The Indie cult hit Five Nights at Freddy’s is an amazing example of getting horror right and how you don’t need huge development teams or millions of dollars. With a great premise and an excellent understanding of horror, the game comes close to being one of the best examples of horror I’ve played.

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Family Fun:

The premise of the game is that you’re the graveyard shift security guard for a Chucky Cheese inspired restaurant. The titled Freddy is the animatronic bear and leader of the band along with his two backup band mates are the star attraction. Your job is to simply watch over the place each night and make sure nothing happens… to you.

It turns out that the robots tend to move around at night and treat anyone who isn’t another costumed critter as a robot without a suit, which they’ll then proceed to stuff into one of those suits full of metal bars or if you haven’t figured it out — kill you. The rules are simple; you’re in the security room and can view the cameras to any room in the restaurant by bringing up the camera display.

The robots won’t move while they are being watched which is your only way to keep them in one place. Your main (or only) defenses are the two security doors on either side of you and if something gets too close which you can view by turning on the lights, you’ll have to close the door and wait until they go away. It sounds so very simple except for one key detail — everything you do drains power and if you run out, there will be nothing to protect you as you wait until 6 AM when your shift is up.

What makes Five Nights at Freddy’s such a brilliant showcase of horror is how the developer took one of the most basic UIs and graphics and turned it into pure terror.

Keeping Calm:

Five Nights at Freddy’s is not a graphically intensive game with the robots looking like something out of the PS 1 era of 3D. The game feels almost like a FMV in the sense that attacks, motion and animations are all pre-canned. But the way the game presents itself elevates it beyond the sum of its parts.

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This is your main screen and quite possibly your grave if you’re not careful.

Sound effects like movement, laughter and more are all about putting you on edge. The robots themselves follow a basic rule set, but their movements and strategies to get you are random each time you play.

You’ll never know when something will be there to attack but you’ll be given the same basic hints each time. The game is all about jump scares which it warns at the start and trust me the game will make you jump a few times. Anyone who isn’t a fan of being scared or has a heart condition should not be playing this game.

All in all it comes really close to being one of the best examples of horror from the last few years but there is one mechanic that keeps me from completely falling in love.

Out of Juice:

The main mechanic of the game is managing power and the problem is that it’s too much of a focus and gets in the way of the horror. Because power is always counting down no matter what you do, it makes the game more about gaming the power by quickly switching feeds as fast as you can. The game also features another robot that is inherently designed to punish you for not watching the cameras. It’s one of those games where it’s easy to screw yourself by virtue of not moving quick enough or bad luck.

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Despite all the different cameras, you really only need to watch directly outside of your room as that’s where they’ll strike.

And as I mentioned, with the robot’s patterns being random, this can also make things extra difficult. Because your only defense drains power, having the robots quickly reach you can put a huge drain on your power early on.

If it were me, I would have made it so that doing nothing wouldn’t drain power and made the robots more aggressive to compensate. That way I can have a breather and not worry about power while still keeping the threat level high.

However these problems don’t distract from the fact that as a horror title, Five Nights at Freddy’s gets it right.

Freddy’s Fright:

The horror works by making the player completely isolated both from a control standpoint and from the world itself. You can’t move and your only lifeline will also take you quicker to the grave. The setting is fantastic and one of those “why didn’t they think of this sooner?” situations. And there is already a sequel that just came out that altered the mechanics.

While I may not finish Five Nights at Freddy’s due to the energy mechanic (at day four at the moment,) I’m definitely interested to see how far the series will go.

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“Five Nights at Freddy’s — Graveyard Shift”

  • Charles Geringer

    I think some of the best uses of horror in games are actually in non-horror games. A lot fo horror come from subverting the rules of the world, and non-horror focused games allow a lot of time for the player to learn the normal rules and create spectations of how the world should behave.

    I also think the the role of plot in horror seems to be downplayed a bit in this series.

    As such some posts about horror in non-horror game swould be a nice way of adding variety and complementing the recent series of horror in games

    The craddle from the thief series, wouldn´t be nearly as well remembered if it was an standalone game I believe.

    In tabletop RPG, having a normal high fantasy campaign be interrupted by the Mists taking the paryt to havenloft for some adventures before finding their way home is a great way to have a terror adventure, that gives a lasting impression.

    Fable 3, which is a pretty terrible game, does one neat trick with it´s antagonist “Darkness”:

    The pause menus are actually a physical Space called “the sanctuary”, a regal collections of rooms where your buttler await´s you and where your treasure is kept. It is always a safe place you can go to no matter how dire your situation, you can always go to the safe and cozy, sanctum.
    However when confronting the Darkness the sanctum becames darkand corrupted, visibly opressive. It is a neat trick, unfortunately the fact it has no gameplay effect really reduces it´s effect.

    I my favorite horror games are the first two Souls games.

    • Late responding to this, but you have a great point and something we’ve talked about on the horror themed cast back in 2013 I believe. That great horror can be found where you least expect it or in games that are typically not horror themed as a way to flip the script. Fatal Frame 3 is a great example of the former and we talked about Thief 3’s orphanage level as an example of the latter.

      The Souls series is interesting as they’re not really “horror” in the sense that you’re weak and powerful. But they do “tense situations” amazingly well. Whether it’s going to fight a boss for the first time or running around with an excess of souls and trying to get to a bonfire to unload them.

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