I hate myself.
PC Release: July 23, 2015
By Ian Coppock
Originally, I had meant to include this game in the Short Horror Week IV lineup, but I didn’t want the event to come off as being devoted exclusively to Five Nights at Freddy’s. Three Fnaf games in seven days is a lot. At first I thought hey, let’s maybe move the lineup to eight games, but a week is a week, and even my adrenaline glands can stand only so much.
This review can be thought of as a Short Horror Week IV epilogue, a last bite of scary before we move back into some less spooky material next week. It’s also the apparent conclusion to the Five Nights at Freddy’s series, and will hopefully end this novel collection of horror games on a high note.
Fnaf and Fnaf 2 take place within a few years of each other, and Fnaf 3 30 years after that, but it’s unclear where Fnaf 4 falls in the timeline of these games. Indeed, next to nothing is clear about this game’s story or timeline, and it’s not like its predecessors were super-forthcoming either.
Regardless of when it occurs, Fnaf 4 has players take the wheel not of a pimply night guard, but a frightened little boy, whose house suffers nightly invasions of ghoulish animatronics. Your enemies are the four original characters from the first game: Bonnie, Chica, Foxy, and the dreadful Freddy Fazbear himself.
Five Nights at Freddy’s 4‘s gameplay encompasses several radical departures from the Fnaf formula. Typically, you’re given a suite of security camera feeds through which to watch the animatronics, a flashlight, and some means of self-defense. About the only thing that returns in this game is the flashlight. Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 does away entirely with the security cameras. You have know way of knowing where the monsters are until they’re waiting right outside your room.
The already-unsettling animatronics have also received a demonic makeover. The previous iterations of the core four animatronics were at first only creepy, but now they’re outright terrifying, with glowing eyes and teeth filed to points. At first I was afraid that the animatronics had followed our protagonist home, but now I wonder if I was playing through his nightmares.
The plot of Fnaf 4 is told through the same 8-bit interactive cutscenes we’ve seen in the past two games. Our unfortunate protagonist is a timid little boy relentlessly bullied throughout his daily life. It is heavily implied that he’s visited Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, and that the animatronics frighten him greatly. All the while, the five nights of the game count down to a “party” set to happen at the restaurant.
These little sequences do everything possible to keep the story vague, and they succeed. The little boy’s only friend appears to be a golden Freddy Fazbear doll, which for some reason has me wondering if that’s much of a friend at all.
So how does this game play out without security cameras? Well, it forces players to rely on audio cues, not visual. In a tense gameplay mechanic whose stress value is matched only by refusing to look at the Slender Man, you have to lean out of your room to listen for ragged breathing sounds. Your bedroom has two doors, neither of which apparently came with locks, so you have to grit your teeth and lean into the hallway on the lookout for danger.
If you hear nothing, it’s probably safe to click on the flashlight and take a peek outside. If you hear breathing, though, turning that flashlight on will spell your noisy, horrific demise.
The reason why this gameplay change is significant is because, until now, being good at Five Nights at Freddy‘s means being good at multitasking. It means being good at working very quickly under pressure. The audio cue mechanic forces players to stop what they’ve been hard-wired to do to survive, and take those crucial seconds to listen carefully for danger. There is nothing more terrifying than forcing yourself to stay still when you can hear hot, ragged breathing an inch from your face.
Suffice to say, this also builds up the tension for a great jumpscare. If you hear breathing, closing the door will convince the animatronic to leave your threshold, but shining the light will produce such a cacophony of sound and adrenaline as to scatter cats, break computer chairs, and give you (yet another) cramp in your leg.
Additionally, I like that we’re back to the four core animatronics. A dozen enemies (Fnaf 2) was too many, and one enemy (Fnaf 3) was too few. Four enemies is about the right number, and each one comes at you from a different direction, Check doors, check closet, check under the bed, repeat, take time to listen for breathing, repeat. Each animatronic has its own spin on the jumpscare strategy, all of them are terrifying as hell.
The game is also the best in the series when it comes to atmosphere. Game designer Scott Cawthon has perfected his balance of ambient sound effects and dark, clear-cut visuals. Graphics and animations of the characters are zeniths more sophisticated than where we started in the first game (only a year ago). The mix of distant dog barks, midnight clocks, and wind blowing reinforces the sense of isolation as well. It’s a grim atmosphere, perfect for the stuff of childhood nightmares, which is what Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 does a great job of evoking.
Fnaf 4 also brings the most variety to the series that we’ve yet seen. Most of the games feature the same set of animatronics who only increase in murderous-ness as the five nights go by. In Fnaf 4, you’ll face different configurations of enemies on different nights. Sometimes all four will attack at once, sometimes you’ll face only one or two the entire night. It still increases in difficulty as we go, but it prevents the game from being rinse-and-repeat, as previous Fnafs have a tendency to do.
Fnaf 4 features another minigame in-between nights, starring a small, furry version of the nightmare bunny we fought in Five Nights at Freddy’s 3. In “Fun with Plushtrap” you’ll have a chance to use that same audio cue mechanic to score some points and move the next night in the series down a few hours, giving you a shorter window in which to endure the monsters. Or you’ll just get another chance of being murdered. I experienced plenty of both.
If you’re sensing that I’m building up to a sterling recommendation for this game, you are absolutely correct. To be frank, I was shocked at how mixed the mainstream reviews for this game were, when in reality, I think it’s the best in the series. It strips down the mechanics to make the game simple but not simplistic, introduces a tense horror mechanic that forces you to throw a wrench into your own survival instincts, and provides a creepy story prodding at one of the most pivotal events in the Fnaf lore. Plus, it’s goddamn scary. I haven’t jumped as hard as I did playing this game since Outlast or Amnesia.
A lot of the negative press came from bugs, or so I understand, but if they were in my experience with the game, they went unnoticed. No, Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 is an outstanding horror game and a thrilling conclusion to the franchise. Who’s to say if this is actually the last Fnaf game, but it’s certainly the greatest one. Eight bucks on the Steam store; worth every penny.
You can buy Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.