Five Nights at Freddy’s is a tense game.
It’s an extremely simple game of managing a single resource in order to survive. You have only the barest of interaction and yet it is incredibly successful at what it’s trying to do. It’s not deep in it’s horror but it is effective and quite clever for it.
It’s two primary elements are jump scares and a delightfully grotty atmosphere. The latter is fantastic themeing; a chuck-e-cheese/showbiz pizza type location is perfectly suited for creating a slightly disturbed feel. These kinds of family entertainment location already exist with a very bright facade covering a fairly dull or even unpleasant reality; it’s not hard to imagine an office as dirty and oppressive as the one in the game as a genuine location. Often taking something innocent and making it evil or creepy is a lazy trope done with little thought, it’s easy to sell to a teenage crowd who are only just encountering these ideas for the first time. Here Scott Cawthon creates an impressive sense of personality with the premise of the free-roaming robots and the absurd job you are performing. It echoes the kind of impossible, yet interesting, sci-fi worlds that were so common in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s grim, it’s unbelievable but it is also fun and compelling in it’s own right.
The jump scares are, as always, a fairly cheap mechanism but that is fine. They’re not the goal of the game, they’re the deterrent for failure. Knowing that they’re coming if you fuck up is your incentive to play better and the reason you end up filled with paranoia. It is, as in so many things, more about the anticipation rather than the action itself. Losing track of one of the characters means you’ve opened yourself up to a possible jump and you don’t want that because they’re very effectively performed! You’ll panic, you’ll scrabble at cameras, you’ll be afraid to look about in the game because it MIGHT JUST BE THERE.
THEN IT IS! DAMN YOU PURPLE DOG THING!
It’s simple, it’s short and it’s not particularly replayable but it’s also cheap, effective and if it’s up your street, highly entertaining.
What I didn’t expect from it, and am most glad of, is that it’s made me want to see this world expanded. It’s a grinning kind of dirt and fear and I’d love to see more of what could be out there.