Saturday, 8 October 2016

October Nightmares II #8: The Five Nights at Freddy's Collection (2014 - 2015) - Freddy's Gonna Get You

I feel as though we’ve reached an age in the entertainment industry in which a lot of the best work is being achieved by the unsung amateurs. This certainly seems to be the case for horror projects. While Hollywood is churning out shite like Friend Request, nobodies on the internet are creating such alternative cultural icons as Slenderman and Jeff the Killer. The existence of Creepypasta (short anonymous stories posted online which purport to be ‘real’) shows that there are still genuinely creative people writing genuinely compelling works. Even if most of it reads like it was written by fucking Sloth from The Goonies. The subject of today’s review is based on one of the more popular Creepypastas – “My Summer Job.” Fucking hell, working during the summer - what a horrifying concept.

Children’s mascots are bloody creepy, more so the animatronic ones you get at places like Chuck E Cheese restaurants. It’s around this idea that the Five Nights at Freddy’s tetralogy is based, as the player assumes the role of an unlucky night watchman working at such a place. Quite why a family restaurant would need overnight security is never adequately explained. I can only assume it’s an attempt to end the Hamburglar’s depraved restaurant related crime spree. But during your first shift you receive a call from the previous guy who informs you that the restaurant’s animatronic Sesame Street rejects are known to malfunction and go on murderous rampages through the night. Which seems like throwing you in at the deep end; I usually reserve the first week at a new job for finding the toilets nobody else uses.

Gameplay wise, these games are fairly uniform throughout the series. The Rear Window of horror games, FNF denies the player the luxury of even controlling their character’s physical body. Instead, the player’s perspective is limited to their immediate vicinity and a dozen CCTV cameras. It’s a simple, yet effective, concept – one which requires the player to become an active participant in the unfolding horror. In order to survive each night (around five minutes real time) the player must utilise each camera to track the animatronics and prevent them from reaching your sanctuary. Complicating matters is the fact that Freddy’s is a clear example of capitalist greed and nothing in the place was designed with the employees' safety in mind. Half the cameras don’t work properly and power is extremely limited, forcing the player to strategically switch between using the cameras, closing the doors to their office, or switching on the lights. Christ, it’s like life under the Conservative government.

As a result, the Five Nights at Freddy’s games are effective because they take survival horror’s principal of resource scarcity and make it their core mechanic. There are no other means of survival – fail to maintain power, or observe your surroundings, and you will be killed. It’s rather Ayn Rand-esque really. But despite the constant pressure, I don’t actually find the FNF games to be particularly scary. They’re certainly capable of making me jump, though that’s easy isn’t it? If I’m not expecting it, someone farting in an elevator can make me jump. A monstrous face suddenly flashing on screen, or a noise that sounds like a violin’s just realised it left the stove on, just doesn't get under the skin like a more subtle approach might. This is the sort of game series that’s tailor made for the Youtube crowd, the type of people who inexplicably make money from acting in a manner befitting the guy from Troll 2 during every jump scare. Slender took the same approach to its set pieces but went far further and was more effective for it.

What these games are good at, however, is establishing atmosphere. The security office (or bedroom in the case of FNF 4) becomes this sanctuary you’re desperate to protect; even the annoying exposition Phone Guy starts to feel like a friend. When you’re four or five days (levels) in and everything starts to go wrong, that’s when FNF’s true potential shines through. This is especially evident in Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 as you also have to maintain the various sub-systems which periodically malfunction. For a franchise which took barely a year to run its course, the FNF games are a series confident with its own evolution. The first game is more creepy than disturbing (akin to McDonaldland). But as the series progresses it becomes bolder. Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 introduces a slew of new characters, each a nightmarish inversion of the mascots children seem to love but which make adults piss themselves. Suddenly the atmosphere is heavier with an increasingly spooky ambient soundtrack. The jump scares hit harder, and the monster design ratchets up; becoming less corrupted childhood figures and more out and out twisted monstrosities. And when the fourth game took things to the bedroom, the series started to resemble Home Alone if the main antagonist was Smokey Bear fresh from a twenty year stretch in rehab.