(Reviewed on iPad)
“Hello, hello hello! Erm…well, if you’re hearing this, then chances are you’ve made a very poor career choice…”
These are the Phone Guy’s first words in the trailer for Five Nights at Freddy’s 2, and he’s certainly not wrong. The sequel to the original Five Nights at Freddy’s, takes everything that you loved/dreaded about the original game and somehow manages to make things even more stressful, tense and overwhelming than ever before. It’s faster, far, FAR more difficult, and there’s even more abhorrent animatronics desperate to thunder down corridors at you than before. In other words, it’s absolutely time to get the brown trousers out.
Whilst the game is quite possibly one of the most stressful heart in mouth experiences I’ve played in a game recently (well up there with Alien: Isolation and Outlast), the ultra fast state of blind panic that the game works you up into actually manages to significantly take away from the things that made the original game such a frighteningly good game in the first place.
At times, it can feel like a brutal rollercoaster of non-stop jumpscares, each one whipping by faster and faster than the last, a macabre merry-go-round of mecha-misery. Overall, there’s just a lot less of the drawn out tension and stomach-churning dread that made the original game so enjoyable.
However, although at first the emphasis on frequent faster furry scares may not appeal, if you’re a fan in any shape or form of the first game, then Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 is absolutely worth venturing back into that dark, fascinatingly and creepy restaurant that is developer Scott Cawthon’s mind once again for.
Although it’s perhaps a logical and straightforward evolution of the franchise – more scares, more gameplay mechanics more animatronics etc. – there’s enough brand new creative and twisted changes in the sequel that show there’s a whole new level of fiendishness in its design in comparison to the original formula.
Put simply, if you’re a fan of Five Nights at Freddy’s in any shape or form, then I highly recommend you give the sequel a try. Providing you’ve got the patience of a saint and the gluttony for punishment of a basement-dwelling gimp, then it’s a game that’s absolutely essential to experience if you’re a horror game fan.
So, fancy a second greasy slice of Fazbear pizza?
Not So Bunny This Time Eh?
Well, whaddayaknow? There’s a brand new Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza that’s opened up in town, and once again you play as another hapless (read: stupid) chump who’s unlucky enough to have snagged a summer job as the restaurant’s night watchman. Over the years, the original animatronic mascot models of the original establishment – Freddy Fazbear, Bonnie the rabbit, Chica the chicken, and Foxy the pirate fox (naturally) – have fallen into a state of disrepair, and a new set of cuter ‘child friendly’ (read: completely unsuitable for children) animatronics have taken their place. These new ‘toy’ models are cuter and more colourful interpretations of the old gang, but they are still just as creepy in their own special/murderous way; looking like brittle porcelain dolls, there’s a classic horror film vibe about them that screams that something’s absolutely not right – no matter how rosy and cute their metallic cheeks might be.
Functionally, the game plays almost identically to the original Five Nights at Freddy’s. Once again, the set up is very simple; as the night-time security guard, you have to monitor the cameras at this new Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza restaurant, surviving your 12:00-6:00am shift and trying to not get stuffed into spare metal-filled animatronic costumes along the way. Scott Cawthon once again provides the voice of the Phone Guy – presumably another recently expired security guard – who leaves you voicemails at the start of each shift in a similar fashion to the first game, dropping new titbits of information vital to your survival as the game progresses. Scott speaks in a manner that both amuses and makes you very anxious in equal measure.
Like the first game, you can’t move, run, or hide; your stoical character remains seated at their desk at all times; the camera feeds are your only way of tracking the animatronics as they stalk you throughout the restaurant. On paper, it’s the same deal as last time; all you’ve got to do is survive the agonisingly long graveyard shift by not letting any of the freaky furries get you. However, on the subject of home office defence, this is where you’ll notice the first cruel deviation from the original game’s drawing board – there’s no doors. Yup, that’s right; those big heavy doors, those beautiful blockers of brutal beasties are stripped away from you this time, leaving you completely exposed and vulnerable.
