HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S REVIEW
This time last year I watched my first ever episode of The X Files in order to properly honour Halloween…then I did no other holiday specific reviews and now it is Halloween again! Yeah! So it is time for another first…My first properly scary computer game!
As I discussed last year, I love horror but have quite specific tastes when it comes to deliberately trying to experience fear. Additionally, I don’t play a lot of online games period. I feel I need to contextualise my experiences slightly before the review begins properly:
I am not a gamer.
It wasn’t really my fault. A combination of growing up poor and having a Mother who didn’t want us playing PlayStation etc meant that I didn’t have a huge amount of opportunity. My older Brother had somehow procured a hand-held Donkey Kong game that I occasionally stole when he wasn’t around but…for the longest time that was it.
This is the one. I am sort of old ain’t I? Dagnabbit.
The first time a computer game scared me was when a friend had me play a Goosebumps game on her then brand new Windows 95 PC (Consarnit!) ‘Escape from Horrorland’ was quite high quality for the time in which it was made, produced by Spielberg himself no less, it is genuinely worth looking up if only for the reason that Jeff Goldblum plays Dracula and flirts with children and you get to kill the critically acclaimed actress Isabella Rossellini with a bed.
FYI: On a scale of ‘copter laugh in ‘Jurassic Park’ to analogy for AIDS in ‘The Fly’ I would say he is about 6 Goldbluming throughout:
He showed up on set wearing fangs and swishing a rope, we kinda just went with it…
One of the other fun things about this game was the various Easter eggs hidden throughout including the fact that if you went into the various trash cans scattered in all the different locations you came out in some hidden tunnels where you could run around collecting tokens. However, this meant you were at risk of running afoul of…The Tunnel Monsters!
Ok…They might look lame to you but keep in mind I was about 8 or 9…Screw it. I am now 26 and even looking up that video scared the hell out of me.
So yeah, not much experience of playing conventional horror games. In fact the closest I have come to experiencing truly unmanageable terror while gaming happened at a friend’s when I was about 13. I now understand that my traumatic experience was not unique by any means. But nonetheless it took me to adulthood to learn that and as a young person eager to take part in something new, I had no idea what was about to happen to me…
That’s right. I agreed to ‘have a go’ at playing Sonic the Hedgehog. I had never seen it before. I didn’t know ok? I didn’t know…
There I was, mucking about in the water, having a whale of a time, I am the fastest thing alive, young, carefree, beautiful, blue…When suddenly, as far as I was concerned right the fuck out of nowhere, this audio nightmare descended to remind me that even special hedgehogs can’t breathe under water:
If that hasn’t brought on an anxiety attack for you…Actually I don’t even need to come up with an analogy cause I know it has.
I responded by calmly asking how I could beat the water level as it seemed pretty tricky in the time limit especially for a novice such as myself. I think. It was a long time ago…Oh wait. No. That’s right. What actually happened was I screamed, switched his console off at the wall and then, still not satisfied, left the room to go microwave some pizza rolls.
That’s right…I ate my fear. Who wants to make something of it?
So after limited experience of game terror and more than a decade since my last attempt at doing anything quite like this, I have decided to venture back into this particular world. Why? Well I love horror films, tense TV shows and fear inducing books so it seemed likely that I would find pleasure if I engaged in scary gaming. Games are a different experience to all of the above media though, beyond the obvious reasons. I will let excellent comedian Dara O Briain explain:
This compels me to present the following soon to be answered question: Considering that you can end up stuck for extended periods of time without attainment or forward motion, can you be bad at games and still enjoy them? In my experience, yes. Because unlike some art forms (books for example) games can be enjoyed as part of a social event when not everyone is expected to be of equal skill.
That’s all well and good, but what about when you are alone? What is the motivation for someone like me to persevere with a one player game I am playing by myself when I can’t get past the first level? Not because I am stupid (That pitch challenged American with the animé eyes says I am like a Firework, so there) but because, as we have discussed, I am inexperienced at navigating game play?
So yeah, I didn’t want to jump in with anything too complicated: Your basic point and click is about all I can handle. (And Mario Kart. I’m good at that) So what game? I first heard the murmur about ‘Five Nights…’ via a series I follow made by internet duo the Fine Bros. Recently I have gotten into watching entertaining people play games on Youtube so I thought I would see if any of the gaming channels I subscribed to were playing it…It turns out pretty much all of them were. This game really seemed to have taken off at the tail end of 2014…In fact, as if so often the way, within days of me first hearing about it I suddenly couldn’t escape it online.
