Release Date: November 10, 2014
Developer: Scott Cawthon
Publisher: Scott Cawthon
Genre: Horror, Survival
System: Steam/PC (Reviewed), Mobile
Playtime: 5 hours, 30 minutes (Nights 1-5)
A year and a half ago, I wrote a review of Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF1 for short) to wish the game a happy birthday, and claimed it to be the scariest game out of the entire franchise. FNAF 1 delivered a deft blend of jump scares and atmospheric tension, preying on players predicated fears of real-life creepy looking animatronics. The low res static images and overall environmental design provided room for the player’s imagination to drive the fear factor in the game. Furthermore, the amount of details to be aware of within the game was just enough to not overload the players without being too simple. While the game certainly had its flaws (repetitive gameplay, the ridiculous suspension of disbelief, etc) the game was inventive and refreshingly unique at the time.
Three months later, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 (FNAF 2 for short) released immediately after the demo had been given to Let’s Play people. FNAF 2 saw a huge shift in gameplay elements and overall presentation that stood out in comparison to its predecessor. Instead of having to pay attention to behavioral patterns for 5 animatronics, the number more than doubled to 11 total. Instead of having to maintain a power source for doors, cameras and lights, players had to manage a music box and flashlight power. FNAF 2 eliminated doors as a protection barrier and instead gave players a mask to wear that worked on some, but not all, animatronics. Certainly that’s a steep learning curve when it comes to difficulty due to the way information is passed along in the series.
Unfortunately, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 has a lot of flaws and best serves as a critical lesson when it comes to video game development. All of the information to process makes the game transition from being an atmospherically creepy game, to a simply difficult and stressful experience. Instead of taking a step forward in improving upon its predecessor, it ends up actually taking a couple steps back…as a horror game. If this game were examined simply for it’s mechanics, it’s a fairly challenging game that can offer some satisfying, adrenaline-laden moments. Yet, by taking away the context of what the game is meant to be, it goes to show that Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 indicates the series lost its heart long after the first game was finished.
It’s a Sequel…that’s a Prequel
Like all the other games in the series, FNAF 2’s story is a convoluted mess that’s hard to explain and has few concrete details that can be locked down. However, this is what can be gathered on the surface level of the story.
The game is set in the year 1987, set after the events of Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 (FNAF 4 for short) and before FNAF. As the new night shift security guard, it’s all about watching the cameras to make sure no one tries to sneak into the pizzeria. However, as the first night begins the guard learns a several things
1) The are new animatronics that were made to look cuter.
2) In total, there are 11 animatronics moving at night,
3) There are no doors to create between them and the animatronics, and
4) If they find you, they’ll stuff you into an animatronic.
5) Oh, and there’s a music box that has to be kept wound up
Luckily for the guard, there’s a Freddy mask that can be worn to trick the animatronics into thinking the guard is an animatronic, and there’s sources of lights to help the guard prepare for what’s to come for the next five nights.
When it comes to story FNAF 2 is simple and convoluted. On the surface the story is simple and generic; a security guard is trying to survive five nights at a creepy establishment. It offers nothing more or less, providing the bare minimum context needed to move the game forward. In fact, one could argue that there’s hardly a plot at all, and only exists to justify the gameplay style. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; as seen in my FallOut 4 review, I’m all about story and gameplay mixing together. That said, FallOut 4 feels like an antithesis to FNAF 2 in that the drive is much more story-based and less gameplay focus.
Unfortunately, there’s another layer to FNAF 2 that can be good or bad depending on the player’s opinion. For the series, creator Scott Cawthon has always left a lot of the lore and mythos ambiguous. This leaves plenty of room for interpretation, theorizing and speculation for fans of the series. Scott has been known at times to confirm and/or deny things if they’re accurate or inaccurate. However, it all remains the same in that the story has never been fully explained.
Personally, that’s because I don’t believe FNAF 2, or the FNAF series as a whole, has a comprehensible plot. I’ll even go as far to say that the story remains convoluted and ambiguous because the story was never as fleshed out as people want to believe.
Maybe I’m making a strong accusation because I personally can’t grasp the story being told. Maybe that’s the point of the series, that it’s meant to be open to interpretation. Whether or not that is the case, there needs to be some sort of consistency within the ambiguity. Give some detail that at least keeps the story in line and doesn’t let it wander off a cliff.
