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Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Classics to Now

With nearly 9 games over 7 years, Five Nights at Freddy’s and its developer Scott Cawthorn have seen a rapid rise in fame and fortune from what was going to be a one-off experiment into the horror genre. And with Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach waiting in the wings for a 2021 release, it’s high time we took a look back at the highlights and challenges of games gone by and how each title affected the series as a whole.

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Courtesy of Gary Bustos

For those unfamiliar with the general premise, the Five Nights at Freddy’s series is a group of games (and toys, and books) based on the fictional franchise ‘Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza.’ Despite its occasionally cute appearances and characters, the series itself is solidly in the horror and survival genres, so you may want to think twice before getting your littlest cousins into the game. The first game, titled simply Five Nights at Freddy’s, was released on July 23rd, 2014, and had players work through ‘Five Nights’ as a night security guard at Freddy’s, working the graveyard shift of 12AM to 6AM. During this time, the animatronics are explained to enter a “free-roam mode” in which they wander the facility, making their way to the player’s office. If any animatronic makes their way inside of the office, it’s game over for the player, as they’re faced with a jumpscare and the death of Mike Schmidt, their player character. With a limited amount of power to operate the doors and the camera systems of the facilities, players need to manage their resources to keep an eye on the animatronics and only close their office doors when necessary, to conserve power. As the nights progress, the animatronics become more and more aggressive, until the final 5th night. However, there is a bonus 6th night, which is even harder, and a custom night, where players can manually manipulate the difficulty of each animatronic, creating a challenge called ‘20/20 mode,’ setting everything to the maximum difficulty and trying to survive. Defeating the main game unlocks a star on your screen to show your progress, while the 6th night adds an additional star, and ‘20/20’ mode adds the final 3rd star (and bragging rights.)

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Courtesy of Scott Cawthorn

Just 4 months after the successful launch of the first game, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 was released ahead of schedule on November 10th, 2014. Following much of the same gameplay formula as its predecessor (survive 5 nights, use security cameras, and avoid animatronics,) FNaF 2 brought players to the ‘New and Improved’ Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, which featured a range of remodeled toy versions of Freddy, Bonnie, and Chica alongside their more-withered originals, Mangle the fox and the completely new Marionette (the Puppet) and Balloon Boy. In addition to the new animatronics, the security office of FnaF 2 had no doors whatsoever, instead of having a long hallway in front of your desk that animatronics could approach from in addition to two low side vents they could crawl out of. To make up for the lack of doors, players were instead given a Freddy mask to wear whenever approached by an animatronic in order to trick them into thinking that you were one of them. Of course, this technique only worked on most of the animatronics, forcing players to manage other elements such as a music box and their flashlight battery to ward off the handful of outliers, while keeping a constant eye out for the rest, to quickly put on the mask when they needed it. In addition, FnaF 2 saw the first introduction of Atari-styled minigames, typically seen after completing each night. These minigames helped to show some of Fredbear’s troubled past, depicting some of the murders that had happened in the location prior to the game. After the five main ‘nights,’ players could once again unlock the 6th night, followed by a custom night for added difficulty.

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Screenshot of FNaF 2, courtesy of Scott Cawthorn

Following several images posted on teasing a third title, Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 was released on March 3rd, 2015. Set decades after the original events of the first game, FnaF 3 has players working as a security guard in the horror attraction ‘Fazbear’s Fright,’ before the founder of the attraction brings in a single animatronic known as Springtrap, a costume-animatronic hybrid later shown to house the soul of serial killer and businessman William Afton, aka Purple Guy. The first game with multiple endings in the series, FnaF 3 had players working to manipulate the movements of Springtrap, while avoiding the imaginary animatronics who would regularly sabotage your security system, allowing Springtrap to slip closer and closer to your office. While there was only one ‘real’ animatronic that could kill you, players had to manage their faulty camera, audio, and ventilation systems to lure Springtrap around the premise and keep him away from their office. Systems have a limited number of uses before they need to be reset, and many of the hallucination animatronics will automatically force a reset of these systems when interacted with. And, of course, Springtrap became more aggressive as the game progressed. The standard ending, generally considered the ‘Bad End,’ shows the souls of the murdered children still haunting the animatronics, well after their deaths. To unlock the ‘Good End,’ players need to find and play a number of secret Atari-style  minigames within each night, often having to glitch through these minigames themselves to beat them and deliver cake to each crying child. Afterward, the game will show the animatronics at peace at last, with the children’s souls being freed.

