It’s hard to explain my relationship with horror as a medium. I’m actually a giant wuss a lot of the time, but for some reason horror movies and games are the ones I favour. I think it must be for the same reason people like rollercoasters. The idea of experiencing danger in a completely safe environment appeals to me on a couple of levels. So while waiting for Alien Isolation and The Evil Within to be released, I found a little title on Steam for $5 that was probably the most effective horror experience I’ve had since the first time I played the original Resident Evil.
Five Nights at Freddy’s has a simple, yet terrifying premise. You have been hired as a nighttime security guard at a pizza place that has animatronic entertainers. These entertainers get up and walk around. At night. They are also programmed to put any loose “animatronic skeletons”, which are indistinguishable from humans to their sensors, back into their suits. The suits are filled with iron girders, wires and electronics which for some reason interact badly with a human being. What this translates into is a battle of wits to survive robots who want to kill you. In any other game, this would probably not be that big of a deal. In other games you would be issued a pistol or something to protect yourself. This isn’t other games. You have two doors that you can close to keep them out. Good Luck.
The majority of the game requires you to look through your security camera viewer (which consumes power) to know when and where the game’s four antagonists are coming from. Each of the AI’s in the game attack in different ways. Bonnie the Bunny always attacks from the left, Chicka Chicken always attacks from the right, Foxy the Pirate Fox comes to life unless you watch him and Freddy himself turns up when there’s no power left. There is a story here, something about children being murdered, but it’s not overtly told and frankly, I don’t know how much I would want to know about WHY these things are trying to kill me, just that they ARE trying to kill me. Each level lasts about 10 minutes (12 hours game time, 6 pm to 6 am), which is actually a good ratio. It means that you are scared for exactly the right amount of time.
[img_big]center,14180,2014-10-11/ss_cfe4d47366356fef6c7a8da2c0782b143584bbe4.jpg,Five Nights at Freddy’s[/img_big]
This is a peculiar little game. The interactivity is quite limited, but that is the point, isn’t it? The game works as a horror game because there is so little that you can do. You can see which creatures are coming from where, and you can lock your doors. That’s it. And that is the entire point. Once you have a way of permanently disposing of something scary, it stops being scary. This is the first game in a long time that understands that. There is little in the way of voice acting (a security guard gives you helpful tips, until something squishy happens to him) and there is a yelling when you get caught (and you WILL get caught), but mostly the only other sounds you will hear are the terrifying noises of robots coming to kill you. The graphics make use of photorealism while embracing the uncanny valley for the design of the robots. Every design choice in this game is deliberate.
The whole experience is akin to Night Trap or Myst. The game feels kind of out of time in the current landscape. It’s almost as if the designer quite enjoyed these 90’s FMV games and tried to remind people of them, while turning their inherent problems (lack of interactivity, lack of agency) into actual features. What this translates to is a serious feeling of helplessness in an incredibly hostile environment. And in a landscape filled with power fantasies, it’s a refreshing, if not entirely pleasant, experience.
While I can recommend Five Nights at Freddy’s as an effective horror piece, if you aren’t into being frightened this might not be the game for you. On the other hand, if you are the type of person that likes to see a game create an emotional response, this is definitely worth checking out.