I’ve been getting a lot of asks about Five Nights at Freddy’s lately, since I guess it reminds people of RubyQuest for some reason. Animal People + Horror is all it takes, I guess? And so now people want my thoughts on it. Now, I preface this by saying I haven’t played it, but I’ve seen it played mostly through.
My thoughts are as follows:
FNAF seems like a flimsy excuse for a game. It’s a pile of cheap jump-scares and nonsensical mechanics built on top of what could barely be described as gameplay. The whole thing just feels like a jump scare video, but if you click the right button at the right time, there won’t be a jumpscare. Whee! Almost makes you forget you’re staring at a tablet the whole game.
Making you feel powerless or vulnerable is a huge aspect of good horror games. If you deck out the player with so much weaponry they can take down any horror that comes at them, it’s just an action game with a horror aesthetic. In Silent Hill, you get weapons, but they do so little against the monsters you never feel that badass or powerful, even when well-equipped. In Fatal Frame, your only defense is a camera, whose combat mechanics actually encourage you to put yourself in danger to do more damage.
But I also feel that games which give you no way to fight back are going too far. Amnesia is arguably one of the best games of this sub-genre of “run and hide” games, perhaps because there were actual gameplay segments. But I don’t feel particularly engaged by that. I’d rather just watch a (commentary-free) playthrough of games like that online, since it feels more like a movie you occasionally have to hide during in order to keep the footage rolling.
What I’m getting at is that FNAF does make you feel vulnerable, yes, but there’s no reward for that, no catharsis in overcoming it. You’re sticking someone in a black box and yelling “boo” from time to time.
The character designs, which I assume are what caught everyone’s attention in the first place, fall in the worst part of goofy-creepy. In a goofy Chuck E. Cheese-like setting, they’re too creepy to even make sense, and not in the genuine way real animatronics fit a sort of uncanny valley creepy niche (like the attached photo). But at the same time, in a creepy setting, like the game, they’re too goofy to actually be scary. They should have gone more one way or the other, because as it is, the only way they present any scariness is their sudden movements.
It doesn’t help that I’ve always resented the mewling, whimpering hordes of LPers that ham up their reactions and pretend to be SUPER SCARED OH MY GOD whenever a light flickers, putting on some exaggerated falsetto to watch those subscribers soar.
In the end, my dislike of the game is fairly mild. It’s only amplified by people hyping it up like it’s the rebirth of the horror genre, and by the insufferable LPers who are buying mansions off their “pretend to be scared” YouTube cash.