More and more, it seems that hit mobile games have a shelf-life shorter than tepid milk. One moment every schoolyard, office, and nursing home is buzzing about Flappy Bird, and the next they can scarcely remember the name. It is, perhaps, this knowledge that has motivated one-man dev team Scott Cawthon to strike while the iron is hot with the third Five Nights at Feddy’s title in under a year. Despite the accelerated release schedule, the third in the trilogy tries its best to keep things fresh and interesting for returning players, but does very little to welcome those new to the series.
This latest entry takes place three decades after the events of the first game. Fazbear’s Pizza has become the stuff of legend, and prospecting new owners have sought to capitalize on the spooky stories by turning it into a haunted attraction. You take on the role of an overnight security guard confined to a single room, with access to a network of cameras, a network of ventilation ducts, and a computer terminal used to reboot these systems when they quit working. It sounds like a boring job, but of course the nightmare at Frazbear’s is far from over.
This time, the action (as it were) focuses on a single murderous animatronic animal come to life, a broken-down, worn-looking bunny named Springtrap that stalks the halls after midnight. Familiar baddies from the past games return only as hallucinatory nightmares that deliver terrifying jump-scares and disrupt the game’s systems, but don’t deliver any fatal blows. Five Nights 3 begins with precious little introduction and positively no tutorializing. While this might be a relief to returning players, it could be disorienting for anyone not familiar with the game’s systems. This is doubly true because Five Nights 3 has more to keep track of than ever before.
Mechanically, things are still fairly simple, but this time you have more reason to track Springtrap’s movements throughout the facility. You can play audio to distract him and lure him away, and you can close ventilation ducts to impede his progress. Animation in the mobile version isn’t very fluid and it’s easy to lose track of your target, but this can make it all the worse when you suddenly see him at the door to the room.
Despite the incredibly short time between this game and the last, Cawthon seems to be getting more polished and the atmosphere here is darker and grittier than ever. The Android port still lags behind its PC counterpart with stripped-down animation, even though it feels like an unnecessary compromise. Camera controls likewise obscure the view in ways that don’t suffer on its big-screen counterpart.
The scares in Five Nights are formulaic and predictable, but still somehow terribly effective. Even on a small screen, these horrifying mascots will make you jump right out of your skin. The story is still decidedly convoluted and the third entry does little to illuminate the series’ mysteries, but this is not a real adventure game, it’s an exercise in cheap thrills and jump-scares, and in that regard it works quite well.
Five Nights 3 does a fair job of keeping its formula interesting for existing fans of the series. In terms of gameplay and presentation, it’s the most polished game yet in the series, but it’s also a poor starting point for anyone new to the series. This isn’t just because of the convoluted mythos of the series; the game can be a bit confusing and even overwhelming without a primer, and it doesn’t have as much personality as the earlier games. Perhaps Cawthon has the right strategy. When a mobile series days are inherently numbered, better to give the fanbase what they want than try to expand the audience.
Is it Hardcore?
Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 does manage to add some new life to the series, but it doesn’t do much to bring in newcomers, nor to take the series to new heights.