This guest has overstayed its welcome
Well, it’s been a few months, time for another Five Night at Freddy’s game I suppose.
I don’t like to be cynical. I don’t volunteer to review games, and pay for them out of my own pocket, hoping that they’ll disappoint me and I’ll get to write some nasty barbs about them. I don’t begrudge popular series, or accuse creators of milking a fad if something catches on.
But Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 is a very cynical game. Its “surprise” early release and its complete lack of any kind of innovation does disappoint me. The promise of DLC for this game, another likely release, and the cheeky rewording of “the last chapter of the Five Nights at Freddy’s story” to “the last chapter of the Five Nights at Freddy’s original story” on the Steam page for Five Nights 4 does make me suspicious of its creator’s intentions.
And yes, I do have some nasty barbs to say about it all.
Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 (PC)
Developer: Scott Cawthon
Publisher: Scott Cawthon
Released: July 23, 2015
The setup of Five Nights 4 intentionally replicates the design of the first game. The original cast is back, their avenues of attack directly mimic their first outing, and the general layout of your besieged room is the same, making this entry feel like closing a loop. But, this time instead of haunting a creepy knock-off Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, they’re spooking up your home instead.
There are no more security cameras to monitor, no more batteries to fuss over. You’re just a little kid with a flashlight, scampering between the two doors into his room and whatever might be lurking in his closet (or right behind him). The type of sense you rely on has been inverted: instead of keeping an eye on things, this time you’ll be listening for whatever is out there.
When you creep up to a door you have to pause, wait a moment, and listen for any kind of breathing or noise in the darkened hallway. If you hear something, you need to shut the door as fast as you possibly can. If it’s clear, shining your flashlight down the hall will ward off anything stalking towards you. If you’re wrong though, and the monster is right there, and you shine your flashlight right into its toothy mechanical face, well, it’s is the last thing you’ll ever do.
What this means mechanically, is that you need to absolutely crank up the volume to reliably hear things. Headphones are nearly required. Of course, the jump scare death animations are as loud as ever. Do you see where this is going? Sonic fucking boom.
If you want to know if this game made me yelp, or jump, or spill my coffee and send me trudging to the kitchen for a roll of paper towels while I swore angrily under my breath — yes, it did. Of course it did. It’s a cycle of protracted periods of peering into the darkness and intensely listening to absolutely nothing interrupted with SUDDEN. LOUD. JUMP. SCARES.
It’s an easy, dull, and obvious trick. The final refuge for a game that has run out of any other ways to scare people. Don’t think of anything new and clever, forget introducing any kind of gameplay twist, or carefully establishing tension or mood. Just take the basic components, crank up the contrast, pump up the volume, and jam the severity. It’s trite, lazy even.
I’m not sure how the inevitable Five Nights at Freddy’s 5 will be able to top this kind of “subtlety.” Maybe it will come with a pair of electrodes you attach to your testicles, so it can administer 5,000 volts of spookiness every time something goes “boo.”
*BZZZZZT* What, did that make you jump? Sissy.
There are a few other tricks. Monsters introduced in later nights operate with slightly different rules, and by the time the fifth night rolls around, you’ll be sprinting all over the bedroom trying to keep things locked down. Unlike previous games though, the rules don’t feel tight. Things are sloppier, with more guesswork and chance baked into the experience. When I died, I often had no idea what I did wrong. And if I’m being honest, when I succeeded I wasn’t always sure why. Frustrating deaths and unearned victories are equally unsatisfying in their own way.
The animatronics’ logic was never clear enough to me to come up with a reliable strategy to keep them at bay. I supposed that could be intentional, a way of always keeping even seasoned players on their toes, but I think that’s giving the design credit it doesn’t deserve. More than any other Freddy game so far, I just felt exasperated and annoyed playing through Five Nights 4.
The emphasis on carefully listening for every creak and groan in the darkness isn’t just a lame way to manufacture easy scares. It’s also a way to ruin one of the greatest pleasures I’ve had with the series, namely playing the game with an audience. While others sneer at Freddy’s for being pure Twitch/YouTube bait, I’ve always understood it. I get why these games are fun to watch because I know how well they play in the living room with a couple of spectators and rotating victims.