However, I’m guessing that’s also not the reason people play the game.
Sometimes Less is More
I was always taught in writing classes that less is actually more. The point was that it was better to be concise and to have quality writing than to have long winded, flowery phrases for quantity. Even when an assignment was supposed to be 5,000 words, she preferred reading a strong 3,500 word paper than 5,000 that had weak foundations. Five Nights at Freddy’s was an effective game because it gave you just enough to keep track of: 4 animatronics, 2 doors, and a power source that was tied into the camera feeds, doors and hallway lights. A lot of the fear was built by anticipation of jump scares and atmospheric tension.
FNAF 2 seems to assume that in order to be scarier, it has to up the ante. How? By having 11 animatronics coming at the player by the time night five swings around. I can understand the concept of adding more to have to be wary of, but what makes them feel pointless is how little their patterns differentiate from one another. Most, if not all, come from the two vents on either side of the player. The Freddy mask, which is a safeguard akin to the doors in FNAF 1, helps to dispel nine out of eleven of the animatronics that will come after the player. They all follow the same behavioral patterns every time they come for the security guard, which allows for more predictability and less anticipation. If anything, it makes waiting for them feel boring and bland.
My other issue with the game is the steep difficulty curve versus its predecessor. FNAF 1 had a solid difficulty curve that consistently increased with each passing night. No two nights felt like they jumped too far in difficulty from one another. There was less stress of managing items and more room for the fearful anticipation to seep in.
In FNAF 2, there are three major shifts in difficulty curve that are vastly different from one another. Night 1 and 2 felt like a jump from Night 1 to 4 in FNAF 2. Toy Bonnie, Toy Chica and Balloon Boy become three times as active, and Foxy begins to join in on the fun. Instead of being able to really utilize the camera system, it begins to make sense to ignore the cameras except for the music box and pay more attention to the immediate surroundings.
Once Night 4 hits, the game feels like it borderlines Night 6 equivalency of FNAF 1. Precision is everything and any sort of mistake results in immediate death. This is also a time when managing keeping the music box going becomes one of the dumbest, and most infuriating experiences to deal with. An example: there is a potential of being pulled out from the camera to the face of the broken down Freddy animatronics. Players have a split second to react and put on the Freddy mask to stay alive; hesitate for just a moment and it’s sweet, sweet death.
Now, if we discard the game’s objective of trying to be a horror game, and purely look at it for its mechanics, it’s a fairly challenging, fun game. The precision and reaction time the game demands to survive the last couple of nights offers a great, if frustrating, experience. Seeing the words “6 AM” on my screen after having survived Night 4, and the infamous “Check” screen after Night 5 gave me a sense of blissful accomplishment. In those moments, I felt relief having gotten through another level, and one step closer to completing the game.
The game’s steep difficulty curve is jarring and unrelenting, consistently keeps players on their toes. Beginning from Night 3, the game simply demands that the player be aware of everything within the game and to be prepared for anything to occur. It also requires both patience…and playing the game in short doses. Attempting to play this game for hours at a time proves to be a frustrating experience without the thrill of a challenge.
At the same time, even having to say that poses a major problem that points out FNAF 2’s biggest flaw: the heart of the series was gone long after FNAF 1 had been finished. The game wasn’t scary, just stressful. There is a major difference in designing a game that is stressful versus a game that’s genuinely scary. FNAF 2 seemed to have honed into the belief that having more to stressfully manage over would mean a scarier experience than its predecessor. Suffice it to say that it was quite the opposite. I found myself just wanting to complete the game, and was pulled out of the experience for most of my playthrough.
By losing the feeling of being immersed into the experience, and being cognitively aware that it was only a game, FNAF 2 leaves the impression of failing as a game.
Don’t Wander into Freddy Fazbear’s Corridors at Night
FNAF 2 is a game that does too much in order to up the scare factor. The ridiculous amount of animatronics to observe, along with flashlight power and a music box, all add up to a frustrating, stressful game. The game also feels like it lacks the heart and doesn’t try to do anything to improve upon its predecessor. If anything, the game’s overall production feels like it takes a step back. It’s a game I wouldn’t recommend for purchase or for playing if players are looking for a scary experience. However, if they’re looking for a challenging, difficult game, then it might be worth checking out and playing through.