30 Hours Stuck in a Jump Scare Laboratory. Five Nights at Freddy’s Exceeds Expectations and More.
There’s a fair bit to be said for Five Nights at Freddy’s. It’s an exercise in startles. This alone is a gamble: scares without atmosphere is like a skeleton. It’s not quite enough to make it work.
Somehow, though, Five Nights at Freddy’s puts it all together into a surprisingly effective package.
Five Nights at Freddy’s puts you in the shoes of a night watchman. You are given control of the security cameras to monitor the animatronic puppets. The game is essentially an exercise in resource management.
The player has a finite amount of power and each action (closing the door, using the camera) consumes power. Trade increased chance of success for peace of mind. This is a game that achieves quite a lot with this simple interaction.
It’s Quick to Pick Up
One of the greatest strengths of the game is that it’s easy to pick up and easy to get into. This ease of access is something I praised Daylight for when it was released. A lot of my friends were put off some of the longer, more narrative-driven games by how long they spent trying to cultivate dread. Simple gameplay, like that found in Five Nights at Freddy’s, reduces the barriers to entry. In fact, in just half an hour we went from turning onto the PC to sharing the experience and cheering.
Five Nights at Freddy’s level of depth is deceptive. On the surface it looks like a pretty light snack. Keep an eye on the animatronics, close the doors, open the doors, survive. As you immerse yourself in the environment, you start to learn a little more. Every night teaches you more and more about each animatronic.
How they behave, where they come from. Making sense of these patterns and adapting your technique. Its compact nature means that strategy and counterplay (although against a computer) are exaggerated. It’s really quite a wonderful experience to notice yourself adapting or watching others do the same.
The Scares are Successful
For a game whose entire claim to horror is startling people, I was a bit apprehensive about it. For sure these sorts of things have their place – especially as a pay-off, or punchline, for cultivating an atmosphere of dread.
Essentially Five Nights at Freddy’s could be you walking down a corridor and your only action is to look behind you. The fact that it achieves so much with this simple premise is a testament to its design.
In times you know something is going to jump out (e.g. running out of power), the animatronics lose their potency. But it’s the in-your-face style that comes out when you click on the wrong camera or you don’t realise Bonnie or Chica are in the office. Steeling yourself is always going to prepare you for the game’s tactic, but this is true of any horror game.
Ultimately, Five Nights at Freddy’s is something you can easily set your friends up with and it will scare the pants off them. As you start to get invested in the game, its true depth and strategy comes out and reaches a level of commitment we see in the longer adventures.
What are your thoughts on the Five Nights at Freddy’s series? Let us know in the comments below.