One of the few things I dislike about winter is the dwindling hours of daylight. Because it gives me less of an opportunity to play things like Five Nights at Freddy’s 2, prolific developer Scott Cawthon’s sequel to the well-received survival-horror original. Because playing it at night scares me.
Against a multitude of sub-par horror titles out there, Five Nights shows you that you that gory cutscenes, convoluted mythologies and gritty action are not necessary for a good horror game. A clever use of sound, lighting and nifty gameplay mechanics are just what you need to build a frightening atmosphere. And while this may offend purists, sometimes, atmosphere really does trump game mechanics.
Much like its predecessor, Five Nights at Freddys’ 2 plops you into the role of a night watchman at “Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza”, a restaurant that uses, err…delightful… animatronic stuffed animals to entertain its clientele of young children. I’d rather not know how the animatronics behave in the daytime, since at night, they’re a bunch of creepy, murderous perversions that roam the hallways looking for people to slaughter and stuff into cutesy costumes. And like in the best horror games, there’s no fighting or killing them. In fact, there’s no running away from them either: all you have is a flashlight (with pretty weak batteries, so watch out), a mask that you use to fool the robots into thinking you’re one of them (fashioned out of the head of an older model of Freddy Fazbear himself,so think about the irony there as you imagine being killed and stuffed into a Freddy-suit), and a music box that you MUST NOT LET WIND DOWN.
As you can tell, mechanically, the game is pretty simple. You spend most of your time checking the security cameras (which feature static but oh-so-unsettling graphics), winding up a music box, shining your flashlight down a corridor, and hoping against hope that it doesn’t illuminate the hollow-eyed, freakish, grinning face of a life-sized bear-toy-robot-monstrosity. Five Nights’ true power lies in how well these simple actions are tied to the wonderfully eerie ambience. If the idea of giant toys coming to life and terrorizing you isn’t scary enough, the game offers dim, indistinct lighting, a soundscape featuring frequent injections of demonic giggling, the shuffling of feet and disturbing moans, and voicemail left by a creepy manager, whose false cheeriness seems to belie a deeply troubled soul.
The ingenious icing on the cake is how the game punishes you for using your only defense against the monsters: remember that life-saving Freddy Fazbear mask you need to wear to stop the robots? Put it on and you can no longer use your flashlight, and your vision is reduced to two thin slits, leaving the claustrophobic sounds of your exhalations, coupled with the slight motion of your labored breaths, as your only sensory escape. What is hell? Waiting in near darkness for a homicidal teddy bear with only the sound of your own panicked breathing to keep you company.
As a non-traditional, indie survival game, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 is not a game for everyone. You don’t really perform any meaningful action; you don’t really do that much as the unlucky night watchman. But if you enjoy unnerving, psychologically stressful situations (and don’t mind a jump-scare or two), this is a game you’ll want to play.
Atmospheric and scary. You’ll probably die a lot.