Friday, July 24, 2015

Five Nights at Freddy's 4 Review

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before...

Well. Here we are. The end of the Five Nights at Freddy's series.

The internet has been graced with this series for the past year now, and with yet another surprise release, the game has come and gone, leaving so many more questions and answers left to be discovered. Not only that, but with dlc coming on Halloween night to finally end this series, we can at least rest easy knowing that FNAF 4 is probably the most original game in the whole series, both from a plot perspective and a gameplay perspective. However, it has its... problems. 

If you've been following my blog at all the past year, you'll know that I reviewed every game in the series and has wildly differing opinions on all of them. I thought FNAF 1 was a brilliantly terrifying game that was full of anxiety and more intimate horror. I thought that FNAF 2 was over bloated and tried to be more difficult than scary to mixed results. Then I thought FNAF 3 was a step back to the smaller kind of thrills that was much more intellectual and led you to try and outsmart the animatronic. I love the series and I think that it deserves all of the praise that it gets. Yes some people complain that its a jumpscare simulator, but its still a good jump scare simulator. It provides the scares constantly and they never really lose their touch. 

So what exactly is Five Nights at Freddy's 4? Is it a prequel? A midquel? a sequel? The answer is none of the above! If anything, FNAF 4 is a side story to the main series. There are no puppets, no souls, no murdered children, or even any Phone Guy. This is a side story meant to clarify some issues and plot points in the series. Still, I will say that I will be discussing spoilers for this game and present potential theories and elements, though not exactly spoiling major plot points or details. I'll leave that all up to you to figure out, and all of this is tentative until the DLC appears later this year. With all that said, just what exactly happens in this game?

You play as a child this game with the clear purpose of surviving the night in your room. There are no security guards, or anything even remotely related to the restaurant except for the killer animatronics that stalk the hallways. You can peek through 3 doors and have one of two options. You can either close the door and protect yourself from an animatronic, or you can flicker your flashlight down the hall to drive them away. You need to choose your action wisely though because doing the wrong action will result in an instant, bloody death. And yes, I mean death. You also need to check your bed behind you for Freddy dolls that may come alive and kill you too.

The biggest departure for this game is the fact that you aren't in a restaurant anymore and that now you're a child. In fact, this is probably the most un-FNAF game in the series because of it. The reason why the setting worked in the original games was that even though it was ludicrious for you to stay in that building any more than one day, the atmosphere was still oppressive. It was cold, harsh, metallic with very little personal charm to it. Here, this is your own room. There's familiarity and comfort throughout it, even though its taken on a demonic form. Even then, your room still looks like your room and the evil beings trying to kill you are invaders to your little sanctuary. It doesn't feel as oppressive as it can be. 

And yet, the animatonics are probably the most terrifying they've ever been. They are so scary to look at that even though I've seen the trailer multiple times, I still get chills by looking at them, not the least of which being the secret animatronics that appear throughout the game. I love their designs, and they truly look like nightmare fuel, which is extremely appropriate given the context. 

Unfortunately, I can't talk about why its appropriate. The most difficult thing to talk about when reviewing a FNAF game is how much you can tell the reader. What is the sweet spot to satisfy curiosity, not spoil the game, yet intrigue people with enough tidbits to actually play the game and not look up a let's play? Well, the best way is to be as vague as humanly possible. 

I will be the first to say that when Five Nights at Freddy's 4 was announced, I was pretty mad. Not only was Silent Hills cancelled that very day, but we also received a definitive, if vague, ending to the series. We know who Springtrap was and that the souls of the children were eventually freed, so where else were we left to go? So in the 87 days leading up to the release of this game from the announcement image (very clever Scott...), we eventually learned little tidbits about the game, like it would explain what happened with the Bite of '87 and that we would get closure to the whole series. Do we find out what happened? Yes! Is it closure? Dear lord no.

FNAF 4 is a bizarre little game to play through, mostly because it is entirely skippable in the canon as of now. We don't learn anything new about the series except for the identity of one of the major animatronics and who caused the Bite of '87, but that's about it. Even then, those were questions that many people weren't exactly clamoring to have answered. In terms of the lore of the series, the Biter was pretty low on the mystery spectrum. I mean, it's nice to have the answer, but I wasn't shocked to my core by it. I learned it, processed it, and while I was surprised, it didn't really put anything into perspective. Take for example the revelation that the Purple Guy was Springtrap. That answered so many questions about the series and changed so much history in the series. Here, it's not as impactful as it could have been.

The game takes on a much more ethereal tone as you play, always staying dream like with little noise and very little action. It's much more quiet and calmer, making the gameplay a bit more deceiving. The more you play, you should be scared off your rocker, but instead you reach a zen state where you're running between your two doors more calm than terrified. This is entirely intentional though given the story of this game, but its something new that I'm still not quite sure I enjoy. Again, the location plays a key role in allowing the game to be scary. Setting it in a house just isn't all that scary, even if you put literal monsters in your closet.

If my mind has been jumping all over the place with this review, I apologize, but each FNAF game is so meaty to dissect that I just kind of go with the flow. I want to try and talk about everything the game has to offer, so that's exactly what I try and do. After jumping in for a few extra nights, I've come to the conclusion that while this game is probably the most polished and accessible game in the series for newcomers, it probably has one of the most problematic gameplay features yet. When you're deciding between shining the light or closing the door, you need to wait several seconds before making a decision. You need to wait to see if you hear breathing or not. If there's something breathing, you need to close the door. If not, you need to shine the light. However, you physically cannot hear the breathing at all.

I played this game for three hours when it released and then an extra hour today with a patch that fixes the breathing error. However, it still remains that one of the biggest factors in determining whether you live or die is flawed. It's no longer as simple as going by sight, but now you're relying on having the player turn up their volume in a game who's main scares are things jumping out at you and screaming as loud as they can. Most people won't do that, so you're going to die a lot trying to hear a sound you can't hear, or regret turning up your volume to max, scaring the shit out of you, but at least you can play the game. I should be praising this risk reward feature, but it's not. It's forcing you to be more susceptible to scares just to play the game. It's manipulating you into an easier state to be scared.

If I've been coming across negatively in this review, I'm really not trying to be. It's just that for a game that frankly is unnecessary has higher standards to live up to. It should put the dissenters to rest. Instead, it just makes me question why this game needed to exist. Not only that, but why did it need to be released so soon? As it is now, some aspects of the game are not fully functional, and even though I loved playing through it, I still think that it could have been better after a few more months of polish. Add some more content (like the free dlc coming), or even just make it the definitive end by answering all of our questions. As it is, Five Nights at Freddy's 4 is incomplete to me. It feels like ideas and concepts were in place as well as designs, but it all buckled under the weight of trying to capitalize on the fad before it fully ended. I still had fun playing this game, but this was the one game I could say was fundamentally flawed.


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