Monday, October 10, 2016

Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location Review

A full year without a mainline FNAF game? What world are we living in???

It seems surreal that after over a year, we haven't had a main series entry in the world of Five Night's at Freddy's. Yes there was FNAF World, but I think the internet has more or less forgotten that it existed. Just think, from August 2014 to July 2015, we received four games in the franchise. Four! Most people were complaining about over exposure and exhaustion well before the fourth game came out, and the internet got its wish. The series vanished from the face of the internet, only for a new entry to drop last week, completely dropping the FNAF label and just being called Sister Location.

Before I can even get into the whole premise of Sister Location, I feel compelled to talk about the series as it is. Like it or not, FNAF has become one of the most popular game franchises of the past two years, breaking into the mainstream and being played by kids all across the world. I know this because at my job, all that any kid talked about over the summer was FNAF. They were singing songs about the series, spouted random conspiracy theories, played FNAF at the jungle gyms (not the game, just games of tag), and played with stuffed animals of Bonnie, Freddy, and Foxy. It was everywhere, and needless to say, the was the nail in the coffin for my adoration of the series.

I will always defend the first game as a fantastic horror experience, but the franchise has become too ridiculous and popular for its own good. I know I sound like an aging hipster, but to have a series that had fantastic lore based around a great concept turn into a meme producing shell of its former self is sad. The series is now mostly focused on marketing new keychains, shirts, posters, stickers, and whatever weird action figure is popular at the moment. I don't hold any animosity to Scott Cawthon for making a marketing franchise out of FNAF, but it is a shame that the series is now targeting retailers instead of making the core games, you know, fresh and original?

Sister Location answers my major gripes with the series in that it's a fresh new take on the franchise with a new focus on better and clearer storytelling. There are a few kinks here, but I can safely say I'm now interested in the series again.

The story is much clearer this time, though of course some finer points are more obscured for lore creation. You play as a new employee at a storage facility for Circus Baby's Pizza World. This time around though, you have different tasks you have to perform each night. It's no longer watching cameras for every damn night. Instead, some nights you'll just have to check on the animatronics, start up a power grid, or perform some repairs on the animatronics. All the while, you're guided by a helpful AI over the intercom that helps you out, and you even have a special guest appearance by another narrator, who'll tell you conflicting facts that you AI doesn't want you to know.

Sister Location is an incredibly linear game, but each night feels fresh by having you do new minigames. The game will take time to explain to you each new mechanic, and it's almost guaranteed that you'll never see that minigame again for the rest of the game. The game is pretty short, clocking in at about 3 hours if you just want to get to the ending, but you'll never be bored while playing it at the very least.

I'm of two minds about the constant rotation of minigames. On one hand, some of the minigames are great and are keenly focused on freaking you the hell out. A minigame at the end of night two is intense because of how on edge you get from having to jump between a screen, a sound recording, and rebooting a system all while a demented Freddy talks to you in his best Joker voice. When the minigames are good, they're damned good. On the other hand, there are some minigames that are nearly broken at how hard they were. Night 4 had to be patched through because it was too hard, where you have to manage 10 separate timers for three minutes while little spider-like robots climb all over you. It's not close, and the majority of my playthrough was actually dedicated just to beating Night 4. There's also a secret game you can do in Night 5, and the less said about how hard it is, the better.

The game also has a weird focus on humor, but I don't think the humor is badly implemented in this game. You'll hear about exotic butters, casual bongos, and angsty teens, which are all fun little jokes, but then you get bizarre jokes, like the TV show that you watch after each night. The humor doesn't work at all, and the jokes are just plain bad. I couldn't help but feel watching these five TV episodes that this was designed for kids to quote to one another. No matter how much I try to deny it, Sister Location is probably the most kid friendly entry in the series, only because of how goofy and tonally off the humor is.

But no one gives a damn about the gameplay, or even the humor of the game. What about the story? Is the story good? To make a long story short, I was fairly satisfied with the game's story. It wasn't blown away like I was with piecing together the story of FNAF 3, but I think this was the most coherent entry to follow. There's a ton of voice work in this game, whether it was from Baby, the new face of Sister Location, Freddy, Foxy, Ballora the Ballerina, and the AI. I would argue that there's too much dialogue at times, but the problem with so much voice work is that it's even harder to keep the lore and story as subtext. When you listen to a soliloquy by Baby where she talks about her one day of work, my general reaction was just "oh, okay." The animatronics talk so much that I eventually just started to skip over cutscenes again and again after I died because of how long they'll go on for and how pointless they are to the main story.

In fact, outside of the ending, the majority of the story is actually pretty superfluous. As long as you read the The Silver Eyes, the novel based off of the series (seriously...), you'll get the general gist of what happens in this game. The only contribution to overall story is that is explains a main point in FNAF 2 and 3. However, that's arguably yet another problem with the series; it explains details that we didn't need to know. The novel explains who the Purple Guy is in the franchise, which is cool, but Sister Location continues to dwell on that plot point. It adds some new twists to it, but it's still retreading old ground. I would love if for the next installment (because of course they'll be a new entry in about a year), if the story actually decided to move forward and do new things instead of retread the same questions that get brought up with every game.

I'm still happy though that we got this game. Sister Location isn't tired. It feels fresh and different while still having that same old FNAF charm. I would say that this is the least scary game in the series, but it is by far the most disturbing entry. There's a key distinction between the two that needs to be acknowledged. If the original FNAF games are like a clown chasing you with a bloody knife, Sister Location is that same clown standing in a room alone with a single spotlight on it. It's the stillness and quiet that makes Sister Location disturbing as well as a few key points that happen over the course of the game. Electrocutions, organ removal, more dead children, hangings, and some Buffalo Bill-esque scenarios make this an unsettling trip to sit through.

I'm pretty sure that even the mere mention of Five Nights at Freddy's is enough to make most gamers roll their eyes or groan aloud, and I can see why. The series hasn't done itself any favors for its overexposure and lack of new mechanics. Sister Location is a step in the right direction, but it also has an uphill fight to win. People, outside of little children, dislike the series immensely, but once you get over that initial resentment, there's a good game here. It has its flaws, mostly through frustrating levels and difficulty spikes, but I still enjoyed my time with it. And hell, if the game's just $8, you can do a hell of a lot worse.


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