Horror patrons may be familiar with the Shakespearean classic Macbeth, “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” Five Nights at Freddy’s has earned an update to this classic line, “By the screaming of my lungs, something wicked this way comes.”
Five Nights at Freddy’s is an indie point-and-click survival horror game developed by Scott Cawthon. I played the Steam version of the game. The game is successful enough that Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 is currently in production.
This game is scary despite its simplicity. You take on the role of a late night security guard at a restaurant for kids, similar to Chuck E. Cheese’s. You start your first night and receive your job responsibilities via a pre-recorded phone message from the previous security guard. Your job is quite simple: survive the night. There isn't any actual guarding to be done, just stay alive until 6 AM. It’s pretty straightforward, except that the animatronic singing animals start wandering the restaurant at night and kill any humans they come across. You stay in your guard booth for the night and need to keep the machines out. Your only abilities are to check the camera-feeds from around the restaurant, close the doors to your booth, and turn on the lights in the adjacent hallways. The trouble is that you only have a finite amount of power, so you can’t keep the doors closed or lights on constantly. Everything you do, including just sitting silently, uses power. If the power ever goes out, you’re in a lot of trouble.
Some people have complained that this game is nothing but jump scares, and they could not be more wrong. It is true that the biggest scares in the game are jump scares, but they only occur when you have a game over; there are plenty of other scares in the game. You need to look through the camera feeds to keep an eye on where the animatronics are located and each image, whether displaying homocidal animatronics or not, is scary.
Classic horror movies, such as Alien and Jaws, have taught us that it is often scarier to not show the monster. The fear of the unknown is the most powerful tool of horror movies. Oftentimes, when we can directly see the monster there is less horror because the fear of the unknown is dissipated. It is a rare work where you can stare directly at the monster and maintain the same level of fear as when you couldn’t see the monster. Five Nights at Freddy’s achieves this handily.
As the nights progress at Freddy’s, the animatronics become more active and more aggressive in their wanderings. You need to keep an eye on where each of the animatronics are so you know they aren’t about burst into your booth and break your skull as they force you into a robot-suit-turned-meat-grinder. This means you will spend plenty of time on the cameras. When you can’t find the animatronics it’s scary because they could be sneaking up on you right now. When you can find them it’s scary because the artist has done a masterful job of making the animatronics as creepy as possible. Not only are the animatronics themselves unsettling, but as the week goes on they start doing things that are clearly impossible while you sit there and watch them. The grainy quality of the cameras heightens the tension. I found myself frequently asking if I was looking at animatronics or just a trick of the light in the camera. I found that I needed to talk to both myself and the animatronics I was watching on the cameras in order to allay my fears as I played. The talking didn’t help much, but every little boost to my confidence was welcome.
The sound for the game is perfect. There is no ambient music, just the quiet of an empty restaurant at night. Then you start to hear to hear the sound of someone or something knocking over pots and pans in the kitchen. Is Freddy close? You’ll know by the song he emits. As the week progresses, you’ll become more and more unhinged. You start to hear the animatronics talking or whispering things to you, you may even start hallucinating their faces. You will know real terror when one of them is frantically pounding on the door to your booth when you only have 1% power reserves left.
I do have some issues with the game. There is no option menu at all. It’s okay that there’s no key rebinding, as the game does not use any key controls; it’s only point and click. However, it would be nice to have a volume slider and resolution options. When you press escape, it doesn’t bring you back to the main menu as it should, it just quits out of the game. This is especially annoying when you have just lost and need to start the night over as the wait time between failure and returning to the start screen is long. I assumed that hitting escape would bring me back sooner, but it just quit the game. Additionally, the game only saves after you have survived a night, so you cannot save and quit in the middle of a night. Another issue I had may be due to my using a dual monitor set-up, but when I moved my mouse to click the light or door buttons on the right side of the screen my mouse would occasionally not register movement. Lastly, when clicking to turn on the lights the buttons would occasionally stick and waste power.
There is one additional problem I have with AI behavior, but it only became apparent to me from my research on the game. There are set patterns of movement that the AI has that can be discerned by the player and which can consequently lead to the player exploiting the AI to beat each night. There are only two instances of this. One instance entails that when you see a specific event happen, you must immediately perform two specific actions in a certain order, and if you do then there’s nothing to worry about. The other instance is that the player can perform a simple series of actions over and over to get through the night without all of the terror and anticipation the game is supposed to evoke. I can forgive these issues as this is the first big offering from the developer and hope/expect them to be addressed in the sequel.
I adhere to the belief of underground documentaries filmed in real time which include the warning documentary quadrology known as the Terminator series. I have long professed that The Country Bear Jamboree is nothing more than a ploy to lure humanity into a false sense of security preparing for the imminent robot uprising and that it is simply a front for the slaughterhouse cleverly hidden beneath the stage. A sorted assortment of executioners indeed. Combine already murderous animatronics with the psychotic tendencies of the backwoods and you have a powerful combination. They’re gonna make you squeal like a pig. It’s easy to see why Otis became evil and joined up with Lex Luthor. Animatronics are made out of human sacrifices and powered by hate, so it’s no wonder that the Freddy’s crew are coming to get you.
I found that, despite my love of horror, I couldn’t take playing this game in long bouts; my heart just couldn’t take the stress. I’d have to try to beat a night twice and then stop playing, it was just too emotionally intense. I managed to finally beat the 5th night after two hours of total play, though each night is not very long, perhaps 10 minutes, but the terror makes the time seem to drag out. There are bonus 6th and 7th nights, as well as a mode which lets you control AI behavior which unlocks after beating the 7th night. I was so freaked out just barely passing the 5th night that I have put down the game and am not sure if I will go back.
There are a couple lingering questions that remain unanswered and require suspension of disbelief. Why hire a security guard at all when the murderous robots will keep any thieves out? If you want the security guard just to keep people out, why not post the guard outside? Why don’t they reprogram the animatronics if management is well aware of their murderous tendencies? How desperate do I have to be for money to keep coming back to this job each night?
The game retails for $4.99 on Steam and $2.99 on Google Play and the iOS App Store. It was recently part of an Indie Gala Monday bundle for $1.89. It takes about 2 hours to beat the 5 nights, and about 3.5 hours to beat all the nights of the game. At about $1.45 per hour of gameplay, that’s a pretty good ratio. However, the amount of horror per dollar is off the charts.
Recommendation: High. If you love horror games then you most certainly should play this. It’s terrifying in many ways and the atmosphere is incredible for an indie game where you just sit in one spot. The developer did a terrific job putting you in the reality he created and making you scramble to survive. I must caution that I would not let anyone with a heart condition watch you playing this game as I am perfectly fit and my heart could not take what I was seeing after a while. This game is masterfully orchestrated to induce fear without any gore what-so-ever.