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Screenshot from FNaF 3, courtesy of Scott Cawthorn

Still working well ahead of schedule, Five Nights at Freddy’s 4 was released months ahead of its expected release date on July 23rd, 2015 (exactly one year after the launch of the original Five Nights at Freddy’s.) Focusing mainly on audio cues, FnaF 4 has you playing as a young child, trying to prevent nightmare versions of the original 4 animatronics from making their way into your bedroom at night, presumably to kill you. With no camera system, players are forced to move up to each of the entrances to the room, listen carefully for animatronic breathing, then either hold the door closed if they hear something, or shine their flashlight down the hall to scare away anything trying to sneak up. With two doors to defend, a closet that animatronics can appear in, and strange mini-Freddies which can appear on the bed behind you, FnaF 4 is generally considered one of the more challenging FnaF games. This game also features the same Atari-esque minigames, explaining the plight of your player character and their fear of a restaurant with a yellow bear and yellow rabbit animatronic. It also features a unique minigame called ‘Fun with Plushtrap,’ where players play a game of Red-light Green-light with a plush version of Springtrap, which allows players a-head start on the following night if they won. Once again featuring a 6th night and a custom night, FnaF 4 is considered the end of the initial arc of FnaF games.

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Screenshot from FNaF 4, courtesy of Scott Cawthorn

And here is where the total game count gets a little off. Following a series of somewhat aggressive PR stunts by Cawthorn, FNaF World was released through Steam on January 21st, 2016. In sharp contrast to the other titles, FNaF World was a cartoony single player RPG where players would navigate a bright overworld map, gather characters for their parties, and fight enemies in order to gain experience points and Faz Tokens to buy better equipment, fight harder enemies and bosses, and so on. While the game happily broke the 4th wall regularly and seemed to have a large amount of hidden lore, it was incredibly glitchy, unstable, and missing key features upon its initial release, and was subsequently bashed by both the community and critics for these faults. FNaF World was briefly taken down and fixed, later being offered for free on Game Jolt, but is still considered a spin-off game at best, with Cawthorn later mentioning his dissatisfaction with the game as a whole. It’s a bit of an odd duck in the series, but an interesting one nonetheless.

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FNaF World promotional image, courtesy of Scott Cawthorn

Going back into the tried-and-true survival horror it’s known for, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Sister Location was released on October 7th, 2016. Taking a much more narrative approach than the previous games, Sister Location has players working as a new employee at Circus Baby’s Rentals and Entertainment, which is a sister company to Fazbear Entertainment, specializing in renting animatronics for children’s parties. Featuring Funtime versions of Foxy, Freddy, and a hand puppet version of Bonnie, Sister Location introduces giant ballerina Ballora, and the ‘helpful’ Circus Baby animatronics. Rather than a single mechanic made more difficult over 5 nights, Sister Location has players doing different tasks each night, often involving minigames that pit them against one of the other animatronics in the building. The true ending of the game has the player being taken over by an amalgamation of the other animatronics known as Ennard. However, by completing a Circus Baby minigame that can sometimes appear when the players dies and following an unlockable map after finishing the game once, players can find a secret room in Night 5, allowing for a more traditional FnaF final night where they must defend their room against Ennard trying to come inside by closing doorways and air vents, all while managing limited power. Storywise, it’s clear that this secret ending isn’t the ‘true’ ending, but a similar mode can be played in the game’s custom night, this time involving all the newly introduced animatronics and more. Completing the hardest difficulty of each of these custom nights reveals the aftermath of Mike being controlled by Ennard in a similar 8-bit style as the games before.

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Image from FNaF: Sister Location, courtesy of Scott Cawthorn

After nearly a year of silence, with Cawthorn supposedly taking some time for himself and his family, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator was released over Steam on December 4th, 2017. Completely free, Pizzeria Simulator appears at first glance to be a business-simulation style game in which players run a franchised location of Freddy Fazbear’s, but the survival horror elements appear during the night shift as more and more strange animatronics appear on the back doorstep of the chain. Players can salvage these animatronics in a horrifying game of ‘spot the difference’ for some extra cash; in addition, salvaging these animatronics means they can now jump you during your nightly duties, making the task of printing out fliers and ordering cups incredibly more stressful. The Tycoon aspects of the game allow for a wide variety of endings, including going bankrupt, failing to salvage all the animatronics, finding information you weren’t supposed to find, and finding all the hidden lore clues hidden in the game. Much of these lore clues are hidden in the minigames you can buy for your pizzeria, which in and of themselves allow you to play their minigames, often by breaking them or intentionally going out of bounds. A game designed to wrap up loose ends and answer lingering questions, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator was generally well-received and enjoyed for its humorous appearance and serious undertones.

