Five Nights at Freddy's is everyone's favorite YouTube baiting murder simulator starring animatronics and a desk fan. As such, it has spawned many imitators, The majority of which (including titles like Five Nights at Candy's or One Night at Flumpty's) are free and made by loyal fans as tributes to the original. CASE: Animatronics, on the other hand, is a complete game for purchase on Steam. Fortunately, it is not an exact clone like the others. You aren't stuck in a single room only capable of closing doors and looking at cameras but are instead required to maneuver a law enforcement office for reasons which are never made entirely clear. You are not a humble security guard but a hardened and experienced detective, who for some reason lacks any weapon or the ability to walk out the front door. If you thought the storyline of Five Nights at Freddy's was confusing and convoluted, you're right, and CASE: Animatronics really wanted to emulate that. The developers also emulated everything else about Five Nights at Freddy's as well, while still trying to produce an original creation. Unfortunately, any attempts at originality inevitably fail, and even the parts the game copied don't come out great.
CASE: Animatronics is the story of a detective who awakens at the office to find a crazed man he once failed to help is seeking revenge in the most convoluted way - by locking him in a building with animatronics he has gifted with confusing artificial intelligence. The detective then takes the most logical route and almost cheerfully goes along with the mad man's plan, instead of calling in backup or even just walking out the front door. This is not just a silly suggestion by the way. In Five Nights at Freddy's, people commonly joke that a normal person wouldn't go back to work or would even leave on the spot in those conditions, but at least there you are trapped in a room. In CASE: Animatronics, you can actually walk to the glass front door which may be locked, but you could clearly easily break through. If you are trapped in a building with murderous robots and have video evidence, that is probably a good reason to just break the door down. This may seem a minor thing to harp on, but most horror games will at least board up your escapes and actually ensure that you feel trapped.
The gameplay in CASE: Animatronics is your basic horror stealth survival experience. You hide from the things that want you dead while tracking down objectives. Like Five Nights at Freddy's, you get a handy tablet to view the security cameras and see where things are hiding. In this case, there is the Wolf, which admittedly has a neat design, a Cat with a 3D model that looks suspicious like Cindy from Five Nights at Candy's 2, and the Owl, which isn't scary. Each robot has their own mechanics - the Wolf just wanders around normally, the Cat climbs through the vents and pops out of the ceiling, and the Owl is old fashioned "just keep looking at it" cliche that horror games love so much. You simply must avoid them and scour your office for clues, keys, and notes to tell you the somehow both familiar and yet confusing story of what's going on. All while completing occasional uninspired minigames and listening to the two characters' terrible voice acting.
There isn't a lot to comment on gameplay-wise. It is really that basic - you hide in lockers or under desks from the animatronics who either will not see you unless you are right in front of them or will somehow see you through walls. The cameras are marginally useful but the animatronics all have audial clues too and after a while, it's easier to run around and never really run into them. The best part of the stealth is there seems to be a mechanic where if you hide in the same place too long or too many times, the animatronics will figure out you're there. The first time they find you, it is admittedly terrifying. It does get old after a while. There are minigames to mix things up, but they're noticeably trite. The lock picking one, in particular, is an unabashed rip-off of Fallout 3 that works just as you'd expect.
There are a handful of occasionally hilarious but mostly annoying bugs that sometimes get in the way. For instance, you have the classic case of characters getting stuck on desks and other objects, but occasionally they will somehow see you through walls and come chasing you down. You apparently can't run from them, so you may as well give up when this happens. Nothing is too game breaking though (I will point out, however, that the Sound options are completely broken - you can't change the in-game sound at all). There is also a problem with the notes where if you die and start over from a new checkpoint, any notes you found won't save even though technically, you've still found them (based on the fact that you can't find them again). Bugs like this help make the game feel more unfinished, but the story is what makes the game feel really unfinished.
