What is there to look for in a survival horror title? Is it a relentless and growing horde of rambunctious monsters constantly pushing for your untimely death? Is it a gruesome setting delivered straight from the most scream-worthy nightmares? Or is it perhaps a mix of gratuitous gore and dark comedy? None of these matter when it’s about scaring someone witless. Fear, to me, is an emotion that is not forced down someone’s throat via imagery or violent struggles for survival, but through gradual increases of a person’s sense of dread. A seemingly inescapable situation, less than desirable constraints, the inevitability of impending doom, a feeling of pure helplessness that would suffocate even the bravest man’s notion of bravado; all of these worthy fears. So how about Five Nights at Freddy’s?
You have decided that you’re in need for money, so your first instinct is to zero in on a newspaper announcement and jump into a security job at the local Freddy’s family restaurant, known for its chirpy atmosphere, the laugh of children, cutesy dancing and singing animatronics, fun and games during the day. But you will not be working at Freddy’s during the day. As a security guard, you will man the lone position in a cramped office from midnight to six in the early morning. A single desk fan your one companion, you can immediately tell something is wrong with the place. The cameras you’re supposed to be watching, the magnetic security doors to each side of you and the lights down the corridors are all connected to the same power grid, whose energy reservoirs continuously drain throughout the night. Soon, you will be left with no power, no companionship from the noisy desk fan, and certainly no way to operate the security doors to your office. But that is fine; you’re the only one at the deserted family restaurant, right?
The phone rings, a sharp cry into the stillness of the night. It rings three times before you decide to listen to the incoming voice message: A week ago, your predecessor decided to record messages detailing your job as a security guard as well as a formal greeting. You think you can relax, you got this. You’re told the restaurant’s rules and popularity surrounding the cast of merry characters that entertain children during the day: Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie the Bunny and Chica the Duck. You’re supposed to respect the characters in spite of them getting cranky during the night; after all, if you were made to sing the same damn song for 20 years without even taking a bath you would also get ticked off right? Wait; did he say the characters get cranky? Just as the message warns you to keep watch on the animatronics via the cameras, silence takes over, and you’re left with no other choice but take heed of the advice. You decide to check the stand where Freddy and the gang was when you arrived and… Something’s wrong with that picture. Freddy is standing there with Chica right next to him, but Bonnie is nowhere to be seen; did someone steal him? That could cost you your job! Racing through the cameras, you suddenly don’t feel as confident about the place, so you decide to stay in your cramped but safe office.
Eventually you find Bonnie. He’s in the room to the west of your office, with the spare costumes, staring blankly at the camera. You would ordinarily sigh in relief here, but what the heck is that animatronic doing there if nobody else is on camera? You quickly go to check the gang and find Chica is missing this time. You check through the cameras, she’s nowhere to be found, and you can hear steps and moans. What is making that racket? The cameras suddenly go on the fritz, and the sound’s getting closer. What is up with this place?! Put the tablet down and check the corridors, but you can’t see a damn thing. Good thing you have a light switch for an occasion like this! Flip it on and what do you see? It’s Chica, her signature “Let’s Eat!” bib illuminated along with her grinning beak and her big, empty eyes staring down right at you, almost as if she wanted to get close to you! What did your predecessor say about the animatronics, that they get cranky at night? Oh god, SHUT THAT DOOR DOWN! Wait, what about Bonnie then? Check the cameras again, but nowhere. He’s nowhere to be seen! Every single place is deserted, and you find Freddy still standing at his place, only this time he’s staring back at you from his dark spot; unnerving you further. Put down the tablet, you can’t look at this anymore, you need to distract yourself. But as soon as you do, a loud screaming screech straight from an abyssal hell shatters your eardrums and the last thing you see is a flailing Bonnie launching his self at you before it all goes black.
Welcome to Five Nights at Freddy’s, where fear is something your brain works on overtime, and your biggest challenge to overcome. Every second spent at this hellish restaurant eats away at your composure and builds paranoia like no other freaking thing. You can hear shuffling, moaning, walking, but no humans are in sight. Each time you check the camera feed, something seems different; the animatronics wander around the restaurant at night. They aren’t out for blood, they aren’t interested in what you do here or who you are; they’re worried about who you are not. Due to a flaw in their algorithms, Freddy Fazbear and his pals see anyone as a metal endoskeleton out of its costume late at night, and during the night shift, the only person fitting that description is you. The animatronics are programmed to follow certain rules, namely that no endoskeleton is allowed to be out of a costume, and in such a case, the endoskeleton must be put into a Freddy Fazbear suit no matter what. If you survive your first night, you will eventually learn that if caught, you would not survive this treatment, as every costume is filled with crossbeams, wires and other metal parts, especially around the head. Let any one of the cheerful animatronics catch you, and the only parts of you that will ever see the light of the day again will be your eyeballs and teeth.
Your foes aren’t evil. They’re simply doing what they were (unfortunately) programmed to do, but that doesn’t make them any less creepy. They know you’re in your office, they know you’re looking at them, but that is just a misguided thought; they are watching you, waiting until you make a mistake or power runs out so they can stuff you. Bonnie and Chica are in charge of distracting you while Freddy plays mind games with you and waits until you’re left helpless, and a fourth, more violent animatronic known as Foxy the Pirate is keeping tabs on you from his cove. Let this last character out of your sight and you’ll see him dash down the corridors to catch you off guard when you least expect him to. You can’t relax, they’re out to get you; Freddy and his gang are out to get you, and you can never look at an animatronic the same way, let alone step into a Chuck E. Cheese’s ever again.
If I had to complain about something in the game is its lacks of subtitles for the portion of the game where it’s interesting to get as much detail as possible: The calls/voice messages you get from your fellow retired security guard at the beginning of each day. They really aren’t necessary to play the game at all, as the first person perspective point and click controls pretty much explain themselves with your static locale for the rest of the game; however, it took me a few times to carefully gather all the juicy plot details the muffled voice tried to relay during those times.
The clock’s ticking. You have to last until 6 AM. But will you make it? The key to your survival is careful management of your only and continuously decaying resource: Electrical power. But since all your actions except looking around consume power at an increased rate, you must be careful with the timing of when and for how long to check cameras, light up either of your corridors or close your gates. 100% will quickly become 50% if you’re not careful, and remember that you start at midnight, so that is 6 in-game hours you have to make that precious generator last. So the question is when to do it, then? You can get the patterns, no problem! Except the patterns are few and they do not guarantee all four characters will behave in the same way during each play through. Added to this is the ever increasing level of paranoia as fuzzy images in the cameras, optical illusions and the always present crisp sounds of footsteps or moans blends in with that desk fan’s noisy blades and play tricks on the player’s mind. It will not be easy.
Why would you go back to that accursed restaurant after the first night, you ask? Well I don’t know about you, pal, but I want my $120 dammit!
The developer chose to focus his efforts on a horror and suspense theme and came up with a concept that's stronger than any words I can sum up to describe. Tense moments, the fear factor and a nigh unpredictable AI make for every Night at Freddy's a true fight for survival. Entertaining, engaging and enveloping; once Five Nights at Freddy's clasps its paws around you, it will be hard to let go.