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The indie homage to Night Trap already has a sequel and the reader who reviewed the first one returns to analyse the improvements…
Thinking back on my review of the first Five Nights At Freddy’s, the thought occurs that I was too harsh in dismissing the game as YouTube fodder. While it undoubtedly owes some degree of its success to shrill guys on YouTube pretending to scream at it, it doesn’t deserve to be dumped in the same category as broken, terrible, intellectually offensive trash like Walden And The Werewolf and Air Control.
While I didn’t think much of the game overall (I found it too limited in its gameplay to have much lasting appeal, and found the jump scares cheap), it was at least an honest, solidly-constructed attempt to provide an entertaining experience using limited resources.
It also had a great setting and backstory, if you were lucky enough to spot it; given the backstory was essentially hidden away as an Easter egg and left events in the game open to a lot of player interpretation. Naturally a sequel is the perfect environment to expand on those ideas, but given just how quickly this sequel has surfaced (it appeared for sale on Steam less than a week after the demo was launched), has it had enough time to offer a substantial improvement?
The game has ended up taking a ‘more of the same’ approach in terms of its gameplay. A spiritual descendant of FMV games such as Night Trap and Double Switch, Five Nights At Freddy’s 2 once again casts you as a hapless security guard running the night shift at the newly-refurbished Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. Not only are the new Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronic characters out for your blood, but the old ones are still around and apparently not best pleased at being abandoned…
Much like last time, the game essentially is a puzzle game, as you switch between the cameras trying to work out the movement patterns of the marauding animatronics so you can react accordingly before they find you and kill you (with an accompanying jump scare).
However, there are a few changes to the formula that help to mix things up a bit. For one thing there are no doors to protect you this time, and your only means of defence is to disguise yourself as an animatronic using a mask. This will fool most of the characters when they enter the office, but failure to put it on promptly means they won’t fall for the ruse. You also can’t check the cameras while wearing the mask, so you can’t just ride the night out wearing the thing all the time.
This is especially important as two of the characters won’t be fooled by the mask and need to be kept away by other measures. There’s a music box that needs to be kept wound to keep one character at bay lest they kill you. You also have a flashlight that’s used both to check the hall in front of you, and to repel another of the characters by flashing it repeatedly. So even moreso than the first game, there are a lot of plates you need to keep spinning, and on later nights, when you have no less than ten characters all gunning for you, it can make for a pretty stressful time. Thankfully the constantly-draining power supply has been removed, though your flashlight’s battery can run out.
The attempts to expand on the first game’s set-up and add more interactivity are certainly commendable, though the fact that you still can’t leave the office or have any other means of defending yourself means you’re still essentially handicapped rather arbitrarily. I’m not sure that can really count as a criticism, considering the game is also supposed to be a survival horror, but it still leaves you wishing you could do more in the game itself.
The same pre-rendered style of graphics as the first game are used, though there’s a bit more detail and the character designs are still great. The jump scares when you die are still really cheap, though attempts have been made to make the animations more elaborate. Some are impressive, such as when certain characters leap straight at you, but others (such as when a character slides into view while you’re wearing the mask) just come across as goofy, and an indication of just how the game could be so much more but is limited, whether by lack of resources or a lack of coding know-how.
I suppose we should just be thankful though that the developer didn’t try to overstep his boundaries and sensibly planned his games in accordance with the resources he had available, which is a relief given the ineptly-made trash seen elsewhere on both the Steam indie scene and the overblown triple-A industry.
One thing that has been expanded on though are the storytelling elements. The calls you get at the start of each night make a better attempt at filling you in on what’s going on while you’re doing your shifts, and actually manages to generate a steadily-progressing plot that ties the nights together. I don’t want to spoil things, but towards the end (and in the bonus nights) the game pulls a neat bait-and-switch that changes the nature of the story completely, and helps to expand on some things only hinted at in the first game. There are also short cut scenes between each level, though these are open to a lot of interpretation and don’t have any exposition to speak of.
The juiciest story elements, however, are still hidden away as Easter eggs. When you die, there’s a random chance you’ll get to play a short mini-game, styled after an old Atari 2600 game. These do actually hint at larger, much darker events in the game’s twisted backstory, and greatly increase the scope of Freddy’s bizarre little world.
Again, there’s a lot of room for interpretation and fan theory, and while the balance between revealing too much and revealing too little of the story still hasn’t quite been struck (I don’t get why these mini-games are hidden as Easter eggs when they could have easily acted as between-level cut scenes), it’s much closer here than it was in the first game.
To me, this is where the game’s real strengths in the horror genre lie. They don’t come from the jump scares, but rather from the relentlessly grim atmosphere that the game generates through a combination of its backstory and the superb aesthetics and sound design. It all works together to create a sense of unease that never quite lets you go.
In conclusion, Five Nights At Freddy’s 2 is in a bit of a Portal 2/Dark Souls II situation. While the more of the same approach isn’t a bad thing in itself, the first game is generally superior by virtue of it being a tighter experience. While it’s an honest attempt to improve on the first game, the sad truth is that it still shares a lot of the same flaws, the biggest one being just how much it’s held back by its lack of resources. Again, it makes you wish that more could have been done with the game; imagine what a game in this franchise could be like if it took a few leaves out of Alien Isolation’s book…
Still, for what it is, it’s a competent, though still fairly limited, bit of indie horror. Both games are fairly cheap, so if you’re curious enough, I’d check them out.
By reader Andrew Middlemas
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