So what of it?
‘Five Nights’ was created by Scott Cawthon all by his lonesome (appropriate given the game…But we will get to that in a minute) after being crushed by sneering reviews of a family friendly game he designed creatures for. His critics claimed a Beaver he had made (keep it clean now) was more scary than charming. And Scott thought…They think THAT is scary? I can beat it…
And. He. Did.
I doubt he could have predicted what he was starting though…
So what is the game?
What makes this game scary can be summed up in 13 words:
They are coming to get you and there is nothing you can do.
This is what is after you…How about now?
What Scott has done is create a game which removes the options we like to select at times of true primal terror. You can neither fight nor flee. All you have between you and them is a security camera (so you can see them coming) and two sets of doors which you can close if they get too near. But you have limited power. Every time you use the camera, lights and especially the doors you waste valuable, precious power. And if the power dies then so do you.
The plot of the game is that you are Mike and you have taken a security job on the graveyard shift at a family restaurant where there are animatronic animals performing for excited children during the day. Each day a message is left for you from a previous employee giving tips on how to get you through the night. He helpfully informs you that if the animatronics spot you they will assume you are an exoskeleton who needs to be forcibly stuffed into a costume. And won’t let a little thing like the costumes being full of wires and metal get in the way of that.
As the name suggests, to earn your piddling $120 (thanks Obama!) you have to survive five shifts, and each night things get a little bit tougher. And man that does that clock seem to move slow…
There are 4 animatronics roaming around Freddy’s Fazbear’s Joint. Now there is much, much debate online over the gender of the animals. I am going to pick some pronouns and stick with them and if you have any strong moral objection to that then…please piss off. They are:
Bonnie the Bunny: He is typically the first one to get moving and sticks to the left hand side of the building usually following a specific route, but can move quickly between locations and make the cameras stop working if you stay watching for too long. You can also hear his footsteps when he gets closer. If he manages to get in the room without you realising and you are looking at the camera you will hear a terrifying noise before he attacks. But sometimes you get no warning at all:
Chica the Chicken: From Night 2, Chica is pretty active although she tends to move a bit slower than Bonnie and is also more heavy footed meaning she is easier to anticipate. She sticks to the right hand side of the building and often lingers in her locations for longer than Bonnie. However she is, so people say, more fond of loitering outside your door, draining your power. As with Bonnie she can sneak attack you if you are not paying attention or get in when the door is stuck and attack you when you put your camera down:
Foxy: Foxy lives in Pirate’s Cove and his fans get HELLA PISSED if you call him Wolfy. You have been warned. Due to an incident that is hinted at in the messages left by the previous employee he is isolated from the other animatronics and generally doesn’t become animated until Night 3 although I have seen him attack as early as Night 1 to punish those who try and win by doing nothing at all. Basically Foxy’s thing is that if you forget about him he will…err…remind you. He stays in the same place and gradually emerges only to suddenly sprint down the corridor on the left hand side to say Hi.
On a poll on one of the sites about the game that asked who was the scariest character, Foxy won by a landslide, possibly because nobody forgets the first time they see the little fucker literally RUNNING with his eagerness to kill you, with a horrible scream as he sticks his head in the door:
Freddy: Freddy the Bear is generally the last to move (He rarely budges beyond the Dining Room before Night 4 but from then on, your ass is grass) and a horrible deep laugh is usually the sign that he has left the main stage and is coming to find you. He sticks to the same route on the right hand side but is much harder to spot on the cameras and if he is in the same room as any of the others he becomes invisible. You need to locate him on the cameras because if he gets outside your door, he bypasses the spot where you can always see Bonnie and Chica and slips into your room and waits…Just waits.
So you play the game, play the game, play the game… and suddenly he jumps out. For me, this is by far the scariest way to die in the game. I nearly had a heart attack the first time it happened to me and shouted very loudly: ‘FUCKING TELEPORTING TEDDY!’ which would have been very hard to explain to the police so I am glad my neighbours weren’t disturbed.
