Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
It’s the month of spooks and scares, and you know what that means...Killer animatronics get another chance to haunt our dreams and cause long lasting trauma. Yes, Sister Location, the latest game in the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise, has been released. Over a year in the making (which, trust me, is a long time for developer Scott Cawthon), Sister Location is the biggest and most different FNAF game yet. Maybe even too different…
Laughing all the Way to the Grave
You aren’t taking a job in a pizzeria or a haunted house this time around. Instead, you are a maintenance worker at a distribution facility for FNAF’s animatronics. Unlike previous titles, where the general populace was blissfully unaware of the animatronics’ murderous nature, this facility seems more than aware of it and has contracted you to fix them to be less murdery.
If that sounds like a goofy premise, it is – but not any more so than other FNAF games. In fact, Sister Location understands its tone quite well and constantly makes fun of itself. You get a real Portal vibe as you are guided through the facility by an A.I. that alternatively gives you helpful advice, comments on your imminent death, and offers you a basket of exotic butters. You go home every night to watch a melodramatic soap opera about a vampire romance while spilling popcorn all over yourself. You are asked repeatedly to enter your personal info into a faulty keyboard, resulting in hilarious auto-corrects. The writing for this game is genuinely funny.
“But wait,” you may be thinking, “FNAF games are supposed to be scary, not funny.” Well, you are right, and Sister Location is quite scary. The humor actually serves to enhance the fear. All horror is a curve. The audience starts out calm, tension builds, and then the scare. The humor calms the audience quicker, which makes the next scare more intense. When the really gruesome stuff happens, even the humor starts to build tension. No one wants to laugh when people are getting eviscerated, but you will and you’ll feel bad about it.
A New Adventure Every Night
There’s no one central gameplay mechanic in Sister Location. Instead, players are guided through a number of independent FNAF-style games each night. One night, you may be trying to reboot a power supply, the next you may be stuck in a spring-lock suit. Each night has totally different mechanics and puts you in totally different situations, which keeps the game feeling fresh throughout.
But an unfortunate consequence of this design is the lack of difficulty curve. Every night ends up being its own tutorial and level one before being quickly discarded. Scott Cawthon did exclude a couple of important instructions, leaving you to die by trial and error, but once you know what to do each night can be beaten without any real challenge. This was the fastest I ever beat a FNAF game, clocking in at only about two and a half hours, deaths included. There’s no custom night, no difficulty options, no 20/20/20 mode this time around. You just beat it once and you’re done.
The nights themselves borrow the best aspects of every other FNAF title. One night you’ll be hiding like you did in FNAF 2. Another night you’ll distract animatronics with sound like in FNAF 3. Yet another uses sound cues to warn you of an attack, like FNAF 4. Heck, to get the secret ending you have to play a near spot-on recreation of FNAF 1, power-meter, doors, cameras, and all. You’ll also find several FNAF staples like death mini-games and hidden Easter Eggs that connect to the lore. In fact, while the game itself isn’t that hard to complete, it has a ton of replay value if you are the kind of person that wants to find every hidden piece of content.
The Missing Piece
Sister Location is easily the highest budget FNAF title yet. It’s still noticeably an indie title, but Scott Cawthon spent a ton of time and money on new animations, new animatronic models, fleshed out environments, and more. The best thing he spent his money on was a full voice-acting cast. It’s not just Scott doing the phone guy voice anymore. Your A.I. guide has a voice. The soap opera you watch is fully voiced. The animatronics each have a voice…
Yes, the animatronics can talk this time around, which is the single most terrifying thing about this game. They don’t seem like mindless death machines anymore. They are intelligent. They know who you are, and they can manipulate you. By the end of the game, you’re not sure who has your best interest in mind, if anyone. It creates a horror that’s much deeper and more profound than “the robots are going to kill you” – a horror that makes you feel like you were never the main character in the game at all. You were never important. You were just expendable, like the robots you were servicing.
While the graphics, gameplay, and sound are all fantastic, the lore is unfortunately lacking. Supposedly, the game connects the mainline FNAF universe with the novel, The Silver Eyes. I’ll admit, I only barely know the book’s lore, and as a result the connections in Sister Location were confusing to me. The ending, while horrifying, was particularly confusing. It had very little payoff and just brought up more questions.
Sister Location is a quality game. The horror is spot-on. The humor is spot-on. The graphics, voice acting, and gameplay are spot-on. But despite all these accolades, something feels missing, a sort of FNAF-ness the other games had that this one does not. Maybe it’s because Chica, Bonnie, and Golden Freddy don’t show up at all. Maybe it’s because we don’t hear from the Phone Guy. Maybe it’s because the plot is only tangentially connected to the events at Freddy Fazbear’s pizza. Maybe it’s because Foxy and Freddy take a back seat to the new animatronics, Baby, Bellora, and Ennard.
Whatever it is, Sister Location doesn’t have it. It feels more like a FNAF fan-game than a core entry in the franchise. I came away from Sister Location having played a good game – a great game even – but not a FNAF game, and that left me feeling hollower than a Spring-Trap suit.
At a price point of a little under seven dollars, it’s hard to justify not picking up Sister Location, especially if you were a fan of the original FNAF line. You’ll have fun with it, just like I did. It’s a fantastic game to play with a bunch of friends in a dark room this Halloween. If you are looking for a horror fix, it’s perfect. However, if you are looking for the next definitive chapter in FNAF lore, you may be left wanting. Then again, if you are that much of a die-hard fan of Five Nights at Freddy’s, you are probably going to purchase Sister Location no matter what I say.