Remember when Scott Cawthon cranked out four games in the span of a single year? I still can’t decide if that was awesome or exhausting, for him and for us. Probably both.
Of the original four games, Five Night’s at Freddy’s 4 is the strangest. It completely changed the core loop while still maintaining the series’ identity, creating one of the most engaging and stressful games in the series thus far. For some, it is the most frightening. For others, the least.
Me? I’m kinda stuck in the middle.
Rather than playing as a security guard, you are now playing as a nameless child. Between each night, you play through one of the series’ iconic Atari minigames detailing his painful life, which gradually builds towards the ‘party’. At night, you are haunted by the nightmarish versions of the Freddy Fazbear characters, with no one to aid you in your fear. You must spend the night running about your room, listening for the monsters and trying to survive until 6 A.M.
The story in this game is surprisingly engaging as a stand-alone game. The little slices of it you’re fed between the main gameplay sections create an incredibly effective mystery. Who is this little boy? What is it that he saw that has him so scared? Just what is going to happen during the coming party? Every time you conquer a night and experience more of this child’s life, a mounting sense of dread and sorrow builds within you.
Then you get to the party. And that dread is masterfully paid-off in one of the single most powerful and disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen in a video game. A horrifying and tragic end to a little boy whose name you didn’t even know.
When you try and piece it together with the greater lore, however, this game turns the whole series into a mess. Is this the legendary Bite of ’87 or is it the supposed Bite of ’83? Where does it fit into the timeline? Where does the Purple Guy fit into it all? Just what the hell is the box?
That’s why I choose to ignore all that stuff and just look at this game’s story as its own thing. Because as its own thing, it’s honestly incredible. Easily the best out of the series, even to this day.
Can’t wait for all the hardcore fans to rip me a new one for that last paragraph…
Presentation wise, this game is a mixed bag. The graphics aren’t all that impressive; the animatronics themselves look really good, and the Atari minigames look as nostalgic as ever. But the bedroom itself and the house definitely look rough. What worked for a clean, corporate pizzeria doesn’t exactly work for a house.
Though to be fair: this game has the creepiest atmosphere out of any of the games. The dark house feels truly empty and silent. Most of this is captured through the sound design. The breathing of the monsters, the distant barking of a neighbor’s dog, the shuffling of your footsteps, all of it puts you on edge unlike anything else in this series. There is no music. Only the ambience.
Even if you have to crank the volume up to ludicrous levels just to hear anything.
My biggest problem is with the monsters (you can’t really call them animatronics anymore). They just aren’t that scary. Sure, it’s freaky to see them in the hallways, looking at you as they duck behind a corner. And they certainly look cool! But it feels like they’re trying too hard to be frightening. That, and their jump scares are just too much.
Now, let’s talk gameplay. You’re planted in the center of your bedroom, two doors on either side of you, a closet in front of you, and your bed behind you. Each of these points contain one monster you need to keep track of. At the doors, you must listen for the breathing of either Bonny or Chica; if you hear it, you must shut the door, and if you don’t, you must flash the light. Between that, you need to occasionally check on your bed to drive away the tiny Freddies (or Freddles) and prevent Freddy from appearing. All the while, you need to keep an eye on your closet and keep Foxy locked inside.
Interestingly, this game changes up the formula more than a few times. For instance: on the fifth night, all of the monsters you’re familiar with vanish, to be replaced with what is essentially a boss fight. Suddenly, everything you’ve learned about the game is changed, and you have to adjust fast in order to survive. A similar thing occurs in the bonus nights. It’s an interesting way to shake up the gameplay, one that ties into the story remarkably well.
Between nights, you don’t just play the Atari-style lore games. There’s also the new game, ‘Funtime with Plushtrap’. It’s a really simple game; shine the light on Plushtrap when he’s standing over the X and you get to skip a few hours of the next night. Fail and get jump scared. It’s a decent bit of fun, but the reward becomes useless when you realize that the time skip is removed should you die even once.
Also, why is there a tiny version of the rotting serial killer? Lore nerds kinda just ignored that one.
Overall, Five Night’s at Freddy’s 4 is definitely one of the more interesting games in the series. You can argue that it’s not the scariest, and I wouldn’t be able to entirely disagree with you. But the gameplay is among the more engaging of the series, the atmosphere is strong, the sound design is phenomenal, and it has the best story in the entire franchise. It was one of the most solid notes the series could have ended on.
Unfortunately, it didn’t end. Far from it.