Note- I’ve only seen up to the start of Night 4 (Thanks Markiplier!), but I had to jump in and say something about this. Also, spoilers for the very first lose-able section of gameplay in Sister Location.
Welcome back. Gonna make this a quick one. If you remember one of my earlier posts back at the start of the Five Nights at Freddy’s craze, you’ll recall I was quite happy about this new direction in horror games. Yeah, there’s roughly a million fan-made spin-offs now (called it!), some outright terrible, but the series deserves credit for getting people interested in hidden story elements and horror games in to a level I’ve not seen in a long time. Now Scott Cawthon has released a new game in this universe, and I must say I quite like what I’ve seen so far. It feels like a culmination of all his previous efforts.
The series is not without it’s rough spots, I’ll be the first to admit. The repetition being one of the worst parts, which made sense in the first game given Scott’s limited resources, but for games 2-4, the whole “Five Nights” tradition seems like unnecessary padding. Especially once you factor in the inevitable “Bonus Night”, “Custom Night”, and “Custom Night with the difficulty cranked up so high the dev himself didn’t even think it possible” playthroughs. This is one of the first things addressed, in that the mechanics (again, up to what I saw) change every night, so you never feel completely comfortable with the situation you’re being thrown into. One might expect the resulting mini-games, for lack of a better term to feel thinly spread, but I think they were crafted with such care that the game doesn’t feel threadbare.
Let’s go into the first real challenge, the hiding space and the baby animatronic. You’re told the power must be reset. You start to worry when you hear that the security systems will be offline for the duration. You feel silly at first, crawling under the desk, until you find that sheet of metal and pull it across the gap. It makes sense to that primitive part of your brain that hates the dark and thinks you’re safe from the monster under your bed as long as you can hide. You tell yourself “it can’t see me if I can’t see it.” Except it can. You see an eye through one of the holes in the metal. You look away, hoping it didn’t really see you. You hope until you hear the scraping and see the metal sheet being dragged back out of the way.
That is well-done horror. The first night makes you feel a little uneasy, stoking some fears will assuaging others. “At least there’s these big security panels between me and the animatronics.” Then that gets taken away, and you cling to that hiding hole and that sheet of metal because it’s still something. And just as intended, when the baby tries to pull the sheet away, you cling all the harder, afraid of losing that last, flimsy, token barrier between you and the nightmares because it’s all you have left. Even though the game over jump scare hasn’t really changed from the ones we’ve been getting since the first game. Let anyone who said this series is nothing but jump scares eat crow this day. It was never about the jump scares, it was about the atmosphere, it was about ratcheting up the tension further and further until anything would have the player jumping a foot in the air. That’s horror, if you ask me. Not zombies, not Slenderman-style pursuers, not 10 second flash lights in pitch black environments.