FNAF 4 came out months sooner than expected (and yet not so surprisingly, as Scott Cawthon has a tendency to release early). Now that the series is complete aside from some TBD DLC coming on Halloween 2015, I can give an even more complete opinion on the entire series as a whole.
Updated Opinions Post-FNAF4
Unfortunately, the events of FNAF 4 didn’t plug up as many plot holes as the players might have hoped for, and this disappointed me a bit. Sure, we got to play through the events of the infamous Bite Of ’87! That was cool. But that was basically it, and as important as that event was, it didn’t clear up enough for me, personally–mainly because the community had guessed a significant amount of it already. And there’s a lot of information that’s implied, but not confirmed, and leaving us (once again) with more questions and theories than answers.
Regarding the gameplay, I really did enjoy the addition of movement and stronger emphasis on audio. The element of listening to survive has always been a part of the FNAF series, but it really became an integral gameplay element that tripped up a lot of YouTubers I’ve seen play it. Mainly because Let’s Plays are all about commentary on the game real-time, but chatting too much means you’ll miss a subtle breath that signifies you’re about to die.
I think what disappointed me the most about FNAF 4 was that I had been expecting to actually visit Freddy’s Pizzeria (or Fredbear’s Diner, or wherever the location was meant to be) at the end of the 5-day countdown. Knowing the ending, I understand why it didn’t do that–but I feel like the Atari-esque exploration games really took the place of where really immersive gameplay really took place.
Now, despite the above comments, I did enjoy FNAF 4 and look forward to the DLC–whenever it comes out. I’m also about 50-50 on whether or not this is actually the last game in the series by Scott. The game designer in me says it’s FIVE nights at Freddy’s, therefore there must be FIVE games. But who knows? Scott churned out all four games within a year’s time, and he is probably getting tired of them by now.
Plus, there’s already a movie due to come out. More on that later.
The Series Overall
The appeal of Five Nights At Freddy’s has three main parts to it: mystery, innovation, and addictiveness. I’ve already discussed addictiveness in my blog about the Flow State, so you can read more about that concept over here. As for the remaining two…
What gets a lot of people interested in a single topic? A common, powerful emotion. So, what does FNAF tap into that ties a lot of us in common? Fear. And not just any fear — that lingering uncomfortable feeling we get when staring at animatronics. If you’ve ever been to Chuck E. Cheese or seen those robots in the Hall of Presidents at Disney, you know what I’m talking about. It’s that attempt to act human-like by an obviously inhuman object — that weird uncanny valley thing. And everyone has had that passing thought of how terrible it’d be to be locked up in a place surrounded by such creatures, and that passing thought of what if they come to life when everyone is gone? (See: Night at the Museum!)
Then, let’s add children to the story! Children are generally associated with feelings related to innocence, purity, and warmth. So the juxtaposition of little kids and horror can be pretty shocking — and therefore, appealing. This isn’t reinventing the wheel, of course. Movies like The Shining and The Ring and countless others have revolved around the trapped or violent souls of children killing people, so it’s no surprise that they work well in video games, too. Perhaps even moreso in video games, as these experiences are more interactive and personal.
So we’ve got some dead kids. Cool. Here’s where FNAF’s storytelling comes in.
In the original game, the only way one could figure out the story of why these animatronics were going nuts were by peeking at the clippings of newspaper articles on the walls and occasional off-comments by the Phone Guy. You know there’s something twisted, something supernatural happening–but what? And more importantly: why?!
From that moment on, most of us who played the game were hooked — and Scott knew exactly how to string us along. He left subtle hints (and completely obtuse hints, like dialing numbers into a ‘number pad’ on the wall?!) that gave us just enough to formulate new theories and learn a teensy bit more of the storyline, just enough motivation to keep looking, to remain emotionally invested in the mystery of Freddy Fazbear’s pizzeria. And that’s all humans need, really: We love story, but we need the whole picture. If you just leave us clues, we’ll obsess over putting them together! Our brains are hardwired to seek out patterns — even if there aren’t any present! And that’s where conspiracy theorists come from, my friends.
And then there’s the element that makes me love indie games: Innovation.
Sure, everyone and their mother right now are making FNAF-style games, but isn’t imitation the best form of flattery? Or something like that. I don’t remember how that saying goes. What I mean is, FNAF kicked off an interesting new POV in the horror genre. Did similar games exist before it? Probably. But they didn’t have the right something to get noticed — and usually, that something is just luck and/or good timing.
Regardless, Scott Cawthon hit the jackpot with a perfect mixture of innovation and simplicity. Although I wouldn’t dare say creating the games was easy, the actual mechanics are very simple. You create menu(s) for the camera and several screens. The animatronics do x if y condition is fulfilled within x amount of time. The amount of time decreases and the complexity of what the animatronics do increases as each night goes on. Add in the right sound effects and some really tense lack of action, and 90% of the time, the players frighten themselves! The psychological element of it all is what makes it so frightening, and the jump scares are just that final climax of ever-rising tension.
Again, I’m not trying to belittle what Scott has done and I know for a fact I couldn’t do any of it — especially not on my own in just a year!
What I Wished For & The Future Of FNAF
I think that if Scott had a small team working with him (and I’m sure plenty of people have offered), FNAF could go from awesome indie game quality to AAA quality at an indie price. It has the hype, the lore, and the potential to be even greater than it is. But I also understand as a natural-born project manager that the fear of letting others touch your baby is intense, and sometimes the only way to battle this is to have full control.
I would like to see, in a year or two, all four games wrapped into one with a teensy bit more of a coherent storyline connecting them, even if they’re just newspaper clippings. I’d also love for a chance to have a character physically walk through Freddy’s, even if that was just a cool extra menu thing with no jump scares. I’d also love to see a game that has been worked on for a full 1-2 years from Scott, and not released early. I think with enough patience and a small team to reign in his excitement, he could make something truly phenomenal.
Regarding the upcoming DLC, I’d be really pleased to just get a coherent timeline instead of an additional gameplay level or whatever. The thing about FNAF is that once you get through the first three nights, the remaining ones are just more of the same patterns and the jump scares aren’t frightening anymore, so story would be the most valuable thing we could get out of it at this point.
Regarding the upcoming movie–I am cautiously optimistic. I don’t want a recreation of the games, and I believe they’ve confirmed it won’t be. If they do the story of how the kids died, that’d be GREAT! But it probably won’t be that, either. I’m also a little worried because I’ve read the writers/director (I think?? Don’t quote me) saying that they want to make it a charming movie in addition to a horror flick. I hope they just mean the black comedy sort of humor towards the deaths–the horror aspect of the game and the grotesque murders are basically what make the story, after all!
Anyway, after a long time coming, those were my thoughts on Five Nights At Freddy’s! I’m sure I’ll have more to say once the DLC comes out–whenever, but until then, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.