If that wasn’t bad enough, don’t worry, it gets much worse; there’s now three separate points of entry to your office this time. Directly across from your desk is a long corridor that stretches out into the dark dingy catacombs of the restaurant, and in place of the dearly departed doors there’s now two air conditioning vents to the left and right of you.
So the question you’ll be immediately asking yourself after seeing your new office environs is just how the fuck do I defend myself from animatronics without a god-damned pair of doors? huh? Well? Answer me!
Hide and Shriek
Well, the good news is that you’re not totally screwed…no scratch that, you are pretty much screwed without those beloved doors of the original, but to paraphrase 28 Days Later, the end isn’t quite so extremely fucking nigh yet either – you do have an alternative final line of defence in your arsenal against the malicious machines. Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 introduces the Freddy head – a spare Freddy Fazbear costume head – that you can put on in order to fool the animatronics who do get into your office into thinking that you’re one of them, and hopefully leaving you alone.
Putting the head on, as you might imagine, really doesn’t give you anywhere near the same level of temporary comfort or that fleeting sense of sanctuary you got from shutting the doors in the first game. Your view is restricted to the head’s small eyeholes, and its a lot harder to hear the ambient audio clues in the environment which tell you whether an animatronic you can hear is bumbling about in the background or ready to pounce on your prone protagonist. Plus, the amplified breathing sounds of your character when in the mask really don’t help matters at all; the muffled, wheezing breaths adding another layer of paranoia to proceedings.
Okay, cool – no doors, but the Fazbear head keeps the robo-ruffians away right? Well, not quite. The bad news is that it doesn’t fool all the animatronics – there’s always one eh? You see, unfortunately, another unpleasant twist to add to the growing tangle of twisted things that is Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 is that your old decaying friends from the first game are back. That’s right – the original Freddy, Bonnie, Chica and Foxy are back, and absolutely with a vengeance.
If you thought Freddy, Bonnie, Chica and Foxy were frightening looking before, they look hideously ghoulish now. Bonnie (again, always the animatronic from the first game that freaked me out the most) in particular looks terrifying; the top half of his head has been sheared off, leaving just a row of broken teeth on what remains of his lower jaw, and a devilish pair of glowing red eyes where his face used to be.
These old models have been relegated to the storeroom, and are just kept around and used for their spare parts to keep the newer models up and running. However, you learn pretty early on that these familiar furry furies are unfortunately prone to getting up and having a wander about the restaurant to reacquaint themselves with you once again – with just as much screaming and the same unrelenting determination to force you into a Fazbear costume as before.
Naturally then, in a similar fashion to the first game, the one animatronic from the original bunch which once again throws a giant spanner in the works for you is your ol’ pal Foxy. Sailor of the seven robo-seas and swashbuckling scaremonger extraordinaire, Foxy is wise to your costume-donning antics (he can probably tell you’re human from the pool of urine and tears puddling around your legs) so like in the original game, a different tactic is required to keep him at bay.
The different tactic you need in this case is the flashlight/lights – any animatronic can be temporarily stunned by shining a beam of light from your flashlight on them, and in the case of Foxy, it’s your only form of defence against him and his razor sharp teeth taking a chunk out of your cerebrum.
Touching in the specific box indicated onscreen illuminates a portion of the scene you’re looking at – either putting a feeble light on the darkened corridor stretching out before you, or offering a glimpse at whatever horrors might be lurking in the dark realms of the restaurant.
The flashlight mechanic is essentially a tweaked version of the original game’s Pirate Cove, a mechanic intended to keep you from just monitoring the camera feeds and hiding (and whimpering) in the Freddy head.
Well, to get a bit nitpicky for a second, your (presumably) handheld flashlight and the camera lights all run off the same single battery, but hey – videogames right? Your generous employers have also neglected to provide you with any spare batteries for your nightly cringe-fests, so you have to make your flashlight/camera lights last as long as possible.
Despite only having a limited amount of juice for the lights, it’s still a way better situation than the original game, where everything ran off the ridiculously small petrol generator that provided the original building’s power. As the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining…and the lining to this ominously dark storm cloud rolling in overhead is the fact that unlike the last pizza premises, this Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza does run on mains power. Whilst your flashlight/camera lights are limited, the cameras and air vent lights can be used indefinitely without them draining your battery power.
