Watch the security cameras during the night shift at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. That’s all you’re supposed to do in Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s, and somehow that simple premise turns it into an incredibly tense, terrifying experience. These animatronic creatures might delight and entertain children during the daytime with their songs and antics, but at night, their sickening curiosity about humanity takes over, and they want to see what makes their night watchman tick. Will you survive your week’s employment at this place, or will they get to you in the dark?
The game has a very simple setup: You have a series of cameras that look over most of the rooms in Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, save for a few blind spots between places. You also have controls that will let you turn on lights in the hallways just outside your security room, as there are no cameras right there, and controls that will let you close the doors to the room to keep you safe. So, your only options are to look at cameras, turn on some small lights, and open or close your doors. It’s super simple to control, which lets the game throw you right into the thick of things.
As I said, the animatronics are a little curious about you, but unfortunately their interest in you will get you killed, so you want to keep an eye on them. You have to flick through the various screens to keep an eye on them, moving from camera to camera while trying to track their movement. The cameras are laid out on a grid in the lower right of the screen, and you can see the hallways that lead off of them. So, you can guess which camera they would be heading to next if you suddenly flip to the stage and find that one of them has wandered off. It doesn’t take long before the first one is on the move, especially on the final nights.
Well, why not just lock up the doors and wait for morning? The main reason is that you have a limited amount of power to get through each night. Can’t run up that electric bill, can we? The power drain is shown on the lower left, and it falls constantly. The rate at which it falls is indicated by colored bars, and doing things like running your lights or having the doors shut adds more bars and drains your power much faster. Even playing extremely carefully can draw out a lot of your power, so it’s in your best interest to keep the lights off and the doors open if you want to survive. If you don’t, you may find a robotic bear tearing into you once the power blinks off. Then again, if you don’t shut those doors or turn on the lights at the right time, something else just might be crawling down your throat before you know it.
Adding even more difficulty, is that the lights and door switches in the security room are a good distance from each other. Most of the other rooms are a little bigger than the camera covers, so you have to wait for it to pan to get a full view of the room to know if something’s there. In your security office, you have to choose to pan the room to see on one side or the other. That means that, if something is on your right side and you’re facing left, you have to take precious seconds to pan over to that side and protect yourself. This is likewise a problem if you have a door shut and you’re losing power fast. It takes time to pan over, and when the creatures are right outside the door, they only wait for a few seconds before diving at you.
That last sentence might imply movement on the monster’s part, but you only see them move when they kill you. Other than that, you’ll find them standing still in certain areas on the monitor, often just in the shadows or off to one side. Sometimes they’ll be right up in front of the camera, glaring right at you with a look that will send chills down your spine. Their eyes are empty and lifeless, but contain this odd malice that tends to get attributed to creepy old dolls. Those fake eyes are unnerving, as are the plastered-on, vacant smiles they each wear. The bird, with his happy “Let’s Eat!” bib and rows of sharp teeth in his beak, stares back at me from my nightmares some nights. They might not move, but they are almost always looking right back at you from those cameras, staring right into your eyes.
The camera’s visuals don’t make looking at them much easier, either. Most of the locations are only barely lit by a few dim security lights, and the camera feed constantly fills with static, sometimes to the point of being completely unable to see. These moments are terrifying, leaving players switching from camera-to-camera to try and find a missing creature, or staring close into one feed, trying to see if those shadowy feet are just a trick of the camera’s fuzziness. It often had me jumping at nothing or desperately searching, my heart pounding while I fought the urge to lock up both of my doors.
There is no music in the game, but it’s not without sound. Many nights start with a phone call from your shift supervisor, often with recommendations and vague warnings about what might happen to you. They’re all told in a friendly voice, someone who just sounds like a cheery co-worker, but one who isn’t quite willing to come out and say that you’ve made a terrible choice of employment. Other than him, you’ll hear the sounds of the cameras flickering, the lights humming, and then the muffled noises of something scrambling around just out of sight. One of the cameras has no visual feed at all, but only picks up the audio of something moving in the dark. It’s bone-chilling to hear these things ripping through the room, smashing into whatever is in there. The sounds there gave me an idea of how brutal these things were, the crashing and banging giving me an idea what these things would do to me once they caught me.