The series of Five Nights at Freddy’s games that were released on Game Pass for the Xbox One has finally come to an end with this, the fourth in the franchise. Now, just as the third game broke the mold somewhat, the fourth changes things up again. Removing us from the setting of the previous three games – the security office overlooking some animatronics – and instead this installment stuffs us into a child’s bedroom. The mechanics have had an overhaul as well, and so the question we have to answer is this: Is this a proper FNAF game, or another also ran? Well, let’s wait till midnight to see, shall we?
Now, the setting of Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 is brought home to us at the very beginning via the medium of another one of the retro-styled minigames. We are depicted as a child who is obviously upset, with tears streaming down its face. In the minigame, there are a pile of the models from the original games on the floor, and if you interact with them, the child tells us that “These are my only friends”. Freddy Fazbear himself sits on the bed, again in toy form, and after a few attempts to leave the room via a locked door, the child appears to lie down and go to sleep. At this point, the game, and the nightmare, begins.
The setting – the bedroom of the aforementioned child – is somewhat different to the settings of the other games. There’s no camera system, no ventilation, no limited power; just three doors to check and interact with, and the bed behind your back. The idea of the night is to keep the animatronics, who have somehow made their way into the house of the child, from getting into the bedroom and providing the obligatory jumpscare. Now, the child can look at a door, and make their way to it by pressing the LB button. When at a door, sound cues play a much bigger part than before, and FNAF 4 does also try to hold your hand a little more. As you make it to a door, a helpful text window appears to tell you what to do. If you hear breathing, you are supposed to hold the door shut until the animatronic goes away. Quite why a robot is making breathing noises isn’t explained, but with a little willing suspension of disbelief it soon becomes second nature to listen. If there is no breathing, you can shine your flashlight down the corridor to see what is happening.
So, this applies to the left and right door, where Nightmare Bonnie and Nightmare Chica (as they are called) appear respectively. The third door of the room leads to the closet, and it’s here that Nightmare Foxy appears and tries to hide. You can hear when Foxy makes his entrance, as footsteps sound and then stop, and you can glimpse Foxy through the open door. Shining your light on him will force him deeper into the closet, and so it certainly pays to keep an eye on what he’s doing.
The last area to check is the bed, right behind us. It’s a little awkward to access on a controller, as you need to pull down on the left stick and then press LB to look behind. What happens as the night goes on is that sort of phantoms of Nightmare Freddy appear on the bed, and if they reach a critical mass they will turn the stuffed toy on the bed into Nightmare Freddy and he will attack. Shining the light on them drives the phantoms away, but I can honestly say the first time I turned around to see the phantoms I actually got goosebumps, it was that spooky. The whole atmosphere of the game is on a par with the original Five Nights at Freddy’s, and whether it’s because the protagonist is a child, or the thought that the child isn’t safe in his own room, it really freaked me out.
As the nights go on, the difficulty rises, as you’d expect, and also after each night a little bit of the story is revealed via the medium of the minigames. In the first one, Plush Freddy warns the child that “He” (his older brother, as it turns out) is hiding in the house, and then the child is jumpscared by his brother wearing a Foxy mask. The rest of the story is pretty heartbreaking, as it follows what happens to the child as he is bullied by his brother and his friends, all ending very badly indeed. I shall say no more about it, but I have to admit to being somewhat affected by the narrative.
Graphically the game is an improvement on the earlier ones, with no static-filled CCTV screens to look through – if you see an animatronic, you see it in all its nightmarish glory. Seeing Chica in the gloom of the right hand corridor, holding a cupcake, is a genuinely scary moment, and listening out before deciding whether to risk the flashlight is nerve-wracking. With the sound so much more important this time around, I can recommend playing with a set of headphones, as it makes it a lot easier. And much, much more atmospheric, not to mention scarier.
So, a conclusion then. I’m not sure how much of the atmosphere of Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 on Xbox is down to the fact that we are in the tiny shoes of a child, but this game has a much more unsettling vibe than the third one. Trying to keep an eye on the doors, and attempting to keep the little Freddies off the bed, will have you whirling about the place like a dervish, while trying to keep the light illuminating all the darkened places. By the end, I felt like I had been through an emotional wringer, and engaging with the story will make the game much more meaningful. This is a return to form after the dip of the third installment, and I recommend you try it out. But in daylight, if possible…