For those of you out there who have been following the Five Nights at Freddy’s series, either by playing through them yourself or by watching others do so on Youtube, you will know that a fifth game has recently been released that greatly diverges from the usual FNAF formula. While each of the original four games had enough new features to differentiate them from their brethren, they were all generally the same. You are largely stationary (or, in the case of FNAF 4, confined to a single room, even if you can move between four specific spots), and you must follow a series of rules to keep the animatronics at bay. Wind up the music box to keep the Puppet in its box. Listen for breathing in the hallway and hold the door shut if you hear anyone outside. Flash Foxy with your flashlight until he leaves. And the list goes on and on. You’re basically tasked with staying calm and keeping a level head under pressure because if you panic and forget the rules, odds are, a jump scare’s coming your way.
FNAF 5: Sister Location, however, is a huge departure from the original collection of games, and when I first watched the trailer and any videos speculating on what the game would be about, I was really excited. The game looked so different, and I really wanted to see this fresh take on the FNAF series. Would we get a new, interesting story that sheds even greater light on the confusing, but still very compelling, FNAF lore? Would we finally get to freely roam this new facility, employing even more interesting strategies in order to avoid the killer animatronics? Well, be prepared for spoilers (largely for the first half of the game), because I will be answering those questions and more in the upcoming paragraphs. Before we get started, let me begin by saying that FNAF 5 did some things very right, while other aspects of the game ended up being, well, disappointing. While I did not play the game myself, I believe my viewing of the series on Youtube proved more than sufficient to give me an accurate idea of what the game is like.
Sister Location started out very promising. The story has received a much greater emphasis than in previous entries in the series, as has the humor, namely your failed attempts at entering information into a distorted keypad, after which your AI guide corrects it based on his assumption of what you meant to type. (Believe me, if you mention the phrase “exotic butters” to any FNAF fan, they’re sure to laugh.) As the game gets started, it appears your job is to help with maintenance in a distribution center for various animatronics, all the while being guided by an AI voice. The animatronics include Funtime Freddy (and his Bonnie hand puppet) and Funtime Foxy, characters we are already familiar with, on the most part, and two new animatronics, Ballora the ballerina and the most important one of all, Circus Baby. Your tasks start off less than promising when you are asked to give several of the animatronics controlled shocks because they are not staying on their stage. Great. If the animatronics already want to kill me when I don’t anger them, what will they do if I purposely antagonize them?
Each night you are given various tasks, and all the while, I kept anticipating the eventuality of being able to explore the facility completely on one’s own. Or…watching someone else explore the facility, but you know what I mean. But…that never happened. Night after night, you are provided with new tasks to complete and directed where to go, with no signs of ever receiving any actual freedom of one’s own. The potential for some real exploration was there, but the game just never delivered.
The story suffered from similar problems, as well. For me, things started to get really interesting when you are first introduced to a female voice who seems to want to help you. She tells you to use the hiding space a previous employee created under the desk, after which follows a rather frightening sequence where you must hold the door to your hiding space closed as an animatronic tries to slide it open and find you. The voice also goes on to warn you that your guide is going to direct you to pass through Ballora’s gallery as quickly as possible, which will result in your death. Rather, you must move slowly and hope that Ballora doesn’t hear you. It was here that my imagination really came alive with possibilities for where the story was heading, and I watched each night with increasing awe as I awaited the amazing reveal of the game’s full story. I will say no more because I don’t want to spoil any more than I already have for anyone who has yet to play/watch the game for themselves, but let me just say that I think my own imagination proved more interesting than where the story ended up going. And that, as I’m sure you can imagine, is a problem.
FNAF 5 was a really fascinating game. I know I may not have painted it in the most positive light so far, but it is. The game is funny, but creepy. The voice acting was well-done and a welcome addition to a series which previously only included a phone call at the beginning of each night, and the story is very interesting. Honestly, during one’s first time experiencing it, it is one of the most unique and compelling games I have ever seen. Yes, it’s a very short game, as all entries in the series are, but that just makes the excitement more compact. So how can I say that this game is fascinating and disappointing at the same time? Well, it all boils down to this: the game feels incomplete.
Sister Location, to me, felt more like a demo for something amazing rather than a full experience. The story, while interesting, could have been so much more than it was. In all honestly, I think the build-up was more exciting than anything. By the end of the game, we are left with a bunch of unanswered questions that only further complicates FNAF’s lore, which has already become a rather tangled mess at this point. The game was also not scary, which is an issue for a series that is normally able to instill in me a sense of absolute dread just at the mere thought of it. There were intense moments, but not once did I ever really feel scared, and the jump scares were just that. Jump scares. The build-up to said jump scares was not fear-inducing, and the jump scare itself did no more than make you jump the first time you see it. Fairly early on, I stopped reacting to every game over screen entirely.
I honestly felt scared playing the original two games. While there are some who would say that FNAF’s jump scares equate to cheap horror, I would disagree because I don’t think it’s really the jump scares that are scary in the first place. What made each night frightening was the dread of never knowing when an animatronic was going to pop up. Every time you check the door lights, you cringe on the inside because you never know when Bonnie’s ugly mug is going to be there waiting for you. Every time you bring up the camera, you feel exposed because something could be in your office, staring you down. And when you hear that strange, inhuman gurgling, and you realize with growing terror that something has already made it into your office, and it’s only a matter of time before it strikes…that is fear. FNAF ties my stomach in knots with worry. It’s not a split second jump scare that scares me. It’s the several minutes of waiting and reacting to every threat that comes your way and hoping you were quick enough to avoid a painful death.
In FNAF 5, you largely don’t spend your time avoiding animatronics, and when you do need to deal with one, you typically need not worry about more than one at a time (in contrast, FNAF 2 had about ten animatronics you had to deal with on a nightly basis). There is no power to conserve. And if you lose, oftentimes it appears you get to continue around where you left off, which makes a single mistake a lot less damaging than it was in the previous games, when you could fail at 5 AM and have to start completely over again. Furthermore, you should have been able to wander freely. I really thought you would spend each night trying to actively elude the animatronics. Hiding from them. Outrunning them. Outsmarting them. But you don’t. You just follow a series of directions until the game is over.
FNAF 5 is certainly worth the initial experience, whether you decide to play it or watch someone else play the game on Youtube, but beyond that, it ultimately fell short of its true potential. I can only hope that if another FNAF game is made, it will provide us with the complete experience that FNAF 5 lacked. If so, I would say that series creator, Scott Cawthon, is definitely on the right track. The Five Nights at Freddy’s series is in sore need of a makeover, as the formula used in the first four games has worn rather thin. Sister Location is certainly a step in the right direction. It just didn’t take us as far as I would have liked.
When is There Ever Going to Be a Duck Animatronic…I’m Waiting, Mr. Cawthon…