People love to be scared. Thrilling scares anyway, not big existential stuff like climate change and fascism. From roller coasters to horror movies we can’t get enough of goosebumps and chills and screams. No surprise, then, that video games offer us an even more immersive sense of fear. There are countless amazing horror games out there, but one stands above all others as a true phenomenon. And if you haven’t experienced it yet, time is running short.
Five Nights at Freddy’s is the braingoblin of Scott Cawthon, an ambitious creator who burst onto the scene in 2014 with the first FNaF game. It became a sensation, selling millions of copies and spawning nine sequels and oodles of merch. Odds are if you encountered a tween around Halloween from 2014-17 they likely had some FNaF swag on them. Why was it such a success? And when is it leaving Game Pass?
First, the easy answer. Five Nights at Freddy’s is leaving Game Pass on October 31. This leaves you with just enough time to dive-in and experience some of the finest jumpscares gaming has to offer. If you’ve already played the game, use this as an excuse to revisit a classic for Halloween nostalgia feels. If you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to see what all the hype has been about.
FNaF deserves the hype. Cawthon’s game world is set at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, basically a Chuck E. Cheese gone wrong. The premise of FNaF follows a night security guard (you) who must watch over the restaurant each night when the animatronic furries come to life. And, predictably, they want to do some evil deeds.
Evil is a subjective term here, because at first the animatronics’ lethal instincts are explained away as a software malfunction. They don’t *want* to murder you, they just see you as a broken robot and will try to “fix” you with methods your fleshy form can’t stand. You’re given all the graphic details your first day on the job by the Phone Guy, a narrator of sorts who keeps the story going with periodic calls. It’s a brief intro but really sets the tone for the tense, claustrophobic gameplay ahead.
At a glance, FNaF doesn’t seem to offer much. Your character, Mike Schmidt, sits still in a room with two doors on either side. You don’t roam around or earn XP or find loot. This is purely about survival instincts, reflexes and listening skills. Headphones are highly recommended since the game thrives on audio cues. You’ll look at a camera, see a row of animatronics standing still and check something else. When you check again, one of the animatronics is missing. Now its on a camera closer to your location. Check on it moments later and its gone again. You hear something approaching on the right. You hit the flashlight, see a horrifying creepshow intent on murder, panic briefly then hit the switch and close the door. A few moments later its gone, but now a different animatronic is missing. Repeat.
The doors and lights are controlled by a limited battery, which is the driving mechanic of the game. You can’t leave the doors closed the whole time, cant blare the lights non-stop. You have to check the cameras to time your defenses as you learn the patterns of each enemy (Chica, Foxy, Bonnie and Freddie, respectively.) Checking the cameras pulls up a separate screen that forces you to look away from the doors, which creates the perfect environment for jumpscares. That’s how you perish in FNaF. Turn your attention from the cameras back to the doors and BAM! Spooky face, scary noise, game over.
Is it a bit reductive? Sure. But FNaF is an absolute blast to play when you want to give yourself the scaries. It’s fun to watch, too, as evidenced by the 90 zillion views it has on Twitch. It’s one of those games that focuses on a simple mechanic and pulls it off with near-perfect execution. It doesn’t take long to play, which is good because it won’t be around on Game Pass much longer. Lean into the Halloween spirit and play it ASAP.
FNaF is available on Xbox Game Pass until Oct. 31. It’s also for sale on PlayStation, Switch, PC and mobile.