Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 Review: A Nightmare Perfected

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I have some words to eat.

In a previous review of the first entry in the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” series, I bemoaned the fact that what was an otherwise stunningly original and well conceived horror game had gotten bogged down with repetitive, easily optimized gameplay, inconsistent difficulty and a plot that seemed far too dull and derivative for the amount of effort required to uncover it.

On the basis of what I knew at the time, I still think these criticisms were valid. However, had I known what was coming, I would have probably treated the game less as a disappointment for falling short of greatness and more as an imperfect but thrilling harbinger of what would soon become one of the most visionary horror franchises since “Silent Hill,” and that it would only take the next entry in the series to reach that level.

Make no mistake, all the mistakes in the original “Five Nights at Freddy’s” have not only been corrected in its nominal sequel; they have been transformed into triumphs. “Five Nights at Freddy’s” was uncertain about its identity, not quite managing to keep the player on their toes, nor infusing them with the chill of slow burn horror. “Five Nights at Freddy’s 2,” on the other hand, knows exactly what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is a panic attack simulator. In fact, it’s not even accurate to call this a horror game. “Horror” implies dread and sanity-destroying revelations. Your sanity doesn’t have time for dread or to contemplate revelations in this game — it’s too busy hyperventilating in a corner wondering how long it can stave off carpal tunnel before your hand seizes up and one of them gets you oh God oh God I don’t want to die I don’t want to die please God let me survive this please I’ll do anything–

Ahem. The point I’m trying to make here is that this is less a horror game than a terror game, not in the sense of being terrifying (though it is that), but in the sense of literally terrorizing the player. If you have even a second of peace in this game, it’s either because you’re still stuck on the first level, or because something’s about to kill you and you’re already too slow on the draw. And unlike the first game, this time you know that if you screw up it’s your fault, because the rules are crystal clear about how to avoid being killed by the game’s enemies.

The difficulty lies in being able to negotiate the many contradictory tradeoffs that the rules impose in a more and more unforgiving manner with each successive level/night. And unlike in the first game, this time the series’ most unpredictable, game-breaking enemy, the infamous Golden Freddy, is saved for the game’s bonus stage, where its bewildering pattern seems less like the game cheating and more like the only possible way for the psychological terror to escalate after the grueling final non-optional level.

As in the first game, the premise is as follows: You are a security guard hired by Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, an establishment best described as Chuck-E-Cheese if it was owned by David Lynch, to work the night shift. Freddy Fazbear’s has recently decommissioned their old animatronic mascots, the original Bonnie (a guitar-wielding blue rabbit), Chica (a yellow chicken in a bikini and t-shirt), Foxy (a hook-handed pirate fox) and the eponymous Freddy (a teddy bear in a bowler hat and bowtie), and replaced them with newer, shinier versions of the same characters. The old mascots now languish, abandoned and disassembled, in the restaurant’s back room.

Unfortunately, like their predecessors, the new models also seem to engage in a “free roaming” mode when the doors are closed, meaning they’ll end up stumbling into your office and mistaking you for a metal endoskeleton with no costume, at which point horrible things could ensue. But not to worry, these robotic mascots aren’t all that bright, and just putting a Freddy Fazbear mask over your head is apparently enough to fool them, so you’re good.

Well, except the new, creepy marionette that only moves if you let its music box wind down. Somehow it’s smart enough to not only know you’re faking with the Freddy mask, but also hostile enough to kill you on sight. But don’t worry, you can wind its music box remotely, so everything’s fine, right? How hard can warding off only five mannequins over the course of a night be, especially given that one will just stay asleep forever if you keep its music box going, and the others are too stupid to spot your deception? Especially given that your cameras no longer drain battery at all, and you have a foolproof way of keeping the monsters at bay if it comes to that?

Not that hard at all, except for the fact that one of them actually isn’t that stupid and will pounce on you at its first opportunity unless you shine your flashlight (which does have a battery that runs down) in its face. Actually, when I say one, I mean two, because oh yeah, the old animatronics haven’t stopped moving. Yeah, that’s right, you thought you were done with them now that they’ve been decommissioned? Joke’s on you, chuckles. Just because the old Bonnie might lack a face, or the old Chica might have her dentures exposed to the elements, that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped being out for your blood. So if I said you have to deal with only five mannequins, I lied. You have to deal with ten. Oh yeah, it’s not just the four old animatronics that you find out about after you take this job.

There’s also the little Balloon Boy animatronic who will often announce his presence with a cheerful “Hi” or “Hello” and then proceed to literally destroy your flashlight and then laugh at you until something you can’t see jumps out of the darkness and kills you if you aren’t quick enough about putting on the Freddy mask to fool him. And the Freddy mask is your only escape because did I forget to mention that this time there are no doors to keep the enemies out? Actually, when you put it that way, this sounds almost like an impenetrable death trap, doesn’t it? And even for veterans of the first game, that’s exactly what it is the first time you play. You will die. A lot.

As you may imagine, this can get frustrating, especially given the fact that each of these deaths comes with a nasty jump scare, and it is in the frustration factor that “Five Nights at Freddy’s 2” falls just short of perfection. However, the game does take some clever steps to try and compensate for this, and in fact, even if by some freak chance you managed to play through the entire game without dying once, you’d actually be cheating yourself of the full game experience. This is because occasionally the game will randomly drop you into disturbing, surreal minigames with pixelated, Atari-esque graphics that hint in the most ghoulish way at the story behind the horrors of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza.

Speaking of, you can officially take everything I said about the story of the first game and forget it. It turns out that the amateurishness of the supposed origins of the animatronics’ evil was a completely intentional design choice on the game developers’ part, because the story you think you’ve pieced together in “Five Nights at Freddy’s” gets thoroughly exploded as a complete red herring in this game. What’s more, while tantalizing hints at the real horror involved are dropped, the game actually avoids the sin of over-explanation this time around, instead using its in-game reveals as ways to further disorient the player and erode their sense of control.

By the time you finish this game, you’ll genuinely have no idea what’s going on at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, but you’ll have enough clues to theorize while you frantically avoid sleep just so you won’t have to deal with the nightmares. What’s more, some of the mysteries of the first game do get partially explained, though with just enough ominous mystery left over that they won’t lose their capacity to chill. Because of this, whereas the first game felt like an atmosphere chiller with a B-movie’s plot, this game feels like a surreal creepypasta brought to life.

Verdict

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This is the game that the original and disturbing premise of “Five Nights at Freddy’s” was really waiting for. Gameplay-wise, is a terrifying thrill ride with just enough mystery built into its many deaths to keep you coming back, even if you find that the jump scares start to grate. Moreover, the game’s many, many unexplained plot elements leave open a lot of room for creative speculation and conscript the player’s imagination to heighten the horror, rather than dulling it with over-explanation. The designs of the enemies, as well as the sadistic tradeoffs that they inflict on the player, and the heart pounding pace with which it forces you to make these increasingly cruel choices, make this not just a horror story for the ages, but truly a horror game for the ages. For the price of admission to “Five Nights at Freddy’s 2,” you will be hard pressed to find a more harrowing, or satisfying experience.