Review: Five Nights at Freddy’s 2

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It feels like only a few weeks since Five Nights at Freddy’s managed to completely ruin my childhood memories of family restaurants and dancing animatronics. The creepy horror/resource management game put you in the shoes of a night security guard at the world’s worst Chuck E. Cheese’s knock-off and made sure you’d never look at those restaurants the same way again after viewing them through the distorted lens of static-ridden security cameras.

Now, just after I’ve managed to sweep up the jagged psychic debris of that disaster, they want me to spend another fun-filled week at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza.

Let the chorus of “nope, nope, nope” begin.

Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 (PC)
Developer: Scott Cawthon
Publisher: Scott Cawthon
Released: November 10, 2014
MSRP: $5.99

Five Nights 2 welcomes you to the grand re-opening of Freddy Fazbear’s. It’s new, improved, and better than ever at eviscerating its night-shift employees. The establishment has made some substantial changes since it was shut down, adding new, smarter versions of the classic Fazbear cast members, more floor space and attractions to keep an eye on, and an open-concept layout with no thick metal doors to hide behind. How progressive!

Five Nights 2 ramps up the cat & mouse dynamic of the original with a few inspired tweaks. Checking the cameras no longer depletes your battery life, theoretically leaving you free to spend a little more time keeping an eye on things in the pizzeria. However, you’re now equipped with a flashlight that drains batteries at an ALARMING rate.

Every second of juice in the flashlight is valuable. Not only do you need it to see into many of the room’s darkened corners, it’s also one of the few ways you have to protect yourself. Blinking the light repeatedly in the eyes of the animatronics triggers a re-boot that can slow them down, or in the case of one very special robot, is the only way to stop him. Run out of flashlight life too early in the evening, and you’re boned.

Adding a particularly nasty piece to the “screw you” puzzle is a music box in one of the rooms that needs to be remotely rewound on a regular basis. Let the music box play through its entire little jingle, and something terrible will wake up and “pop in” for a visit. You need to juggle between watching the cameras, reacting to the beasts you can see, and keeping this ticking time-bomb in check. Busy night.

There are new animatronics to worry about on top of the old attractions that are still dragging their worn-down, half-dismembered bodies through the restaurant. The new designs are all wonderfully creepy, and each of them have their own little quirks and gimmicks to remember. It can be straight up overwhelming near the end of the week when you have 11 (or more) animatronics assaulting you at the same time.

Worst of all, you have to contend with all of this craziness with no safety net. In the most drastic change between Five Nights 2 and your original stay at Freddy’s, there are no doors to hide behind this time. Your little open-concept office is completely exposed, looking down a long dark hall of terrors in front of you and flanked by a pair of ridiculously huge air-ducts the animatronics like to play Alien in. It’s absolutely terrifying to know that you could be attacked at any moment from multiple avenues.

The good news is that management has graciously provided you with a fake Freddy head. You can slip the costume on to fool the animatronics into thinking you are one of them if they get too close, but you also can’t do anything with the big bulky thing on. You can’t use your flashlight, check the cameras, or wind the music box, so you end up in these horrifying situations where one of the animatronics is looking right into the room so you NEED to get the fake head on, but you know you’ll be screwed if you don’t attend to other matters at the same time. Do you risk taking a peek, or try to wait it out as precious seconds pass? Incredibly tense.

Taking away the doors makes a world of difference between how Five Nights 2 feels compared to the original. It means you WILL get face-to-face with the animatronics sooner or later. No matter how hard you work, it’s all just delaying the inevitable, spine-jolting moment of panic when one of them suddenly appears right in front of you. Every single close encounter freaked me out, leaving a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

It all works together to be terrifically unnerving. From the start of your shift to the end, you’ll be saddled with a horrible feeling of perpetual dread, preparing for a jump scare you know could be coming at any moment.

For awhile anyway.

Jump scares, no matter how well crafted (and make no mistake, Five Night’s scares are the best in the business), can become stale if you’re subjected to too many of them too quickly. That kind of trick only works so many times before it becomes old hat, and Five Nights 2 is too hard for its own good. Dying can become such a frequent and recurring event that it becomes exhausting rather than exhilarating. Even once you know the tricks and understand what you need to do to survive the night, it is all too easy to misclick, or hesitate a fraction of a second too long to get your mask on and end up a late-night snack for Freddy and friends.

By the time I made it to the end of the week, I was so worn out from the constant tension and failure that I ended up walking away from the game a lot. I’d try a few times, die, get exasperated, and go do something else. It’s a short game, but I wound up stretching it over several nights’ worth of playtime.

Maybe the difficulty was ramped up in an attempt to inflate the game’s replayability, or ensure that even Freddy veterans would get spooked at least a few times, but I feel like it did a disservice to the experience. Five Nights 2 would have been an incredible, horrifying night of gaming. Stretched out over nearly a week, it lost a lot of its impact.

Five Nights 2 has a surprising reverence for its cast and story. While the original felt like the kind of spooky ghost story you might have heard around the schoolyard or a camp fire, Five Nights 2 takes the plot further, building out to something a little more ambitious. Like all good urban legends, the story twists over itself in some odd and occasionally contradictory ways (a late-game reveal manages to be simultaneously mind-blowing and perplexing), but it’s all in the interest of building a mystery and mood.

The storytelling is more sophisticated in Five Nights 2, combining the phone messages and subtle clues of newspaper clips and posters of the first game with some short (spooky) cutscenes. Particularly jarring are some Atari-esq minigames that you’re occasionally dropped into after failing a night. Abrupt, confusing, and disturbing, these pixelated horror shows are the stuff of nightmares. It’s all very mysterious and makes me wonder how long it will be before we start seeing Five Nights lore videos pop up on YouTube.

Speaking of YouTube, Five Nights has become something of a Let’s Play phenomenon. The cynical part of me wrote this off to people eating up the hysterical over-reactions of YouTube personalities hamming it up for the camera, but after spending some time playing Five Nights with friends, I think there is something deeper at work.

The voyeuristic nature and simple mechanics of the game make it addictive and compelling to watch. Just like a horror movie, there is a feeling of forced helplessness, of watching something you know is going to turn out badly. You want to shout things at the screen and back-seat drive like crazy (“put the mask on now, NOW!”) and it is genuinely fun to watch someone else shriek like a little girl for a change. Five Nights 2 veers into exhaustion when playing it on your own, but it can keep a group entertained all night if you pass the keyboard around.

I was worried that another week at Freddy’s would be too much too soon. And it almost is. Despite a lot of great new game mechanics and tricks to learn, it’s hard not to feel like this sequel is a little too hot on the heels of the original. Five Nights 2 can be overly taxing at times and overstays its welcome by a few hours.

But it is also charming in its own creepy way. As strange as it sounds, I got attached to the monstrous robots trying to chow down on my frontal lobe. They may be hideous murder machines, but they’re also kind of cute, and depending on how you interpret the story, they’re possibly just as much victims of the haunted restaurant as you are. In the end, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 managed to win me over on the strength of its personality, but hopefully we’ll get a long vacation before our next shift.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.

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