Now, it's hard to criticize the story too much because it's barely there at all, but let's pick at it. The characters are unbelievably annoying and what's worse, they make no sense half the time. Particularly, the villain swaps liberally between a calculating mastermind bent on revenge and a gleeful psychopath with a fetish for animatronics. The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive but it doesn't feel natural in-game. The dialogue reminded me of Stasis, as it was boring and way too expositional at every step. The protagonist even feels the need to narrate half his movements fo no real reason. That said, I did love the villain's voice acting. Not because he was frightening, intimidating, or even made me uncomfortable - he was just so cheesy that it was amusing. Clearly, the guy enjoyed doing that voice work, and it was at least entertaining. Same goes for the main voice actor as far as that goes - neither are what you would call objectively good but they clearly had a good time doing it and to be honest it was more entertaining than the game itself, even if it was all in the wrong way. It makes you think the story was supposed to be C-list storytelling, a throwback to the old fashioned bad horror tropes, but at other times it seems to take itself a little too seriously.
An effort was definitely put into the game's atmosphere. I actually like how normal the office feels aside from a somewhat odd back room. That is rare in horror in general, but especially horror games. Even places that are supposed to be normal are often intentionally made to look "creepier" and it seems silly. Here, everything is clearly normal, even if that doesn't mesh with the silliness of the rest of the game.
There's also some downright random story elements. Early on you get a jump scare from a ghost who is never mentioned again. Who was she? Who knows. There is nothing remotely supernatural about anything else in the game, so the random ghost was very confusing. There is a box in the background behind a cage which shakes and bangs when you walk by it. What's in it? Another animatronic? Who knows - they never explain it at all. Even the motivations are weird. This starts because the villain is mad that you, when you were a young detective, weren't able to find his wife's killer. It's all told in notes you're never told you need to be looking for. That isn't a very solid motivation for such a particular scheme, especially since you find out the guy hunted down the actual killer himself. Wouldn't it have been better to have the villain be someone the detective has caught before? Especially since there isn't any development for the detective, and you never see him experience any guilt over the situation, despite all his commentary.
Then there is the ending. Spoiler warning, but there is none. In fact, it's kind of confusing when the game ends because you don't quite know it has ended at first. You find a keycard, and then the animatronics just sort of stop chasing you. The villain's final words to you don't really sound final. It feels like there was supposed to be another piece to the game, but that's not here. You just walk out the door (again - why didn't this just happen before) and you leave. There isn't even any commentary or statement from the detective. No closure whatsoever. Even by horror standards, it is a bizarre non-ending.
Everything about this game feels like a classic bad scary movie, from the common tropes to the hilariously bad acting, and it's hard to tell if it was intended to be like that. It doesn't have the sort of unique charm Five Nights at Freddy's had where it relied on the more untapped fears of Chuck E Cheese and Disneyland animatronics, and because of the unique idea of forcing players into the most helpless position possible to increase the risk (and stress). There is really nothing unique in CASE: Animatronics. Aside from the nice atmosphere which is kind of ruined by the awkward goofiness of the voice acting and story, nothing stands out at all. It just feels like all the boring parts of other horror games meshed together.
Even the jump scares are lackluster. They got me the first few times, usually when I thought I was clearly out of view but the game decided I wasn't. It took no time at all for them to stop being even a bit startling. Maybe it's because you can always see them coming, even when you first start playing. Maybe it's because instead of a short blast it is a particularly obnoxious nails-on-a-chalkboard scream that goes on for far too long. It didn't work is the point, and since I'm the only person alive who doesn't already think jump scares are annoying, most people are just going to be more annoyed by these than usual.
Overall, CASE: Animatronics is nothing special. It's short and not particularly difficult, so at least it doesn't have the frustration factor. However, there isn't any draw to it. Aside from a few key design choices, there is so little it brings to the table. Even in terms of Five Nights at Freddy's clones it doesn't stand out - aside from the ability to move around it doesn't actually offer anything new. It doesn't build on the Five Nights at Freddy's canon (though the villain is lovingly named Scott, which may be a coincidence but is likely a tribute to the creator of FNAF), it doesn't try out different styles, it doesn't play on a really new setting. It removes more than it adds - while allowing you to move with the security cameras is interesting, it makes the game less scary and removes that utterly helpless feeling. By adding more dialogue it falls into the trap of making the game less immersive. By trying to make the story explicit it somehow makes it more confusing, but also less intriguing. It's not a game I would recommend, even to Five Nights at Freddy's diehards.
CASE: Animatronics was reviewed on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.
CASE: Animatronics has decent atmosphere and unintentionally hilarious voice acting, but nothing really stands out, and most of the game is filled with boring and familiar horror cliches.