This means that you can monitor the cameras for as long as you need to, and you can turn on the vent lights to temporarily freeze anything crawling through them. Hmm…come to think of it, who puts lights in an air vent anyway? I’ve no idea, but obviously someone who’s used to being regularly attacked from them anyway.
This change to the way the power system works is a really smart design move on Scott’s part. There’s now a much greater incentive to track the robots as they make their way towards you. To jump back to the way the original game worked, arguably the scariest parts of Five Nights at Freddy’s weren’t particularly the jumpscares per se – it’s all over at that point of course – but rather those moments where you’d be nervously searching through the camera feeds to find where the animatronics were lurking. Peering intently into the grainy static snowstorm of the feeds to try and make out shapes in darkness were incredibly effective moments of the original game; moments which you were technically penalised for with the limited power supply, and moments you’d experience less and less as you got to the later levels, where success tended to come from keeping your camera glances to a bare minimum and holding back your energy for the door and light controls.
Five Night’s at Freddy’s 2 fully embraces those terrifying moments of the original by making the camera feeds more of a help to the player rather than a slight hindrance. As a result, you’re more likely to spend time flicking between the various feeds, desperately trying to find out where all your nocturnal nemeses are and getting all flustered and really worked up in the process, as they slowly and inevitably make their way towards you, George Romero zombie style.
Nocturnal Plate Spinning
So, to recap – no doors, but you’ve got a Freddy head; limited lights but continuous camera feeds and vent lights. If all these additional complications to the original game’s base formula we’ve been through didn’t sound stressful enough already, just wait, it gets even worse. There’s several new animatronics and animatronic mechanics introduced in the sequel which serve to make things in the pizzeria even more stressful and panicky than before. I won’t yak on about these new night-time terrors too much as part of the fun/terror is encountering them for yourself when you’re totally unprepared, but one in particular deserves a more detailed mention.
One of the major proverbial plates that you’ve got to keep spinning during your night shift is to keep checking on the ‘Prize Corner’ area. Instead of having to check on Pirate Cove to keep Foxy in place in the original, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 introduces the Prize Corner’s fiendish music box mechanic. You have to keep winding up this box (somehow performed over the camera feed – videogames again) in order to ‘soothe’ one of the brand new animatronics, The Puppet.
This horrific thing resembles a cross between Marcel Marceau and the Billy the Puppet toy from the SAW films. The Puppet essentially acts as a secondary Foxy – style figure which isn’t affected by your flashlight either. In fact, from my understanding, once The Puppet is out of his box, he isn’t affected by anything; if you go too long without winding the music box, you’re totally screwed. Once this jack is well and truly out of his box, there’s nothing you can do except brace for impact as it hurtles towards you, jangling out the tune of Pop Goes the Weasel like some demented shuttlecock of doom. Basically, The Puppet is terrifying.
On a gameplay mechanics level, the music box works really well in conjunction with the Freddy head. It means that you can’t just rely on pulling on the disguise and desperately hoping to cower away behind your desk until the morning light, or decide to only focus on those threats directly coming for you from the vents or down the corridor.
If the overarching design theme to Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 is basically to take everything you loved about the original game, and make it even more frightening and fucked up than before, then it excels with flying colours. Unlike the first game, it’s almost impossible to keep tabs on all the threats out to get you at once. You’ve got to be checking the cameras, stunning animatronics with your lights, jumping into the Freddy head when things are getting hairy and last but by no means at all least, remembering to wind up that god-damned music box.
Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 does a lot of things right. More animatronics, less office defences and more finely detailed mechanics all add up to create an experience that is bigger and at times, even more frightening than the original game. However, with all these new systems introduced in the sequel, it can get very complicated very quickly. Too complicated in my opinion.
It can be confusing at first just working out what you’re supposed to be doing, even for someone like me who has spent an awful lot of time playing the first game and who’s very familiar with its systems. This is obviously par for the course with horror games – the best ones tend to be those which are challenging and difficult as part of their nature, pushing you onto greater feats – but at times Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 manages to lose sight of what made the original game so effective.