If you run out of power, Freddy appears on the left out of the dark, and a music box version of Toreador plays and unless the clock strikes 6am in the next few seconds…it’s all over:
There is Golden Freddy. There are lot of rumours about what exactly calls Golden Freddy into the game but as far as I can tell there is no special way to bring him to your room and he usually crashes the game as soon as he arrives…
What, this little guy? No…
There is a huge amount of chat online about the fundamentals of each character and some of those opinions clash: For example, does the spooky ‘dum-dum-dum’ humming mean Bonnie is moving or is it Foxy just having a sing to himself? Will Chica actually loiter longer than Bonnie or is it the other way round? Can you look at Freddy more than twice if he is in the Easthall Corner without him just attacking? Or should you actually keep checking him to make him back off? Can you ignore Foxy to win the game? Can you ignore everyone BUT Foxy to win the game? If you shut both doors for long enough will Freddy just get fed up and teleport into the room and kill you?
The reason there are so many conflicting techniques or theories is because while the programming may follow a basic pattern it is also somewhat random. For example, if you run out of power Freddy will ALWAYS show up and that song will ALWAYS play but the exact length of the song varies significantly as will the precise moment he makes his move, meaning it is possible to survive till 6am depending on what time you ran out of power:
I guess there must be a limited number of outcomes but with a lot of hours under my belt, I can argue against all of the above questions despite the fact that many fans tout them as facts. But I like that. I like that it infuriates hardcore gamers because you can’t just learn the rules and then win. There is a lot of luck involved. You can do everything right and still get murdered by an angry duck…
Don’t get me wrong though…Strategy is essential. The balance of checking the camera, checking the hall outside your office, closing the doors in time and not running out of power is tricky and only gets harder as the week goes on. The genius (and I don’t use that word lightly) of Scott’s game is that he deliberately messes with your head and exploits the fundamental nuisance that is Human panic.
Night 1 is slooooowww…You check the camera, nothing happens…For ages. The noises, the music, the flickering lights, the humming the laughter…sometimes threatening messages flicker and glitch across the screen complete with a scary face and there is a constant buzzing…But you can’t move. You can’t arm yourself. You can’t quit. All you can do is wait. And it is physiological torture. So by the time you actually have to spring into some sort of action you are so damn paranoid that the urge to just close the doors and hide is overwhelming. It is Sonic drowning all over again.
Only with too many teeth…
There are 3 main criticisms of the game that I have repeatedly stumbled across online that I felt I should tackle:
1) ‘It is not scary…I am 9 and I think it is easy’
My Response: Ok. Fine. Good for you. Want a cookie?
What you find disconcerting is deeply personal and of course there will be those who are not unnerved by limited vision, limited mobility, limited options and the threat of death by huge dead eyed animatronics..But I suspect many of these people are trolling and have not actually played the game. Alone. With headphones on. In the dark. As it absolutely should be played. I assure you that this review and other videos of people playing it does not do justice to the live experience.
2) ‘It is just a load of cheap jump scares’
My Response: I REALLY object to this one. For those not well versed in pop culture jargon, jump scares do what they say on the tin: They are scares that catch you by surprise and cause an instant reflex. When executed with skill they are excellent:
But modern media has run the technique into the ground by just sticking in random loud noises or inserting a ‘fright’ without bothering to build up to it in any reasonable way whenever they want you to react and then call it a successful scare when in fact, humans just move when a sound goes off in their face. It is like when I was a kid and my peers would ask: ‘Are you afraid of butterflies?’ and then clap suddenly. If I blinked, this meant I was scared. Errr no. This means I react when someone claps their hands two inches from my eyes, asshole. Watch this scene and tell me you don’t know where this is going:
Yes there are jump scares in ‘Five Nights.’ But suspense is built, atmosphere is created, rules are set up and then promptly broken but not to a ridiculously degree…At no point will the animatronics come crashing through the ceiling or anything…But you might get into a routine of checking everyone, think you are doing well only for you to suddenly have the need to mutter to yourself: ‘Wait…wasn’t Freddy there a second ago?’ And then…
‘AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH’ actual quote from the time that happened to me when I had only 1/10th of a second to process that it was coming…
As the animatronics get more clever, you have to step up your game, your speed, and not make mistakes…or you will lose. The jump scares are not cheap attempts to get you to blink. They are your punishment for not paying attention to what is happening at your work. The whole feel of the game is deeply creepy. There is an ambiance at work that would be nothing if it was all just things jumping out at you at a particular point.
