because the story to Five Nights at Freddy's can't be discussed without talking about the "controversies" and interpretations. The original pull to the game was in its unique gameplay and the downright psychological way it played on people's fears, while still having a campy charm to it. But what has drawn many fans is the story that started off being told almost strictly in vague phone messages and posters littered throughout the restaurant. As the series continued, the story became more explicit, but it has never been particularly straight forward, and the implication is this is intentional. There are fairly significant parts of the story hidden in Easter Eggs throughout the game, and even with an incredibly dedicated fanbase and the Internet's penchant for discovering every tiny hidden thing in any game that gets released, apparently no one has figured out what is in the new infamous box you encounter at the end. Players could interpret the convoluted way to get the Good Ending in Five Nights at Freddy's 3 but this still eludes them apparently. To the point you almost want to believe the box is just a red herring, put in as a gag by the developer. As for the ending, most likely it will be cleared up by the free DLC planned for release in October, or it could make things more confusing.
Now this is not to say the story is bad, in fact, it almost adds to the replayability. If you find yourself invested in the story, you will replay this game over and over just to discover all of the hidden stuff in the background and try to piece it together. It would take an entirely different editorial to fully explain the story to Five Nights at Freddy's and all the interpretations people have taken away from The Final Chapter, but in this case, it works well with the type of game you're playing. You could play through all of them and ignore the story, and just enjoy the gameplay, if you wanted too. Or you could delve in, do your research, and it becomes a different experience altogether.
The Final Chapter is, honestly, hard to give a numeric rating too. It is well put together, it is a good horror game, and the design is so beautifully simple it's hard to give it a proper judgement. The game itself is not complex by any degree. Yet it isn't a game that everyone will enjoy. Of course, that applies to any game, but this one in particular is not by any means a universal classic. Not everyone is going to enjoy this game. But there are many reasons why someone might enjoy it. It could be for the atmosphere and gameplay, it could be for the design, it could be for the story and the desire for a project. Objectively speaking, the game is nearly flawless. The sole mechanical problems are mostly to do with sound, and if the game weren't so reliant on sound, they wouldn't even be noticeable. Even as they are, they do not impede on the gameplay enough to really warrant much taken away from the scoring.
The major criticism has always been the jumpscares, but that isn't truly the obstacle in the game. Again, jumpscares are fail conditions, and a lot of the time you know exactly when they're coming because you know when you've messed up. The anticipation, compounded by the atmosphere, is where the real fright comes from. The jumpscare is more like the dog from Duck Hunt. It's essentially the game mocking you for your failure and pouring salt in the wound, which is what keeps you desperately trying to beat it so you can show the jerks who's in charge.
It's important to remember that this series is about Chuck E. Cheese rip-offs working on technology far more advanced than is realistic trying to shove you inside a suit because either their programming is wonky or they're possessed by children's souls. It is not meant to be taken quite so seriously, so something as cheesy as a jumpscare, especially done in this way, shouldn't be the thing that brings it down. Or if it does, that isn't a mark against the game or player.
People were upset that the Springtrap scares in the 3rd installment WEREN'T really jumpscares, because the character moved too slowly, it wasn't as shocking. That comes down, truly, to preference. Not everyone can handle jumpscares, either because they're annoying or they're horrifying, but it doesn't quite seem fair to say that is all Five Nights at Freddy's is, particularly The Final Chapter, which dedicates so much to building a terrifying atmosphere beyond just the jumpscares, and puts so much more into the story and setting to give it more depth than the others.
In a way, Five Nights at Freddy's 4 is the most serious in the series. There is no silly phone messages. The "minigames" are far more depressing than they are cheerful. There is nothing cuddly or lovable about any of the nightmares except maybe Plushtrap. Even the ending is not a goofy paycheck or revelation, at least not the one we know about currently. It's a fairly brutally sad ending to a series that started off pretty silly.
Speaking directly now, I will admit some bias here, because I love this series and would even if it weren't as popular as it is. It manages to encapsulate the atmosphere that survival horror fans often dream about—the true essence of having to survive on nothing but your wits and your reflexes, not even able to run and hide.
And, for me personally, there is something that is just admirable about how creator Scott Cawthon has developed this series—if you're a fan you know, this game is not a cash grab. It's very apparent Cawthon has continued this series and worked hard at all of the installments because he wants to make something fans can enjoy, and he clearly has a lot of fun in the creation of all of them. For a single person to make four distinct games like these over the course of a single year demonstrates some very dedicated work, and regardless of how you feel about the series, that deserves credit where it is due. In an age where all we ever hear about is how highly anticipated Kickstarter titles are postponed indefinitely, forever, and every game is riddled with pointless DLC and fills in holes with "Season Passes," here is a game, at a reasonable price, with episodes releasing more than consistently, and the only DLC for the entire series is going to be free and installed as an update to the game.
All that said, Five Nights at Freddy's 4 is an excellent game. It is more than a fitting end to the series. If you can look at it and ignore the YouTube fame, the fans, and everything around it, it is still an excellent game. Is it an instant classic? In a way yes, because it has continued to innovate throughout the series and it was a very different take on the genre. But, because it falls into a genre that many simply aren't interested in and because the style of the gameplay doesn't lend itself well to any other genres, that innovation can't branch very far. Still, if you have any interest in the horror genre, this is a game you have to play.
This game was purchased by the reviewer on Steam and played on PC. I didn't keep all my screenshots because this review was fairly impromptu, so excuse the stock images.