For me, what I personally loved about the first game was its beautiful simplicity. At its very core, Five Nights at Freddy’s could be distilled down to three simple rules:
- Run out of power – Freddy will get you.
- Fail to check Pirate Cove frequently enough – Foxy will get you.
- Don’t check the corridor blindspots – Bonnie/Chica will get you.
In my opinion, it was just the right balance of tension, jumpscares, uncertainty and luck. Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 is considerably more complex than its predecessor, which is great as an escalation and expansion on that fantastically simple set of formulae, but also mildly irritating at times. There isn’t quite such a clear-cut set of rules to learn, which is great as it means that events are much more spontaneous and unpredictable, but it can also make it hard to learn from your mistakes. You’ll find yourself quickly getting frustrated and getting stuck in what feels like an impossible luck-based rut far sooner than in comparison to the original game.
Whereas the rhythm of Five Nights at Freddy’s was built on an increasingly tense slow build-up of dread, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 is a much faster-paced game that’s all about getting you into a hysterical blind panic. It manages to do this to a truly exceptional degree. Unfortunately as a result though, the creepiness and horror of the original are rapidly lost – the sequel almost goes so fast that you pretty much don’t have time to be frightened once everything is kicking off. Yes, the animatronics are freakish and frightening to look at, but after you see them lurch up into your face time and time again, you quickly get desensitised to their gnashing jaws, glowing red eyes and outstretched metallic paws.
To play devil’s advocate here though, I would have been disappointed if this sequel was simply pretty much the first game again, only in a new restaurant, with no new mechanics or characters etc. It’s the age old paradox with sequels in general, and specifically sequels within the gaming industry – how do you repeat or recapture the experience of the original whilst at the same time making a brand new experience for fans to enjoy? How do you deliver something at once familiar, but at the same time bigger, better, and brand new?
Bearing this in mind, the changes and twists that the sequel makes to the first game’s rules are really well thought out and interesting, giving the old ideas of the first game some refreshing, different and downright devious twists that manage to mess with your head to a successful degree. But they do make things a bit more awkward and harder to get into at first, even for a player like me who’s sunk a lot of time into playing the original game.
One of the major stumbles the game makes is that it doesn’t really do a satisfactory job of communicating to the player how and why you’re (repeatedly) failing. Whereas the Five Nights at Freddy’s Phone Guy dispensed tips on a need to know basis, the Phone Guy’s dialogue in the sequel is a bit more explanatory and narrative based. This is great on the one hand as you get to learn more about the horrible history of the restaurant and the cruel fates of the animatronics as you go, but this seems to come at the cost of receiving survival information that’s more relevant to your current predicament. For example, the game only really reiterates how to use the flashlight properly when you’ve reached the second night. As surviving the first night is no mean feat, it feels like a piece of information that needs to be told to the player far sooner into the game.
For another example, a major hurdle that happened to me when playing came when I first encountered (slight new animatronic spoiler) Balloon Boy, or BB as he’s known for short. A small human boy animatronic, BB is rather unique in the cast as he’s the only one that won’t directly attack you once he gets inside your office. Instead, his modus operandi is to just giggle incessantly and block the entrance to your office. Whilst blocking up the entrance to your office might actually sound like a useful thing, it’s really not. It means that you can’t shine your flashlight down the corridor at whatever might be lurking there – usually Foxy, who’ll more often than not take the opportunity of BB blocking the corridor to take a running leap at you and perform yet another aerial lobotomy on you. In other words, if BB gets in your office for good, you’re finished, and what’s more, there’s absolutely no way of getting him out.
The game never really explains anywhere what BB does at all or how or why you should be worried about him. Until I went online looking for help, I couldn’t understand how I was failing whenever he would show up, or why I couldn’t forcibly remove him from my office. In hindsight, it’s all rather straightforward, and it’s a cool mechanic to keep me extra diligent (and extra panicky) as a player. Obviously, you wouldn’t want the game to handhold you through everything in the way of it’s secretive new animatronics otherwise there would be no challenge or suspense, but some more specific clues from the Phone Guy would have been massively helpful and way less frustrating, particularly on the early levels.
