Why is Five Nights at Freddy’s a good game?
Five Nights at Freddy’s is kind of an odd game. Youtube no doubt has helped with it’s noteriety as we all just love watching other people scared shitless. Even so it probably would have still spread around as one of those games you make your friends with no prior knowledge play just to laugh when they inevitable pee their pants. Even though it has this odd prank game quality to it, I’d consider it a good game none the less.
Don’t forget to celebrate with Foxy!
Now when you hear the premise, it sounds amazing. The idea of killer funtime pizzeria animatronics is a surprisingly underutilized horror idea. I’ve had experiences with the kind of place in this game, I went to Chuck-e- Cheeses, and I didn’t like being around the animatronics. It didn’t bother me until one time the Italian drummer guy was mildly broken. One of his eyes didn’t blink properly, instead it was just lazy the whole time.
So that is just prime nightmare fuel. Though for anyone who is familiar with the indie horror genre it can go two ways, amazing or jumpapalooza. The funny thing though is Five Nights at Freddy’s is a jump scare festival, but it is the only game I would say utilizes jump scares as a chief mechanic in a successful way. It is a surprisingly skillfully designed game for something so simple.
For those who don’t know, here’s the basic mechanics. You sit in a room and never move around the pizzaria. The only things you have is a monitor in which you can check only one of the various security cameras at a time, two blast doors and flickering lights to illuminate the hall right behind the doors. You have to monitor your power consumption so that you can keep the lights up and the ability to use those blast doors for your six hour security shift, because the animatronics will kill you, intentionally or not.
The brilliant design is that the animatronics do not move when you look at them, except to jump you for your death. It causes an amazing amount of tension and fear as you flick around cameras to try and find where they have wandered. It causes these lovely scares without relying on scare chords. Over time you get used to their presence, always watching you, but just because you’ve gotten used to the images doesn’t mean the tension has gone away since that power ticker is always going lower and lower.
Who wouldn’t wanna share a pizza with this gal?
But it does still use jump scares, marked by a scare chord. The way they are utilized is excellent. Indeed you get your normal, loud screechy jump scare in the game but only when you lose. Of course using a jump scare for death isn’t unusual. Many games use jump scares for deaths since it is a punishment. Naturally we don’t like that jump in adrenaline so you try your damnest to avoid it. However many jump scares in other games are utilized in a cheap manner. It pops up as an environmental scare, or there is little for you to do to prevent the scare. Five Nights at Freddy’s is not a cheap game. All the characters have their own artificial intelligence that can be learned and predicted by a savvy game player. So the death scare really is your fault, most of the time.
The second jump scare it uses in a smart way. Every time a character is standing at your door and you activate the light and find them, a scare chord goes off. However it is a lower tone than the death chord and the jump scare chord we’re most familiar with. It doesn’t cause the same jump in adrenaline that the loud, high pitched death scare does. That sound is really needed on the door scare, but not to add fear even though it does, but to make the game mechanics work well.
You’ll find at later levels when the characters become far more active that the most efficient strategy is to check Pirate’s Cove and the door lights over all else. It becomes so frenetic checking between these things and slamming the door shut when a character is there that the sound is really helpful to informing your already frizzing brain that indeed there is danger in your hall, shut the door. The mechanics are simple, but well executed for ease of play with a correct amount of fear to keep the player in dread, but the fear of death isn’t good enough in a good game right?
Personally for me, I do want a story in my game. Five Nights at Freddy’s does have more to it than “Security Guard dim-wittingly takes murderous job for 120 bucks”. There is some story, but not much. However how Five Nights at Freddy’s redeems itself is with it’s humor. Yes. I would consider Five Nights at Freddy’s a black comedy, not a horror.
A horror story should be able to hold up to scrutiny, and feel real even when you’ve tried to assure yourself that it is ridiculous. That doesn’t mean it has to be realistic, but it has to feel at least reasonable. Even with a teeny bit of scrutiny Five Nights at Freddy’s falls apart. Too many things are beyond reasonable expectations. Why do they only have a certain amount of power, are they not on the grid? Why are the doors rigged to open when power turns off, not closed? Wouldn’t a sane person, at the very least investigate the animatronics when a security guard ends up dead with their teeth and eyes in one of the costumes? After this kept happening wouldn’t you get rid of the animatronics or replace them? Who the hell would subject themselves to this for 24 dollars a day?
Just me, my little oscillating fan and that cupcake with eyes…
Five Nights at Freddy’s is scary. Good god is it scary, but it isn’t horrific. It is however, darkly hilarious. Your office is decorated in kids drawings honoring the same characters trying to kill you. You are force to face down your killers as they demand you Celebrate! This guy calls you every night with tips but also with such a dry delivery of company policy. He doesn’t even bat an eye as he informs you that deep cleaning the carpets is policy before your murder is even reported. And finally, while power is so critical, that tenuous life thread that keeps the creeps at bay, you still feel the need to keep that little fan blowing away. Your office is a bit on the uncomfortably warm side after all.
This is a well crafted game for an indie venture. It knows what it wants to be, a scary romp in many of our childhood discomforts. The mechanics are well executed and generally fair. The art assets are well crafted and the writing, as little as there is, is brilliant. The game is fantastically scary and wonderfully funny without being overtly humorous when you’re mid game, with wet pants.