Five Nights at Freddy's (PC) Review

By Jordan Hurst 13.02.2015

Review for Five Nights at Freddy

Not since Amnesia: The Dark Descent has a game been so destined for viral greatness. Five Nights at Freddy's feels like a playable combination of the Internet's two favourite frightening phenomena - creepypasta and screamers - and therein lies the secret to its success. Not just commercial success (although the free advertising supplied by "Let's Plays" certainly provided that), but success as a quality product. Although it's easily most well-known for its lethal jump scares, FNAF actually touches on quite a few horror nerves thanks to its uncanny setting and tense sound design. As with many horror classics, the "game" component of this video game is its weakest aspect, but as a nightmare delivery service, FNAF is unparalleled.

The game is set at a Chuck E. Cheese's pastiche called Freddy Fazbear's Pizza where the animatronic characters roam the premises at night…and brutally murder anyone they come across. The player controls the restaurant's night watchman, with the only goal being to survive the job for a whole week. The player is a completely impotent force in this scenario, though, so the only tools available for surviving the night are the restaurant's network of security cameras (which have a few blind spots), and a pair of powered doors, both of which drain the piddling amount of energy rationed for each night. The absurdity of it all (especially the fact that the protagonist inexplicably continues to come into work beyond the first night) is often considered the biggest obstacle between the game and lasting horror, but at the same time, it may be part of the point.

Screenshot for Five Nights at Freddy's on PC

Conventional horror is alright, but it's the lingering questions that remain maddening after the program has been closed. Why does the protagonist keep coming back, why are they given so few resources, and most importantly, why is any of this happening? These questions are so obvious that their lack of concrete answer must be deliberate. Given such glaring ambiguities and macabre subject matter, the human mind will always fill in the blanks with the worst case scenario, creating all manner of sinister motives and paranormal origins for the entire situation. There is another human character who offers something of an explanation, but it's an inadequate one, to say the least, and his credibility is deliberately called into question throughout the game, so it's not much of a consolation.

Of course, the game excels at conventional horror, as well. The title screen alone is more disturbing than some full-fledged horror games, thanks in equal part to Freddy's shadowy visage and the sombre drone in the background. When the game is being played, the mere presence of an animatronic creature is enough to send an anxious player reaching for the Escape key. Unless they're in the process of murder, the machines never move while they're being watched, so the security cameras only ever show them glaring vacantly, motionless in the shadows. That is, until the next time they're checked, at which point they've disappeared, and a frantic search across cameras begins. Don't check the cameras too often, though, or the power will run out, spelling almost certain death.

Screenshot for Five Nights at Freddy's on PC

The game's most terrifying moments are those when a machine can't be found on camera, signalling that it's either sitting in a blind spot and needs to be locked out immediately, or already in the watchman's office, waiting to strike as soon as the monitor is lowered. The singular feeling of dread that all of this elicits is further exacerbated by the chilling noises the animatronics make as they stalk the restaurant, from mirthless laughter to heavy, shuffling footsteps. Then there's the ungodly screech they let out upon successfully ambushing the player, which brings this review to what is undoubtedly the elephant in the room: the jump scares.

Certainly the centre of the game's YouTube popularity, jump scares in FNAF are more than just an occasional startling image; they're the sum of a handful of disciplines converging to create the most startling image possible. Any one aspect of them would be laughable without the others. The character designs are goofy, the accompanying sound effect is an overwhelming cacophony, and the production values mimic the artificiality of 90s CGI, but mashed together with explicit knowledge of the characters' gruesome killing techniques, they create a perfect focal point of terror. Balance is a key theme to FNAF's horror. Every time it removes one avenue of fear, another one opens up. For example, one animatronic does move in view of the player, but the unsettling feeling its stillness would have provided is merely swapped for a heart-pounding race to the "door close" button.

Screenshot for Five Nights at Freddy's on PC

Unfortunately, everything about the game is designed in service to its horror genre, so the gameplay attached to the scares is rather disappointing. In particular, the first minute or two of each night (about half an hour in-game) is completely uneventful, since the machines start each night on the other side of the building from the player. That may not sound like a lot of time, but it's a fairly short game involving a lot of player death, so the initial minutes of each night will be replayed quite frequently. It also doesn't have the best interface in the world; 90% of the main screen is empty space as far as functionality is concerned. Also, switching to the camera monitor only requires moving the mouse to the bottom of the screen, rather than clicking anything, resulting in frequent accidental screen transitions.

The game's biggest problem is likely its challenge level, though. It's smartly designed - some machines only attack while the camera monitor is up, but others are held at bay by watching them, forcing players to balance both - but design can only get a game so far without playtesting. Ideally, a game like this would be difficult enough that the machines would be a credible threat, but easy enough that their attacks wouldn't become routine. FNAF misses this sweet spot and lands on the "too difficult" side of the spectrum. The extremely small of amount of power afforded to the player is the most likely culprit, but a necessary evil. On the other hand, one of the machines can actively drain large chunks of power away if it gets too close, which is just unfair.

Screenshot for Five Nights at Freddy's on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Industry analysts will likely attribute the success of Five Night at Freddy's solely to its scream-filled gameplay videos, but that's selling the game short. Millions of people would not have tuned in to watch people's startled shrieks over and over again unless there was something more to it, and that something is an understanding of the entire horror spectrum, from cheap scares to sophisticated disquiet. What's more, the utter uniqueness of the title sets it in a league of its own, separate from the deluge of serviceable but uninspired gorefests that clog the horror genre. As flawed as its gameplay may be, this game will be talked about for years to come, and anyone who can stomach it should try it, if only to join in the discussion.

Developer

Scott Cawthon

Publisher

Scott Cawthon

Genre

Horror

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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