There is a real joy in playing these games with someone else or two in the room to watch you screw up. To have a small chorus whispering “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…” behind your shoulder as the tension mounts. Of having someone to exchange nervous glances with when the doors stop working and it’s 5 AM going on 6 AM and there is just the tiniest chance that you might roll over to the next day before Freddy pops out and – “OH GOD HE’S IN THE ROOM!”
Those were moments I missed while I played Five Nights 4. What I’d think about while I was all hunched up in my chair with a pair of headphones clamped on tight. The memories that made me feel like a traitor whenever I violently shushed anyone in the room who made even the slightest distracting peep. However you played the previous games, know that this Five Nights is purely for the lone wolves and streamers out there who don’t mind strapping on their pair of overly-expensive, sound-canceling Beats By Dre.
But enough about how I resent the bargain-basement scares and penny-ante tricks the game uses to provoke a response from you. Enough about how this game is profoundly annoying and deeply unimaginative on a mechanical level. As a person who has followed the series since its start, the most damning part of this boondoggle of a game is how it absolutely folds under the pressure of its own established narrative.
After all the teasing and hints, the essay-length forum posts and amazing fan-made theory videos that manage to be more entertaining than the games themselves, the promise that THIS Freddy’s will be the one to finally answer the series long-standing questions — it completely flubs the landing. All of the world building and story momentum generated by the first three games lurches to a disappointing stop, like a wind-up car gummed up with carpet lint.
Yes, the infamous “bite of ’87” is finally addressed in Five Nights 4. But like so many smoke monsters and Cylon replicants, the mystery was always better than any answer the series could reasonably provide. You see it, say “meh” to yourself, and retroactively wonder what the big deal was in the first place.
The fact that this kind of anti-climax is common doesn’t excuse Five Nights 4 of its wet noodle narrative and limp “reveals.” If anything, all of those previous failures should have been taken as cautionary tales, the value of mystery should be known and respected by now. Some questions are better left unanswered.
It doesn’t help that the way the game wraps up heavily implies that the events it depicts should not be taken literally. Yes, the tired old “it was all a dream/nightmare, or maybe a metaphor, or like a weird trippy memory, I don’t know” trope is dusted off once again, so nothing is particularly clear. That’s without getting into how the chaotic mass of prequels, reveals, and reinterpretations the games have constructed now threatens to collapse into a superdense black hole of no-longer-giving-a-shit at this point.
I almost broke out a whiteboard trying to figure out the series’ mythology at this point. “Okay, so this game is set in ’87 to see the infamous ‘bite,’ around the same time as the prequel events in Five Nights 2. But it’s also BEFORE the murders of the children that haunt Five Nights 1 and what you find out happens with Springtrap in Five Nights 3. The Purpleman doesn’t really have a role, but he does show up in a cameo. Wait, are the kids in the last cutscene the eventual murder victims? Oh god, I’m seeing spots. Is this a migraine, or am I having a stroke? Do I need to call 911? If I die, are they going to find my body splayed out in front of a computer with a bunch of crazy notes about Five Nights at Freddy’s? Am I going to end up as some shitty urban myth about how Five Nights totally killed a reviewer?”
This game is stressful in all the wrong ways.
The now familiar Atari-esque mini-games appear between chapters to deliver their payload of exposition and spooks, but all the menace of those scenes has been lanced and drained by repetition. There is a new sort of mini-game between nights where you play Weeping Angel stop-‘n’-go with an animated plush doll. Stop him on a specific mark and you can knock two hours off the next night. Let him get too close or run out of time and, you guessed it, JUMP SCARE! It’s the one new addition Five Nights 4 brings to the table, and it feels like the shadow of a reflection of an afterthought.
You don’t need to play this game. Even if you’ve been invested in the series up till now, it’s just going to disappoint you and rankle your nerves. The interesting gimmicks have been completely rung out of the franchise; this game is imaginatively bone dry. The louder, nastier jump scares that are left are just a crass attempt to try and distract you from the lack of innovation. The story, the ongoing mystery of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria, and the strange goings-on surrounding it are best left to your personal headcanon or favorite fan theory.
You’d be better served experiencing Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 the way it was obviously intended to be enjoyed. By going on YouTube and watching some twenty-five-year-old, dressed like a fourteen-year-old, scream and cry his way through the game like a seven-year-old.
The game truly has come full circle.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]