Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Game That Changed Horror

I’m gonna regret this retrospective, aren’t I?

I remember back in my high school days, when this game first came out. Back then, you couldn’t escape the Five Nights at Freddy’s craze. From what you’d see scrolling down your social media feeds to what you’d hear kids whisper about in the hallways, it was everywhere. Lore theories, fan games, uncomfortable fanart, pointless bickering and arguing, everywhere I looked, there it was.

Nowadays, things are very different. The craze has passed, but the series still has its presence in the limelight. New games may not be coming out multiple times a year, like the days of the first four, but they’re still coming. And the identity of the series has changed in multiple dramatic ways.

So today, I’m gonna go back and have a look at where it all started. Back when the gameplay was simple and before the lore made Kingdom Hearts look coherent. Today, we’re gonna have a look back at Five Night’s at Freddy’s.

Totally not because I needed a quick game to finish and review between Elden Ring. I’ll be done with that one soon, then we’ll get back to Metal Gear or Final Fantasy. Maybe.

The story is simple… on the surface. You’re the new night-shift security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. There’s just one problem with that: the animatronics walk around at night and intend to stuff you into a suit, which would 100% kill you. Using nothing but your doors, lights, and security cameras, you need to keep the robots at bay until 6 AM.

If you’re expecting some deep and interesting story, at least on the surface, you’ll need to look elsewhere. This game has all of one character who speaks, and his whole story ends with him getting murdered by a robot bear off-screen. The surface-level story, what you get if you don’t dive any deeper than just playing the game, isn’t memorable, logical, or compelling. It’s basically just an NES plot, something to write on the back of the box to explain what you’re doing.

The deeper, more hidden narrative is probably the simplest out of any of these games. But that’s part of what makes it so interesting to me. Looking for newspaper clippings about dead kids and the restaurant’s failing image is creepy and compelling. It makes you wonder just what the hell is going on, or if anything you’re doing in the game is actually real.

Can’t wait for the eighteen paragraph long explanation on why it is or isn’t real and how it connects to Grimace of whatever the fuck the serial killer’s name is.

I’m actually really impressed with how well this game holds up visually. Sure, the environments aren’t the most high-fidelity areas ever put into a video game. But they’re all still lush with detail and they’re absolutely dripping with atmosphere. Seeing this normal-looking pizzeria in absolute darkness, completely deserted save for the lifeless robots wandering the halls, is genuinely unsettling.

Speaking of which: the animatronics look great in this game! They’re not trying too hard to be terrifying or horrific. They capture that uncanny lifelessness that makes real robots like them so damn creepy. Seeing them standing in a dark room, staring at the camera with that lifeless gaze is haunting.

Then they lean into your doorway to say hello and you start smashing the panic button.

Even better is the sound design. This game doesn’t have much music; the only track I can think of is the song Freddy plays when you run out of power. But the actual sound of the game is perfect. The doors close with a powerful and satisfying thunk and the weak buzz of the door light and the static click of the camera makes you feel incredibly uneasy. Then you hear the weak wheezing from the animatronics when they lean into the camera or Freddy’s distant laughing and you can’t help but start to freak out.

That seems like a good place to start talking about the gameplay.

At its core, Five Night’s at Freddy’s is a simple resource management game. Every action you take consumes your power supply. Checking the cameras, closing your doors (which doesn’t make sense but whatever), it all taps away at your limited energy. Run out of energy and you’re completely vulnerable. Check your cameras at the wrong time and you’re dead. And you can’t just sit still, or Foxy will pay you an uninvited visit.

In theory, this could make for a terrifying game of hide-and-seek. But in execution, there are only about two cameras that you actually need to keep an eye on. Check those, then check the doors, rinse and repeat. Do that and you’re pretty much invincible unless you get some bad RNG.

While the atmosphere is certainly creepy, the game itself is more stressful than terrifying. The further you get and the harder the game becomes, the more the horror vanishes and it just becomes frustrating. Granted, this is the easiest game of the whole lot, so that frustration won’t set in unless you go for the once infamous 20/20/20/20 mode.

It certainly doesn’t help that all that creepy atmosphere is paid-off with a simple jump scare. Which is not going to go away anytime soon.

Still, this game is decently fun. The atmosphere is powerful and the robots are creepy. Being forced to sit completely still, unable to run away, racks up the terror perfectly. So much so that its eventual removal only served to hurt the series rather than help it.

Cough cough Security Breach.

Overall, Five Night’s at Freddy’s 1 still holds up pretty well. The game is filled to the brim with creepy atmosphere and charm. Sure, the jump scares get old and the gameplay stops being scary and slowly becomes frustrating. But this game definitely deserves the reputation it gained back in the day.

Like it or not, this game changed horror games. This, and all the games to come.

And hoo boy, are there a lot of those.

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