The trap is sprung
While it has been a mere four months since the last sequel was released, Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 is set years after the events of the first game. Crafty businessmen keen to exploit the gory legacy of the infamous Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza restaurant have assembled a slapdash haunted house attraction, Fazbear’s Fright, using real props and recovered animatronics from the infamous murder restaurant. What could possibly go wrong?
I can’t help but wonder if one-man-band developer Scott Cawthon is being a bit cheeky with this setup, commenting on the popular accusation that he’s cranking out sequels of his surprise cult hit to cash in. I suppose you can’t blame a guy for striking while the iron is hot.
Much like the attraction itself, Five Nights 3 is a grab-bag of recycled parts with some new gimmicks tossed in to liven up the experience. How much fun that is will depend on your tolerance for the now expected (but still embarrassingly terrifying) jump scares, and if you come to the series for its gameplay, or for its world.
Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 (PC)
Developer: Scott Cawthon
Publisher: Scott Cawthon
Released: March 2, 2015
If you’ve watched any YouTube in the past six months or visited any gaming image boards or tumblrs, you probably already know the basic gist of the Five Nights games. The player is cast as a night security guard watching over some spooky animatronics who seem hellbent on ripping his face off and shoving his broken and bleeding body into one of the spare costumes, because they’re possessed… Or something like that (the storyline has become increasingly muddled as the games pile up). This fate is avoided by monitoring security cameras, tending to emergency systems such as doors and flashlights depending on the game, and clutching out split second “do-or-die” reaction tests.
Like the previous games, Five Nights 3 has its own twist on this basic concept, and it is the most fleshed out and professional take on the world’s worst security gig yet. While the previous games featured a collection of plushy robotic fiends trying to creep up on the hapless guard, Five Nights 3 focuses on a single menacing antagonist, Springtrap — a terrifyingly decrepit mascot that seems to contain the rotted corpse of some unlucky (possibly evil) bastard stuffed inside of it.
The original cast still pops up from time to time, but only as “shadow” versions of themselves, non-lethal hallucinations that will nevertheless make you crap your pants at the worst possible moment (presuming, of course, that there is a good moment for pants crapping). The result is a much more focused and manageable survival horror experience, but it comes at the cost of some of the charm that’s made Freddy’s such a hit.
Five Nights 3 answers one of the most common complaints about the first two games by giving the player legitimate reasons to actually WATCH Springtrap on the cameras. Unlike the previous games where most of the time was spent watching the immediate office doors and checking in on one or two rooms intermittently, locating Springtrap and pinning down his movements on the static-fuzzed CCTV system is crucial to success. Any security guard that wants to live through the night will need to familiarize themselves with every darkened corner and crummy ventilation shaft in Fazbear’s Fright so they can spot Springtrap and move him around the halls, preferably as far away as possible. This is done by remotely playing an audio distraction (the haunting voice of Balloon Boy from Five Nights 2 creepily enough) to lure Springtrap into adjacent rooms.
Leading Springtrap around by the nose is easier said than done. In the fine tradition of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, the owners of Fazbear’s Fright have spared every expense in its construction, leaving you to manage a bunch of rickety systems that constantly fail and need to be rebooted. The audio device will refuse to work and will occasionally emit an ear-splitting static scream just for kicks. The already fuzzy and cracked cameras can blank out completely, letting Springtrap romp about unobserved. To top it off, the building’s ventilation system shuts down with alarming regularity, depriving those weak human lungs of oxygen and making you susceptible to hallucinogenic attacks from the shadow cast. Rebooting these systems with the maintenance computer takes an agonizingly long time in the hyper-accelerated pressure cooker of Fazbear’s Fright where every second is precious, allowing Springtrap the perfect opportunity to sneak in and say “hi.”
Five Nights 3 strikes the best balance yet between tension and control. Springtrap is a sneaky bastard and the hallucinogenic nightmares of the old cast make sure you never get too comfortable, but what needs to be done to survive is generally clear. More than any of the other Five Nights games, I felt it was my own fault when I failed, rather than the game deciding to screw me over. While the second installment was overly frustrating and teetered dangerously close to overstaying its welcome, the third provides a more digestible and concise stay, and is better for it. That is for the titular five nights (and, of course, the expected bonus sixth night). If you want to see everything the game has to offer though, you’re in for a much longer, and less enjoyable ride.
The Atari-like interstitial mini-games are back and more important than ever. The end of every night is marked with a nightmare-like videogame representation of the original murders that started the whole mess in 128-color glory. Hidden in these games are a series of fairly obscure clues that give hints on how to uncover the real story behind the haunted animatronics, which lead to yet more Atari mini-games with even more convoluted hidden steps for breaking them and revealing more secrets.
Like an incredibly tedious onion, there are layers and layers of mediocrity to peel through before revealing a bitter and unpleasant core of truth (that may or may not make you cry). The secrets and easter eggs of the first two games rallied the fanbase together, so it is understandable that Five Nights 3 would want to carry on the tradition. Secrets and riddles are best doled out sparingly though, and there are too many piled on here for the game’s own good.
The Atari games worked in Five Nights 2 because they were creepy, short, and only occasionally popped up. In Five Nights 3, so much time is spent steering around a ponderous pixelated version of one of the Fazbear cast members that it quickly leeches out all of the fun. While entirely optional, these mini-games are a chore to slog through for anyone who really wants to absorb all the Freddy’s lore available.
I was one of those people who became strangely invested in the original Five Night games. I spent some time trying to parse out the mystery of “the bite of ’87,” the identity of the murderous Purple Man, and tried my best to make sense of the late-game twist in the sequel. Five Nights 3 adds more convoluted layers to the story while offering no real explanations, even after sticking it out through all the interminable mini-games. The “true” end of the game seems to mark the probable conclusion of the franchise, but I’m still not sure what happened, or why this particular haunting was any different than the many that came before it.
It doesn’t help that Five Nights 3 largely drops the series’ best asset, the personality of the Fazbear cast. For all of the affection and (occasionally distressing) fandom surrounding Bonnie, Chica, Foxy, and Freddy, they are almost entirely absent this time around. The shadow versions of them are dull and lifeless, and Fazbear’s Fright lacks any iconic rooms like Foxy’s Pirate Cove or Chica’s unnervingly mysterious kitchen to set the mood. While focusing on just one antagonist makes for better gameplay, Springtrap and Fazbear’s Fright lack the charm of the original cast and locations. Considering how simple and repetitive the core gameplay of the series is, and how ridiculously beloved those silly animatronics have become, I don’t think that trade was a strong bargain.
In some ways, Five Nights 3 represents the best of the series. This is by far the most technically proficient and mechanically satisfying installment yet, striking just the right balance of pressure, jump scares, luck, and skillful management of the tools provided to make it through the night. Sadly, it is also the least personable entry in the series, dumping the little touches that were so endearing about the original titles and getting mired in self-indulgent mini-games with little payoff.
People who have followed the Fazbear saga up to this point will likely want to close out the story, and they’ll find enough to enjoy about Five Nights 3 to make it worth their time. New players curious about all the hype and considering a visit to Fazbear’s Fright would be ill-advised to choose this as their jumping-on point to the series.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]