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Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator, courtesy of Scott Cawthorn

Mirroring the structure of the games, with the first 4 games plus Sister Location as the main “Five Nights” and with Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria Simulator as the lore-filled 6th night, Ultimate Custom Night was released on June 27th, 2018. In a combined gameplay reminiscent of the original games, Ultimate Custom Night allows players to choose from 50 characters across all six FnaF games and FNaF World and adjust their individual difficulties from 0 to 20, much like the custom nights of those games. Not a game to be taken lightly, Ultimate Custom Night is incredibly difficult, as every animatronic has slightly different rules and ways of defeating them, and having them work in conjunction with each other makes for a very challenging play through, especially at the speed at which you need to address each of them. At various point thresholds, players are rewarded with anime-like cutscenes hinting at even more lore or clarifying some of the remaining lore questions that the series still had while effectively wrapping up the original games. While there is no formal plot for the game and the game itself is non-canon, it is implied that the game is the repeated nightmare of series antagonist William Afton being tortured by his former victims and forced to fight increasingly harder and harder versions of the animatronics forever. However, as this speculation comes from evidence in the book series, which is non-canon to the game series, it is hard to confirm for sure.

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Ultimate Custom Night menu screen, courtesy of Scott Cawthorn

As part of the transition between the old arc of Five Nights at Freddy’s and the new stories Scott Cawthorn is telling, Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted was released for VR on May 28th, 2019. On the surface, FnaF: Help Wanted presents itself as a game made by Fazbear Entertainment as a way to make light of all the past “stories” and “rumors” made by a “deranged lunatic” (an actual picture of Scott Cawthorn is used with this line, implying all the prior FnaF games to that point are just that: stories and rumors.) Players have the option of reliving each of the 3 original games, as well as several minigames inspired by the later games, and some unique games such as vent repair and animatronic repair, which are terrifying in a VR space, as they really go to show just how large some of the animatronics are meant to be. However, with just a little digging, players can find hidden, glitchy cassette tapes, detailing the trials of the (fictional) development team for FnaF: Help Wanted and their struggles with containing a powerful virus dubbed Glitchtrap, or Malhare, by the community. The true ending of the game, discoverable once all the cassette tapes have been gathered and the main game is beaten, shows a strange mind and body swap occurring, imply that some people and testers who made it that far in the game have also been ‘infected’ by Glitchtrap, leading into the events of both FnaF: Special Delivery and, possibly, FnaF: Security Breach.

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FNaF VR: Help Wanted title art, courtesy of Steel Wool Studio and Scott Cawthorn

Released in early access on November 23rd and later fully released on November 25th, 2019, Five Nights at Freddy’s AR: Special Delivery is the series’ first mobile title, made in collaboration with Illumix and Scott Cawthorn’s own team. The premise is that the game is a fun way for fans of Fazbear Entertainment to directly order animatronics to their own homes, but the game has several built-in glitches and errors that instead cause the animatronics to attack and stalk you in turn, utilizing Augmented Reality to make it seem like these animatronics are in your actual house. Beyond having a large number of specialty characters and seasonal skins to collect, the game also features an email system where Fazbear Entertainment can send you tips and tricks for how to play and progress. Mixed in with these emails are some emails not meant for our eyes, seeding more lore and backstory about the poor contract employees occasionally used by Fazbear Entertainment to set up the Special Delivery system. Of particular interest are a series of emails from IT tech Luis Cabera and the unknown ‘Ness’ concerning Red Flag reports on her work computer. Many of these search terms hint at Ness being unstable, searching for increasingly violent or worrying things, and then just typing the word ‘help’ over and over again. And considering we know at least two people in the next games go by the name Vanny and Vanessa… it could either be a red herring, or a significant clue into their characters.

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FNaF AR: Special Delivery website art, courtesy of Illumix and Scott Cawthorn

And with that, we make our way to the current time. With Five Nights at Freddys: Security Breach predicted to launch some time in 2021, all that’s left to do is connect the pieces as best we can and wait. Will Vanny prove to be Vanessa? Is Glitchtrap a digital version of series villain William Afton? Will there be another article covering the other multimedia aspects of Five Nights at Freddy’s, such as the numerous book series and collections, and their implications to the game universe? Stay tuned!

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