Your most terrifying childhood nightmare in game form.
It's a well-documented fact that when it comes to horror, I'm what's commonly known as a “big effin' baby.” Southern California has two of the best Halloween events in the nation, Knott's Scary Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights. So when my friends decide which one they want to visit, I routinely offer Disneyland's Halloweentime since I love Disneyland and/or would pee myself in fear at one of the other two.
Despite this fact, I love horror games. I'm fascinated with the spooky, scary, and surreal, from the streets of Silent Hill to the catacombs of Brennenburg Castle in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. And, as long as I'm armed with some sort of pause button, I'm ready to tackle any monsters that may come out of an overrun Atlanta, haunted castle, or abandoned insane asylum.
None of these places, however, hold a candle to the terrors that can be found inside a dark pizza parlor. That's not a joke—Five Nights at Freddy's, hands down, is the most terrifying game I have played in my life. That title used to be held by the aforementioned Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but Five Nights at Freddy's blows it out of the water. It is so terrifying that the first time I died (and you will die), I let out a scream of such epic proportion my new upstairs neighbor came down and knocked on my door to make sure I wasn't in any sort of real-life trouble.
Five Nights at Freddy's puts players in the role of night watchman Mike Schmidt, who takes a security position at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza nightly between midnight and 6:00 AM. As taped messages reveal, though, not everything is A-Okay at good ol' Freddy's. As midnight hits, Freddy and his giant, animatronic pals are set to Free Roam Mode. As someone who has walked through Disneyland at 3:00 AM with no lights and no background music, that fact alone should be enough to make a horror hit.
It gets worse, however. As night watchman, the player's job consists of keeping an eye on Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie Bunny, Chica Chicken, and Foxy the Pirate, all the while making sure not to get caught. Getting caught, as the messages will tell you, results in a violation of the rules at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, since the characters will assume the player is an animatronic endoskeleton and will stuff the player into a spare Freddy Fazbear costume. This wouldn't be all that bad, were it not for the internal wiring and structures already in place, which would crush a human. So, you know, there's that.
Most survival-horror games will give you a weapon of some sort—perhaps a gun or a blunt object, or at the very least a place to run and hide. Five Nights at Freddy's, however, puts the player in the security office, with nothing in sight to use as defense. Instead, the office has a security camera system, somewhat along the same lines of Night Trap, which can see various rooms at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. The security office has steel doors that can protect the player, as long as some weak lights outside the office can illuminate the hallways nearby, but both the doors and lights consume energy, and well, wouldn't you know it, the cheap-os that run Freddy Fazbear's Pizza runs the power off a generator during your shift.
To summarize: Giant animatronic figures roam around a run-down pizza parlor who won't hesitate to murder you if you can't barricade yourself in your office in time, with minimal power through the night. Good luck and godspeed…
For a game with a simple premise and simple controls (monitor the cameras, click the doors or lights when needed), the game is immensely terrifying. There's no background music, save for occasional moments where the Toreador March plays (which, trust me, is not a good thing), leaving players to deal only with the background noises: the hum of the desk fan, the buzz of the florescent lights, the clattering in the kitchen, the footsteps down a dark hall, the dum-dee-dum of the characters… the silence, truly, is disturbing. Combine the simple controls, the nerve-wracking environment, and the lack of music, and within moments (and it's actually happening to me just recalling it) your palms are sweaty, your heart races, and every noise causes a panicked twitch.
As the week progresses, the characters get “livelier” and requires more use of power throughout the night, producing more panic, and more chances to die. And playing this game isn't about if you will die, it's when. As the week progresses, as well, noises become more pronounced, and sanity slowly starts to slip away, including a really, really disturbing incident where Freddy can tap in to your camera system and… lord Jesus it's like having psychological shock.
The main flaw of Five Nights at Freddy's, aside from being mentally traumatizing, lies in the game's length. It's terrifying, panic-inducing, and completely fun, so by the time the end is reached, the game leaves you wanting more. Some people also may find the game somewhat repetitive (check your cameras, check your hallways, don't die), but I find that the nervous impulses kick in during the repetitive action to almost OCD-type levels, adding to the tense environment.
Five Nights at Freddy's is horror done right. No slasher techniques, no gore necessary. The terror comes from simplicity; who hasn't thought about giant characters coming for your blood? Plus, I do feel the need to mention value—the game can be picked up on Steam for only five dollars. It's a great price for a great game.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to continue cowering in the corner with all the lights on and music blaring while holding garlic and a crucifix (against vampires that I've made up in my head).