What is it? A first-person horror game of observation, fast reflexes, and poor career choices.
Reviewed on: Windows 7, Core i7, 8GB RAM, GTX 670
Play it on: Just about anything
Copy protection: Steam
Release date: Out now
Publisher/Developer: Scott Cawthon
Link: Developer site
The horror of Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 begins and ends with a hallway. Down its dark length lurks walking robot animals out to kill me, and I’m only armed with a goofy bear mask and a flashlight. If I light up the hallway, I’m treated to snapshots of terror: toothy jaws hanging open at weird angles, outstretched arms of patchy fur and gut-like cables, and eyes with a pinhole-sized glow staring right back at me. The hallway is a funnel of fear.
I peered down that hallway a lot during my roughly six hours playing Freddy’s 2, sole developer Scott Cawthon’s followup to his first spooky suit stalker simulator released in early August. Cawthon didn't wait long to leverage word-of-mouth popularity and YouTube celebrities’ horrified faces with a sequel that further establishes his skills at crafting a truly frightening experience.
What I wanted from a Five Nights sequel was more mind games and more uncertainty. I wanted the plodding animatronic suits to find me and rip my face off in new and interesting ways. I wanted working legs. What I got was a horror game dipping heavily into deception and subtlety, a wonderfully cruel cocktail of supernatural mystery and jolts of panicked adrenaline. Enjoying the good parts, though, comes with a cost of a frustratingly steep difficulty.
Once again, I’ve made the questionable career move of taking the overnight security shift at a children’s pizzeria for a measly pay rate. Strange Things occur among the tiled corridors and empty dining rooms at night, and staying alive entails warding off walking murderous animatronic animals by tracking their movements through grainy camera feeds.
I’m still rooted in place with no degree of movement beyond swiveling my head left or right; a slight disappointment to my hopes of freely wandering around. The first game used that restriction as an added layer of stress, and that’s effective enough the second time around, but the novelty feels a little worn now. Freddy’s world is interesting enough that I want to explore it. I wouldn’t mind poking around a corrupted version of Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Silly hats only
Cawthon’s other gameplay adjustments for Freddy’s 2, however, are discernible attempts at reducing passivity. In a fit of corporate penny pinching, the security office’s doors are gone, replaced with a single, large hallway yawning into darkness and flanked by two vent entrances. Excusing the fact that whoever designed the place doesn’t quite grasp what “security” means anymore, the room’s reconfiguration gives suits multiple angles of entry to threaten the dryness of my pants at any time.
Fending off the fuzzy intrusions involves jamming a Fazbear mask over my head to briefly fool the bots into seeing me as one of them, but I can’t check areas or use the cameras while wearing it. Having to choose between safety and awareness was thrillingly stressful, particularly during last-second peeks at the cameras and hallway.
Get used to enemies entering the office at almost a non-stop pace. After the first night, attack frequency ramps up considerably thanks in large part to a new set of suits shambling alongside the original quartet. Bonnie, Chica, Foxy, and Freddy return in various states of disrepair alongside redesigned versions of themselves sporting glossier exteriors and the same vacant, chilling stares. Two new characters round out the bunch: a toothily grinning, balloon-vending boy animatronic and a midnight black puppet that appears exactly like what you’d expect a puppet to look like in such a cheery place.
It’s these last two newcomers that present the freshest differences to surviving Freddy’s 2. Balloon boy doesn’t attack directly but instead disables the flashlight, another vital addition. Robbed of the ability to illuminate threats lurking in the hallway, vents, or on horror-cam, I became easy prey—and I quickly learned to hate balloon boy so very much.
The puppet stayed put in his room as long as I was mindful to keep a music box continuously wound with a tinkling tune. Here’s perhaps the strongest example of Cawthon’s push for increased player activity; whenever I slipped and let the box wind down, the puppet would rush the office and tackle me into an instant game-over. “Death by puppet” isn’t an epitaph I want.
Too much to bear
With the way the mask, flashlight, and music box work in concert, confrontation is inevitable. I appreciated that evolution of the first game’s dread-lined sense of inevitability, and the paranormal mystique surrounding the suits and the pizzeria’s checkered history is a great backdrop for the inherent creepiness of everything. Crank up the volume for some wonderful ambient noises and helpful auditory cues such as shuffling feet, demonic moans, or shudder-inducing giggling.
Actually skirting death for the full five nights (or seven for an added challenge) is where Freddy’s 2 blunders into a few major problems. Most significantly, the constant pressure is astounding. At full swing, I’m saving my neck from ten animatronics who aren’t exactly receptive to waiting patiently in line. I latched onto those brief moments where nothing happened to soak up the atmosphere, but I wasn’t given anything beyond a couple seconds before the craziness resumed.
By the fourth night, I had resorted to parking my camera feed on the music box room and nowhere else—a shame, since this was the same issue that cropped up with the Pirate Cove area from the previous game. I would’ve loved more opportunities to explore other rooms and notice more details, but I was too busy keeping the hall lit, flipping the mask on and off, inspecting the vents, and keeping that confounded music box playing.
Veterans of the first game might appreciate having extra tasks to juggle, but dying from a single misclick or for slowing down a tiny bit quickly grew tiresome for me. There were moments where I’d simply get overwhelmed and have to step away for a bit to cool down. The enigmatic story and gut-wrenching fear is there in plain sight to enjoy, but I feel the creative theme is somewhat soured with long and exasperating death chains, and that may be the lingering impression new players will have.