Harmless Fun For the Whole Family!
I can be said, it’s rare that I like to tackle things that are widely popular on this blog. For one, a tidal wave of fandom backlash would wash me away into the internet depths. For two, I’ve always felt that less popular content deserves some spotlight too, in hopes of elevating it to the more popular stuff already out there. All that said and done, I’ve been interested in examining the Five Nights at Freddy’s series for a while, for better or worse! Despite not being exceptionally invested toward the surprise franchise, it’s been an oddity I’ve none the less had an eye on to a degree. Let’s start our night shift out of hell and spend Five Nights at Freddy’s!
NOTE: Pardon the lateness. I’ve been dealing with migraines and minor fever over the past couple days.
The series was originally created by Scott Cawthon and released in the Summer of 2014, with subsequent sequels in November 2014 and February 2015. The basic premise revolves around you playing a security guard for a failing Chuck-E-Cheese knock-off during the night shift. However, the animatronics are discovered to have a mind of their own, as they all try to hunt you down from your somewhat safe security station. With a combination of quick wits and conservation/preservation of resources, you must survive your week at the job or be brutally mutilated by the deranged mascots. All in all, a simple idea for a game. The origins of the series lie within Christian themed educational titles that Cawthon was commissioned to create. One of the titles, featuring beaver characters, were criticized for being uncanny and like lifeless animatronics. After finishing the commissioned works, this gave Cawthon the idea to make a horror game that took this criticism and spun it into a game of its own; a survival game set in a run-down Chuck-E-Cheese style restaurant… as if that damn stage show with their weird robots wasn’t creepy enough! And thus, Five Nights at Freddy’s was born.
The game itself utilizes a sense of dread and inventory management to play up a classic sense of survival horror, enhanced even more by enclosing you in a box and leaving you relatively open to attack. This nerve wracking tension leads to either a sigh of relief once 6 AM rolls around or chastises your failure with a timed jump scare, which succeeds in surprising the viewer despite it being usually expected. As the nights go on, the animatronics begin to act more chaotic and stranger stuff begins to happen; more cohorts join the effort against you, vivid hallucinations become more and more distracting, and sometimes their tactics become more complicated. As the game’s events become more sporadic and the characters become more tricky to maintain, survival becomes even more of a challenge.
Each game has changed up the mechanics in some way for the sake of helping to create an atmosphere while improving upon previous comments and complaints addressed in previous titles. In the first game, you have a limited power supply driven by a temporary generator. The more you use your cameras as well as the doors and lights, the more the generator is drained for the night. While the core concept is fine, some criticized some of the smaller things that took away from believability, such as power being drained from the doorway while it was down. Furthermore, why were unimportant gadgets (such as the air conditioning) on when you had a limited power supply? Not to mention, the animations for the scares themselves weren’t particularly terrifying. The second game remedied this (as a prequel) where you were left with no doors to close. Also, your only line of defense was a faulty light source as well as a mask to disorient the animatronics and drive them off. In addition, you had to telepathically wind up a music box to keep a puppet-like character at bay. This new mechanic felt more like a hassle than a genuine tension builder as managing your current issues meant you sometimes couldn’t get to the music box. In addition, the Balloon Boy was more of a pest than a scare, as it prevents you from stopping other enemies from killing you. A stroke of bad luck can result in both of these giving you a game over. In fact, both of these games had too much of a luck factor rather than absolute skill. Random chance mixed with quick button pressing could result in a completed game or failure
In the third game, there is a bit more of a skill component. Now, you have the ability to seal off areas and create distractions with audio and video to prevent the game’s primary enemy from getting to you. In addition, you had to maintain the faulty electrics in order to ensure your survival. This meant that careful planning, in addition to the core gameplay of maintaining a watch on the animatronics, meant that a more intensive strategy was requires to beat them game. By contrast, all you really need to do in the past games was watch an area or two while looking at the immediate doorways… and sometimes bashing a few buttons. While there was some potential for tactics, the strategy was some variation of a redundant pattern. In a sense, this still retains that inventory management, as you have a certain amount of charges on your electronics before they begin to malfunction. Whether or not the place was poorly set up or supernatural intervention made them go haywire isn’t exactly made clear. But no matter, this doesn’t mean the game is completely left up to speed and chance. When it comes down to it, the game tests your ability to handle anxiety in tense situations. The more anxious you become, the more likely you are to lose. The game feeds off of this through limited resources in the previous games and fumbling on management and strategy in the third game. One could argue a lot of the horror comes from exploiting the player’s follies and mocking them for it. While this type of thing isn’t exactly my preference for horror gameplay, I can see the arguments why its effective. Though, I consider it a bit cheap, as once you begin to mess up, there’s no hope for recovery.