In fact, there’s just generally much less discernable correlation between your actions and the environment in Five Nights at Freddy’s 2, both visually and aurally. On the subject of information that the game doesn’t manage to visually communicate effectively to the player, a significant area of murky uncertainty is the dark corridor to the security office. It’s confusing and really difficult to judge when you’re in danger from something lurking down it, or whether you can afford to temporarily divert your attentions elsewhere. An animatronic’s position in the corridor often does little to tell you just how prominent the threat is. It’s often really unclear as to whether you’re safe when an animatronic is right down at the far end, or still alright for the time being. It makes things very unpredictable, which is great at first, but when you realise there seems to be no reason or pattern to their positioning, it just becomes frustratingly vague after yet another flying fox attack from the dark.
While playing the original game with a decent pair of headphones was the preferable way to play, it’s absolutely essential to use them in Five Nights at Freddy’s 2. Whereas the ambient background bangs, clatterings and evil chuckling animatronic noises were mainly there to keep you on edge in the first game, having an acute audial awareness of your surroundings is crucial to surviving into the later nights in the sequel. In a similar manner to Alien: Isolation (a review of which is hurtling towards this blog as you read this), being able to hear when an animatronic attacker is clambering around noisily in the vents, or moving down the corridor could be the key between life and a grisly costume-based death.
However, having said that, the audio quickly becomes indecipherable after only a few minutes into a stage. A strange whining klaxon will start to incessantly play about halfway into each night, which has absolutely no apparent meaning. As a player, I’ve struggled to attribute even a shred of meaning to its prominence in the audio mix. It’s really confusing for the player, as it sounds like it should signal something crucial, but from my personal experience with the game, it’s all rather meaningless. Perhaps there’s something really obvious that I’ve missed, but I can’t for the life of me work out just what this hooting wail means.
Additionally on the topic of audio issues, there’s some admittedly minor but still very annoying grievances I have with some of the sound effect choices in the game. For example, the exact same buzzing audio cue used to denote that you’d taken too long to close a door in the original is confusingly used as a basic error sound when trying to activate your torch in this game. If you heard that buzzing noise in the original when trying to hit one of the door controls, then you knew you’d fucked things up, and you were about to be suit-stuffed momentarily. However, in this game, the sound appears to be used as a general error noise when trying to activate your torch when an animatronic is entering/leaving the corridor.
It’s really confusing and off-putting how the sound effect is used here, as it doesn’t appear to mean that you’ve entered a fail state anymore, rather it’s that you just can’t use the torch just then. It’s a really hard thing to unlearn, and having to fight my mental muscle memory from the first game, I personally found that it made learning the new systems oblique and unnecessarily convoluted at times. Not knowing why your torch is not working one second but then working again the next is scary, but also very frustrating after a while, as there’s no clear reason or discernable meaning behind it.
Overall, I found that Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 just felt too impossibly hard for me to enjoy to the same degree as the original. There’s just so many different variables to keep track of at once that in order to succeed, you’re going to need huge amounts of patience, determination, and above all else, a whole fucktonne of luck. As a result, I found my determination to get past the later nights quickly waned after yet another whirlwind round of lights, music boxes, Freddy heads and flying mechanical foxes tore my resolve to play on to pieces. Whereas in the first game, things felt incredibly stressful but just about manageable, beyond the first few nights of the sequel things feel even more luck-based and just ridiculously cruel.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s darkly hilarious and enjoyable to play, but only the most masochistic and patient players will have the endurance to reach the later levels. Like the pacing of a good horror film, you need moments of uneasy respite and eerie quiet to balance out the adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride of scares; skimp on the tension and the slow builds and you’ll find that the frights and shocks lose their effectiveness faster than an eight-foot animatronic bear can crush you into a metal-filled suit. However, if you’re a fan of the original game, you owe it to yourself to sit down, pour yourself a cuppa, crack open a packet of Hobnobs, and get comfortable in that familiar security guard’s chair for another 12:00-6:00am shift. What could possibly go wrong?