3) ‘The game is boring…You don’t get to do anything’
My Response: Now this one I can’t argue with if that is how people feel. If I could criticise one thing about ‘Five Nights’ it is that to create an atmosphere that exploits our primal instinct to preserve ourselves at all cost, it has to limit your choices. While I like the fact that anyone can play it, if you are a gamer who is used to being able to explore a variety of locations, identities and abilities, it probably is tedious to lift a camera, put it down, check the lights, close the doors repeat till 6am, five times in a row…I get that. That is why Scott doesn’t charge a lot of money for his game. I bought it on Steam for about £5 which considering it may well be one of the biggest games of 2014 is pretty reasonable. But it is repetitive and while it gets harder, the location/characters/options don’t change. So I understand it is not for everyone.
Nonetheless, I implore you to try it if you
A) Want to try gaming but are generally not good at pressing lots of buttons at once.
B) You find being scared delicious.
C) You like suspense.
D) A & B & C apply plus you are scared of animatronics…
So how about me?
Was I scared? Yes. I am surprised you didn’t hear me. I NEVER scream at scary movies and this game had me going into work with a pack of lozenges. It had my heart rate increasing to the point that it impacted my breathing and I actually felt sick. It had me struggling to turn off the lights at the end of my working day because the office I sometimes work in is not unlike the layout of the game in appearance. Even the security camera makes a similar noise. I had to regulate the time I spent playing it because I became so twitchy and agitated. And I loved every soul shrinking second.
I am in the UK and over here we don’t have the somewhat infamous Chuck E. Cheese or even any of his knock-off friends but a few minutes on Google suggests anyone who did grow up going to this restaurant will have been significantly scarred by the experience as this really is the stuff of actual nightmares. You know, the kind that make you sit bolt up right in bed and pee yourself:
Just LOOK AT THEM. It is such a good idea to make these things your adversaries. There are so many little touches that I love. The only other game I have played where I was this intensely invested in the outcome is poker. I love the trial and error aspect of it: I can’t tell you how delighted I was to discover that I could get to the end of the night with 12% power and both doors wide open (Bonnie had blocked the door. Because he hates me) I didn’t think I could make it…I did. And it was glorious.
But Freddy giveth and he taketh away…because during one of my many, many attempts to survive Night 6 I got to 0% power, waited for the lights to go and face Freddy, with a reasonable chance that the clock might turn to 6am, and who should waltz in the door at the last second but Foxy? I couldn’t believe it…
Nobody wants you!!!!!
What’s that? Sorry? Yes there is a Night 6. In truth there are 7 Nights. Why is it called ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s?’ I guess it rolls off the tongue better. But you can return for Night 6 to get some overtime. I.e. 50p. God Bless America. Then on Night 7 you can custom the AI of the animatronics.
So how did I do? On the 25th of September at nearly 11pm after 4.8 hours (over the course of a couple of days) I completed the Fifth Night and the first part of the game. I hollered like Goofy: ‘Five Nights, Bitches!’ my fists in the air like I had just crossed the finish line of the hardest race of my life. I nearly wept. I had never felt more ALIVE. I was ready to declare this the most satisfying, fun, exciting game of all time. Keeping in mind I have played about 8 online games in total throughout my 26 years.
But then Night 6….Happened. And happened. And happened. I still enjoyed it but the randomness started to frustrate. I stopped being impacted by the game in the same way. The repetition started to wear me down…I was determined to win. I really, really, wanted to win. This game really did something to me in that regard…But I was no longer excited by it. It took 10 hours in total, not consecutively by any means, but FINALLY I did it. On the 13th of October at 18.50, I earned my second star and my 50p bonus and slumped back on my couch exhausted but proud. It had been a hell of ride but I could finally return to my life.
Only there is a 7th Night. And if you win on the hardest setting you get a third star…Damn it…
And no. I have not yet bested the final challenge. But you can be sure I will update this page if it ever happens…
Bonnie doesn’t believe in me…
You might be expecting a video of me playing the game to prove it really happened and you know what? I was going to give you one. But it turns out my computer really isn’t equipped to make something of any real quality and despite my best efforts to give you just a little bit of audio/visual entertainment, it just didn’t work out. Either the music was off, the picture was bad, the sound wasn’t working at all, the audio/sound wasn’t synced…I have honestly smashed computers for less. I am sorry to say, that unlike when I was playing Night 6 at Freddy’s, I gave up.
