The Nerve-Wracking Horror of Five Nights at Freddy’s: A Tale of Creepy Mascots and Survival

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The story happens every few years. A parent attempts to sue some family establishment (like a theme park or a restaurant) because a child was traumatized when he saw a wandering mascot not wearing its massive cartoon head. Those kids are lucky. At least there’s an actual, live, profusely sweaty human under Mickey’s cool exterior. But imagine if there weren’t. Imagine that underneath Mickey Mouse’s exterior was nothing but a soulless, poorly programmed automaton, and that it might toss the first person it sees into an empty cartoon suit full of grinding metal and gears.

Now imagine your job is to watch over those creepy mascots at night. Five nights, in fact. And instead of having all of Disney’s power and money to shut down any attempted Electric Parade uprisings posthaste, you’re working at a second-rate Chuck E. Cheese called Freddy Fazbear’s that has just enough electrical power to keep the desk light and the security cameras running between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. (And that’s if you decide you’re safe enough to keep open the metal doors that you can lock down if you detect any threats.) This is Five Nights at Freddy’s in a nutshell, but even that explanation doesn’t begin to express just how nerve-wracking an experience it is.

It’s nerve-wracking even before the real terror starts. The game is well aware of just how unsettling the bright multicolored fantasy objects we hoist onto children on a regular basis are in the right light, and your first look around at Freddy Fazbear’s Funtime Palace–empty, dimly lit, and derelict–is a little chilling. Before anything out of the ordinary even happens, every synapse in your brain is sending the message that you do not want to be here. But for a few minutes, all is well, thanks to a recorded message left for you each night by your predecessor, a guy with a business-casual midwestern lilt who gives you a basic rundown on your duties and the morbid history of the place. And even then, this man’s reasonable tone when talking about people being stuffed into the metal suits, or when describing a disturbing incident called “The Bite of ’87,” puts you on edge.

But then his message is over, and the real game begins. Your job is to flit back and forth between the security cameras, ensuring all the wacky animatronic characters are where they’re supposed to be, which is in the back room. When they’re not–and the fear instinct that comes with realizing that will serve you well here–your job is simply self-preservation. Close the doors, turn on the lights outside your office, and wait for Freddy or one of the others to wander away. The trick of it all is the battery bar at the bottom of the screen. Every action you take drains it, and drains it quickly, so keeping the lights on or the doors closed for half of your shift means the power to the whole place gets killed about 20 seconds before you do, in one of the most sudden and terrifying jump scares ever executed in any medium. Survival is a matter of conservation, observation, and timing.

What’s It About?

As the new night security guard at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, it’s your job to keep an eye on the animatronics, which are prone to wandering at night. Should they find you, you’re toast (though it’s not malicious on their part — they just don’t understand you). You’ll monitor their comings and goings through a series of cameras around the restaurant, and there’s a set of emergency doors on both sides of the room. The difficulty comes from the limited amount of power you have. Every action you make drains power — and you’re never shown how much. Should you run, the room goes dark and you’re totally defenseless.

Is It Any Good?

Let’s face it: On paper Five Nights at Freddy’s shouldn’t be this terrifying. But once you lose (and you will), you can rule out going to sleep for a little while, no matter how old you are. It masterfully uses atmosphere and tension to psych you out as you play. You’ll feel vulnerable and helpless, and when the creepily smiling characters pop up and the music spikes, you’ll jump out of your seat. For adults or older teens looking for a game to challenge them and give them some legitimate chills, it’s a terrific choice — perhaps one of the best we’ve seen. But for younger players, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

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