Whether you've ever wanted to or not, there is a high likelihood you have heard of Five Nights at Freddy's at some point. The ludicrously popular indie game turned horror sensation is not only popular among fans of horror and fans of screaming YouTubers, but there is an enormous following among younger audiences, some as young as kindergarten age. It is rare a modern game reaches a level of popularity so great that you can find it on t-shirts at your local Target, and even more rare for an independently made game. So, of course, it could never stop at Five Nights at Freddy's 4. Rather than make another iterative sequel, developer Scott Cawthon chose to try out some entirely new characters in an entirely new setting, with very different mechanics and storytelling techniques. The result, Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location, seems entirely new but does that make it good?
Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location lets you know just how different an experience you're getting out of the gate, with a narrate opening scene the first time you open the game, complete with voice actors. All of the games (except 4) had "voice acting" done by Cawthon itself, but the success of the series has afforded its creator a few trained voice actors. You are given a brief introduction to what is happening and the story of this particular game, then you throw yourself into yet another unpaid and dangerous job that no one would realistically ever work. A robot voice introduces you to your day to day tasks with dialogue reminiscent of Portal or The Stanley Parable, and you are given a setting which seems familiar. This is a deception because none of the mechanics are anything like you're used too. You are not confined to a single room in Sister Location but you must instead navigate through hallways, restore power, and even fix the very animatronics that FNAF has trained you to fear.
There is no one mechanic, but rather many small mechanics you must quickly master. Some are simple or are familiar enough you will grasp right away, and others are difficult or hard to understand. The result feels more like a collection of minigames, but it all is logically explained and for the most part makes sense. All the while your robot voice companion will give you usually inaccurate instructions. Fortunately (?) a different voice, the voice of one of the animatronics, will give you more proper advice, though her motivations seem less trustworthy.
The main draw of Sister Location is the story. Five Nights at Freddy's has always been known for its lore, but most of the lore is actually created by fans. Cawthon may occasionally confirm certain things but he has been content to let people put the story together on their own and draw their own conclusions. That is definitely a possibility with Sister Location, but everything seems far more straightforward than before. There is actual writing and the animatronics appear to have real character, particularly the brand new ones, Circus Baby and Bellora. The writing is outstanding, switching seamlessly from dry humor to dark storytelling portions, all delivered through a stellar voice acting cast. It is uncommon to find any horror game with voice acting like this, but Sister Location's was close to perfect. The bookends were hilarious, as your go home from a long days work to sit down and watch a vampire soap opera (animated by Nekomation) which seems like a non-sequitur but what else would you do after a long day working at such a terrifying occupation.
The story itself is interesting, playing off what people already know about Five Nights at Freddy's and adding new concepts to it. More fascinating though is it presents the outlook of the animatronics themselves. It's unclear how intelligent the animatronics are, if they are all intelligent or only some, or how understanding they are of their actions. As usual, there is more than one ending to Sister Location, and getting the true ending is the real challenge. You can play through as normal and get that ending, which is intriguing in itself, but the die hard fans have already started dissecting the games files to figure out how many endings there are and how to get to them.
The set pieces and design are also phenomenal. The other games kept things simple for the most part, and there was nothing wrong with them but nothing stood out. The character designs were interesting, especially in how they evolved over time, but in the end, they were essentially just animal puppets in increasing amounts of disturbing cuteness or decay. Here Cawthon seems to take a page from his older games, specifically The Desolate Hope. The moving face plates seemed creepy in the trailer and it continues to be here, and the overall designs of Baby and Bellora are definitely disturbing. The main room you enter into is full of decorations that are only there to freak you out, like the horrifying baby heads. Even the way shots are set up is expertly done. You don't stay in one room, but rather move to make different rooms and so each have their own design and setup.
In fact, the only place the game seems to fall down is the mechanics. Sister Location feels very different from its predecessors. The original series put that simple yet ingenious mechanic first - hide in your room, and keep the scary things out. That was its legacy and that is what other games copied. The new game has many different mechanics, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, except it means you'll eventually get one wrong. It also results in Sister Location feeling more like a mix between a visual novel and a point and click adventure than a survival horror game.
Despite that, there are still parts that are particularly unforgiving, or that just don't deliver. There are simply mechanics like having to walk down a hallway without alerting Bellora, or keeping a hatch closed to keep out the Bidybabs. There are others which are more inventive like having to restore power to your workspace while simultaneously comforting Funtime Freddy. There are annoying ones, like one section where you have to keep Funtime Foxy away by continuous flashing a light. Immediately after, you have to fix Funtime Freddy by chasing a mechanical sock-puppet Bonnie around the room. The Bonnie scenario, in particular, is ridiculous since the Bonnie design is the only one which is neither threatening nor scary and requires some reflexes that you haven't needed for anything else.
There is one section though that is absolutely terrifying, which happens right after those two. You are kidnapped by Circus Baby when you try to leave work and shoved inside a spring trap suit reminiscent of Five Nights at Freddy's 3. The suits, as fans recall, had an issue where if their locks were not kept tight, they would essentially collapse and crush the person inside. You must keep the locks on your suit tightened while also shaking off Minnireenas, tiny mannequin dolls which crawl all over you and climb inside, making the locks loosen faster. The way the scene is paced, the lack of music during, the lighting and setup of the scene, is phenomenal. The difficulty only adds to the tension. This is the hardest part of the game, to the point that many complained it was impossible and the developer actually changed it in a release patch to make it easier. It is almost unfortunate because it being so hard is part of what made it so terrifying - it required an intense concentration that only made the stakes seem higher. If you made it through, you were taken to Night 5, the final night (unless you manage to unlock Night 6, which in this one is not unlocked automatically).
That is the gist of it - this game is scary, and not just because of the jump scares. In fact, I hardly noticed the jump scares. Obviously, they would spook me and still exist in abundance, but as soon as they appeared they were gone from my memory. There was so much happening, so much to look at, so much to take in, that the jump scares seemed like they were put in out of tradition more than anything. It is that constantly changing environment that keeps the game scary in ways the other Five Nights at Freddy's didn't. Even the scariest Five Nights at Freddy's game would after a while no longer be scary, because you'd get used to that one room and the same patterns. You can't get used to it here, though. You may get used to a single event as you try it over and over, but then you get taken to something all new, not knowing what to expect.
However, with so much diversity in set pieces and mechanics, it was inevitable that some would fall on their face and break the immersion drastically. The sudden spikes in difficulty, which come naturally with so many different mechanics, also tend to break the immersion. And you can accidentally make other parts less scary when you make something far scarier than anything else. After the spring lock scene in Night 4, Night 5 seems very tame by comparison, still haunting but never anywhere near the same level of terror. That is inevitable when you try to do too much in a single game.
It is new and different, though, and that is all that some fans may have wanted. Most assumed that Sister Location would be a complete rehash of the original series, with the same concept and the same setup, but that is not the case. You can see the dramatic increase in production value and just the amount of effort and time that was put into creating something not just for the fans of the series, but for newcomers. Even though it may have problems, these are entirely new problems, and they are not enough to kill what is a very well told story with some terrifying atmosphere. Cawthon has not talked about sequels for Sister Location, but if he can make them as unique and of as high a quality as he did here, then they would be most welcome.
Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
Genuinely terrifying, great storytelling, creepy designs - if it could find the right balance between varying mechanics, then it would have it all.
- Downright Terrifying Segments
- Noticeably Improved Designs
- Fantastic Voice Acting
- Clever Dialogue Throughout
- Mechanics are Hit and Miss
- Difficulty is Inconsistent