Freddy hates quitters…
So to make up for it I am going to post a couple of videos of Youtube gamers playing this and getting freaked out to give you a small taster of what it is like to have the worst job in the world at the most unsettling restaurant of all time. As you can see/hear, it turns them into potty-mouths faster than you can say ‘would you kiss our Grandmother’s dick with that mouth?’ but judge not lest ye be judged. I have watched quite a few of these guys play and I have a lot of respect for their skill in making entertaining videos while still concentrating like hell on the game. Because this game REALLY demands your full attention. My favourite has to be dlive22891’s famous last words though: ‘Where’s Bunny?’ Been there Bro. Been there:
Now here is the amazing thing about this game being so new. In the time that I first heard about this, nobody had publicly completed Night 6…then someone called Cory Kenshin did it on his first attempt. With a technique that involved never checking on Foxy, something which did not work for me in the slightest. See what I mean about luck and randomness? The owner of the game congratulated the player personally on his Youtube page.
Then a rumour started that, on Night 7, you could get an alternate ending if you set the AI of the characters to read 1987 (another reference to the lore set up in the recorded messages) so Scott went into the game to change it so something did happen…just not what you might expect.
The highest AI you can set for the puppets is 20/20/20/20. Scott publicly stated that he had never completed it and thought it was impossible. But then somebody did: A youtube gamer called Bigbug triumphed after, he claims, 23 hours and about 170 tries. Now quite a few regular gamers, including one or two I follow, have done it. Markiplier reacts like Halle Berry when she won an Oscar and it is glorious. But I get it: The GAME DESIGNER didn’t think it could be done. This is the power of this medium. The interaction between players and creators is changing things, the instant connection…It is exciting to see a phenomenon grow right in front of your eyes.
But with this comes…fans. Real fans. Intense people who take the whole thing pretty fucking seriously. What I am getting at here, is some ‘Five Nights’ fans are cuckoo for coconuts. They argue about which character is the sexiest (Chica tends to come out on top) the nicest (For some reason, many people think Foxy is on your side and is just misunderstood) they write detailed scripts about the backstory, believe that Freddy and co. have kidnapped some children, that the two sets of teeth the characters have mean there are people hidden in them, that Golden Freddy is actually the phone guy that leaves you messages following his death on Night 4, some of them even sincerely believe the whole thing is real. I am not kidding. I don’t know how old these people are and who is looking after them but I swear to God they exist. I have no idea how Scott feels about the speed in which his game has gathered a devoted and bonkers fan base.
I know how Chica feels about it…She likes it.
But I can’t say I care that much about the backstory or the plot. Or what Chica would look like with massive tits. The simple game mechanics and the fact that it is creepy as fuck is more than enough for me.
The game has also inspired someone to create a GMOD Map version of it where you CAN move around and you have weapons…I have watched others play it and don’t really fancy it. While it looks great and is quite a cool idea I feel it has little in common with what works about the original and is not for me, although once you have had a go at ‘Five Nights’ why not check it out?
So yeah, it is all very well and good that Freddy and his pals have lead so many to be creative in a variety of ways but…What of Scott? Has this whole experience awakened further ideas in him? Oh man…Am I happy, happy, HAPPY to say…Yes. Just on the 22nd of this very month, days after my Night 6 triumph, I saw this:
At first I wasn’t sure. The scary version of a kid’s song thing has been done to death…then it picked up…new designs, the drawings on the wall indicate new puppets, plus the layout has changed and-Oh. My. God…VENTS!
I literally screamed ‘vents!’ for about 45 minutes after watching this…Ask anyone.
THOSE FUCKING THINGS IN VENTS!
AND NO DOORS!
And the slogan on the website: ‘Nowhere to run…and exactly one place to hide’ Now you can hide in the costumes! I am so ready…
Oh God…I’m not ready.
I have not anticipated a piece of entertainment like this since the Red Wedding episode in the TV version of ‘Game of Thrones.’ I genuinely am both repelled and awed by the whole idea, but a team of wild chickens wearing oddly threatening bibs couldn’t keep me away. I can’t wait. That is power. I sincerely salute Scott Cawthon for making this game what it is. I couldn’t be more excited…I love it.
(UPDATE 11/11/2014: IT IS OUT NOW AND I AM ABOUT TO PLAY IT OH MY GOD I AM SO EXCITED!!!)
Despite my attempt at writing over 5,000 words on the subject, I suspect many of you are still not sure. I understand that. Leaving aside the fact that it just might not be a game you would enjoy, It is hard to communicate fear. Like pain it needs to be experienced first hand to really appreciate it. So my advice? Go get ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ and see for yourself!
Because what would life be worth if it couldn’t be taken away at any second? Feel the fear. Embrace it. And for the love of God…Don’t keep the camera up for too long. Because before you know it…
Um…Where is Bunny?
Answer: Never too far away…