All in all, there’s nothing exceptionally interesting about the mechanics in my opinion. While all of the games do a good job at simulating the experience of a helpless characters, I have seen better similar mechanical implementation in other games. What really intrigues me from a personal standpoint is the overarching story bits the games tease. While the first game only showed newspaper clippings of disappearances at the place, creepy drawings, and other weird bits from hallucinations; the actual story was vague beyond a killer lured 5 children to their deaths in one of the locations. In addition, one of the animatronics (Foxy the Pirate Fox) went rogue and attacked a patron in broad daylight during one of the operating days. In the second game/prequel, you realize that the phone man isn’t what he seems. His messages sound more ominous with the context of the first game and through piecing the bits together, the killer is indeed the man leaving messages for you. He was security guard that used his expertise and knowledge to lure and murder children throughout the years of Freddy Fazbear’s existence. In addition, the missing children weren’t the only victims. In the first incarnation of the place, a pizza place with a single Freddy roaming around, a child left outside of the restaurant was taken by the murderous phone man while everyone else was enjoying a party. This child’s crying expression matches the terrifying Puppetmaster to the nail! And worse, the lack of proper security allowed numerous children to be lured into obscured parts of the Pirate Cove without anyone noticing at all, as shown by the mini-games. And worse, these “new victims” were always present in the first game, at least through hallucinations and other easter eggs. Finally in the third game, another animatronic horror surfaces from Freddy’s long buried history. Meanwhile, the previous antagonists return as vivid hallucinations either brought on by stress or the dilapidated ventilation system. (And lemme tell you, whoever said that’s just asbestos or mold is clearly lying.) After out smarting these disturbing Frankenstein’s monster of the previous creatures, several mini games show the phone guy dismantling and hacking into the animatronics during the events of the first game. Eventually, just like in a later phone call, they corner him. He tries to hide in a new suit (that looks exactly like the main antagonist in the third game) only for it to malfunction and crush him to death. With that, you’re not dealing with the vengeful spirits of angry children, you’re dealing with the psychopath who practically made a career of luring and murdering children without being caught, up until the night where these bloodthirsty ghosts had the last laugh. However, the angry spirit of the murderer lived on, daring to strike revenge upon anyone who tried to bring back the Freddy Fazbear brand name. So of course, some idiots decide to cash in the murders that happen around 30 years ago by making a haunted house based off of it. Too bad, they found the killer’s animatronic suit as well. So, after fighting off a psychopath in a suit, the attraction unexplainably catches fire and burns down. Whether this is from bad wiring (which the attraction host warned about) or the security guard destroying the compound out of madness is unknown. But In the end, the player either has a chance to put the spirits to rest once and for all (which is apparently canon) or allow them to keep aimlessly haunting.
And one can’t help but mention that popularity that boomed out of nowhere. What started as a celebrated indie title ballooned into a fandom all its own. Fan art, fan works, and more spiraled to lengths that rivals and surpassed the Slender man game craze from a couple years prior. Though, you could say that Freddy’s learned some valuable lessons from previous crazes like Slender Man among others too. While most fan creations aren’t worth mentioning (due to being subpar or downright disturbing for reasons I don’t want to dive into), some rival and are even superior as far as survival horror titles go.
While the hype machine initially turned me away from this series, I’m in a sense glad to be a part of it. The gameplay is frustrating until it’s eventually mastered, but hearing that the joyous celebrations of 6 AM is worth the weight. But, the story and world of FNaF is what made the games engaging and fascinating to begin with, not so much the mechanical bits or my fear of animatronics or animal suit costumes… But hell, that certainly ramps up the anxiety and terror in my personal experiences with the games! All in all, you can probably get the best parts of the games through browsing the wiki or watching a youtube personality go through the game. But, for what it’s worth, they’re still engaging and challenging puzzle and strategy games for what they’re worth. Overall, the game deserves 8 sleepless nights of demented furries from Hell staring at you out of 10. Don’t let them out of your sight!
Image Source: Neatorama