Despite being one of the most talked-about games of 2014, Five Nights At Freddy’s completely slipped under my radar during the densely packed end-of-year deluge. With the dust starting to settle and a new iPad with retina display in hand, I recently decided to sit down and see what all the fuss is about.
Looking at the Five Nights At Freddy’s profile on the App Store doesn’t really give too much away, yet paradoxically it shows everything it has to offer at the same time. This is because most of the game is in fact spent stationary, with players occasionally switching between perspectives as if flitting through a screenshot gallery.
Even after booting the game and playing for a few minutes, there doesn’t seem to be much going on. However, as we’ve come to expect from myriad off-beat indies, there’s always more than meets the eye, and Five Nights At Freddy’s is an exemplary case.
The entirety of the game is spent in the security office of a fictional pizza restaurant, with players taking on the role of its newly-employed night guard. Instead of warding off burglars and preventing drunken would-be patrons from urinating outside the double doors, there’s a much more sinister threat lurking in the dark.
As soon as the clock strikes midnight, the restaurant’s cast of animatronic mascots like to go for a wander. Long decommissioned and locked away during opening hours, the game never really explains why they are even there at the restaurant. Regardless, players are tasked with keeping an eye on them as they move from room to room, while also making sure they don’t enter the office. If one of them does manage to sneak in, you are met with a horrific yet ambiguous fate.
Equally as vague is Five Nights’ entitlement to actually being defined as a game. This is due to the fact that it features a spartan set of mechanics that are completely centred around the sporadic behaviours of four fuzzy AI robots. Although all of them are working towards the same goal, they each take different routes through the restaurant, occasionally making a diversion towards the office.
Without being able to move, players are simply left to scan security camera footage while also keeping an eye on both doors leading into the office. There are two buttons on either side, allowing you to temporarily shine a light into the corridors or bring down a metal shutter. The catch here is that performing any of these actions will drain power, leaving you completely defenceless if it happens to run out before the end of your six-hour shift.
Each of the five nights are tense, paranoia-inducing slices of gameplay unlike anything else you’ve likely experienced. Though there are certainly similarities with the breakout 2009 horror movie, Paranormal Activity.
Despite one being focused on demons and the other on murderous mascots, there are a multitude of comparisons to be drawn. These similarities mainly relate to how the both of them slowly generate a sense of impending doom and then, when you least, or most, expect it, blow up the screen with a spine-chilling jump scare.
However, put side by side, Five Nights At Freddy’s has the bigger fright factor, due to the game’s sheer unpredictability. If you’ve seen Paranormal Activity once, you already know exactly when and where the drops come – a luxury Five Nights At Freddy’s completely withdraws from the player.
Although two of the animatronics can be gauged and monitored effectively, the other pair operate in a scattergun fashion, keeping you on your toes from twelve to six. Foxy the Pirate, for instance, will spend the majority of the night hidden behind a curtain in one of the rooms, occasionally making a sprint for the office door. Freddy, on the other hand, lumbers around the restaurant much more slowly but can hammer his way through shutters.
Audio also has a crucial role in how the game plays out. After a few runs you’ll gradually start to notice certain sound cues, denoting that something is about to happen. These are key to your survival but at the same time remove the option of only being casually immersed within the game. By ramping up the volume or sticking in a pair of earphones, you may give yourself an advantage yet at the same time expose yourself to the full force of each and every jump scare.
It may not have much in the way of actual game content but there’s something undeniably unique about Five Nights At Freddy’s. Through irregular AI patterns, atmospheric sound design, and a thinly layered backstory, it manages to distil pure horror into a replayable five minute sequence that manages to scare each and every time.