FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S: SISTER LOCATION Review
Before I say anything else about the game, I’d like to start by admitting that, in fact, FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S: SISTER LOCATION was nothing like I’d expected. Having long been exposed to a barrage of excited posts on social media singing the praises of whatever installment was imminent, and having concurrently been exposed to the derision of my more savvy gamer friends towards said installment, I was expecting SISTER LOCATION to be irredeemable meme trash. While the game may possess just enough creative vitality and a willingness to branch out of the series’s narrow confines to avoid the meme label, I unfortunately must still proclaim it trash due to its nearly offensive level of playability (or lack thereof).
The general concept of the FNAF series should be familiar to anyone with a working modem: You play as a hapless nighttime repairman at a pizza joint, who must fight to avoid being deep sixed by the various animatronics that come alive and attempt to kill you. The “story,” however, couldn’t be less familiar, with a pointlessly convoluted mythos involving ritual child sacrifices, a Purple Man, a schizophrenic timeline, and an honest-to-goodness book you can buy for ten American dollars to help you navigate the whole mess. Just to refresh everyone’s memories, this is a game that historically confines the player to one room and requires you to shut doors before a jump scare occurs. Considering that developer Scott Cawthon’s somehow churned out five of these bad boys in two years, it’s understandable that things are beginning to feel stale, if not necessarily forgivable. While the fourth game made the controversial decision to move us out of a restaurant, it still confined all of the core action to a singular bedroom, along the same lines as its three predecessors. FNAF: SL needed to make large strides in terms of shaking up the formula.
Yeah, the POWERPUFF GIRLS reboot was pretty weird
Does SISTER LOCATION get points for ambition? A few. Although I refuse to give any credence to the encyclopaedic fan tomes that are making the rounds, things have clearly developed on a narrative and thematic level past a night repairman trying to stay alive. The opening credits occur while a voice over explores the moral and ethical questions facing the man who designed these animatronics, and the main narrative involves getting to know Circus Baby, a sympathetic animatronic who ostensibly wants to help the player. We even get treated to shots of our main character at home between shifts, eating popcorn and watching soaps before another long night of murderous drudgery. And you can bet that the story of the soaps he watches parallels the mythos of who the character is presumed to be!
Although it’s executed less successfully, we also sit through lengthy elevator rides to our shift each night, wherein a robotic guide makes snarky witticisms to get our jollies out before we’re expected to be quiet and avoid several gruesome fates. This last bit in particular felt like a cheap bid to appeal to the demographic of middle-school boys that keep this enterprise afloat (Yuk, yuk, yuk! He thinks my name is “egg salad”!), but it at least demonstrates a clear attempt to add a new kind of atmosphere and character to the franchise.
“Start spreading the news / I’m leaving today…”
Similarly, the game instantly feels larger and more expansive than previous installments, and wastes no time showing you as much, having you crawl through various vents and perform introductory tasks on the first night that will have you waiting in anticipation for Circus Baby’s Pizza World to become your playground. However, this goodwill is mostly squandered by the time the final credits role. The game never makes any use of the vents as a scare zone (one of the biggest disappointments), and most of the venue’s rooms are copy-pasted designs of each other, entirely submerged in darkness so Cawthon has to design less. When they’re not pitch black, they tend to be claustrophobic repair rooms, where a defunct animatronic sits and stares at you in anticipatory close up. Giving us a taste of what could have been a chance to really let the series breathe, only to reduce our actual view of the world to a monocle is a dirty ploy by Cawthon, and doesn’t offer him any chance of redemption when considering the game’s other flaws.
The long and short of it is that SISTER LOCATION is far too frustrating of a playing experience to ever be fully enjoyable. The controls show their seams during such segments as Funtime Foxy’s Auditorium during the third night. The player has to move forward in pitch darkness, flashing a strobe every once in awhile to avoid getting too intimately acquainted with the aforementioned Foxy. However, it becomes immediately clear that the camera is completely out to lunch, impossible to control with the mouse and a pain to wrangle towards the target door across the way. In addition, the player is on a fixed track straight to the finish line the entire time, which eliminates extreme amounts of potential to make the challenge even more tense and scary by adding in something as simple as a horizontal axis.
SISTER LOCATION stumbles even more egregiously in actual level design. Nights three and four are abject horrors of frustration that should get any self-respecting gamer up in arms. After the aforementioned trudge through Funtime Foxy’s Auditorium in night three, the player is presented with a defunct Freddy animatronic that they must boot up. Getting a power cell from Freddy isn’t too difficult, but the player is then instructed to nab the other cell from Bonnie, an animatronic hand puppet that is supposed to pop up over Freddy’s shoulders every now and again. I was not able to get the godforsaken puppet to appear once by traditional methods. Quietly and slowly creeping my flashlight all over Freddy’s body got me nothing more than a continual string of jump scares after a minute or so of being unable to find where Bonnie would pop up. The only way to beat this segment was to swing my flashlight wildly around like a madman, catch a glimpse of wherever Bonnie lay, and then roughly yank the power cell off of her. It eliminated any and all tension from the experience, and left me with a sour taste in the mouth. That’s not even mentioning the fact that each time you fail, you get booted back to Funtime Foxy in an underhanded effort to increase playing time.
If only, if only, the woodpecker sighed…
Which is a shame, because if you can strip away all the other bullshit, night two is exactly what I wanted out of SISTER LOCATION. Giving us three separate animatronics to outwit, each animatronic was in a different area, encouraging exploration of the setting, and offered a unique brand of fear and apprehension to overcome. In what is by far the strongest segment of the game, the player has to recharge the power in each of Pizza World’s rooms. However, as you’re charging, a Freddy animatronic gets ever closer, leading to a nail-biting rush to quickly pull out of the charging unit and send him back to his stage. Topped off with a segment in which the player has to alternatively sprint and stay perfectly still so that Ballora, an animatronic triggered by sound, won’t get wise, night two led me to believe this game could actually be meritable, only for the next two nights to send my hopes crashing to the ground.
As far as the typically notorious fifth night goes, players accustomed to the series will surely be disappointed. Not even featuring a proper chance to be scared (unless you really fuck up another repair room segment), the fifth night is almost entirely expository narrative. There’s a few twists and turns that are mildly entertaining from a plot perspective, but the ending is entirely anticlimactic. To really get your money’s worth from the fifth night, you’ll have to beat the death minigame that randomly occurs after getting axed. A facet of the FNAF series, whereas in the past minigames doled out necessary plot information (the minigame from FNAF 4 may actually be the best thing the series has ever produced), this time around it’s a jovial romp to feed little children cupcakes. Upon making sure the tots are properly fed, the player will then have the option to revisit night five, and like PONY ISLAND, reveal a hidden, alternate ending. In what ends up being a fun and tasteful callback to the predecessors, the secret room contains a traditional level of FNAF. Also similar to PONY ISLAND’s secret finale, in that it occurs in the singular and energizes a conclusion that’s otherwise dead in the water, this is a successful example of fan service with a greater purpose. You still won’t understand the new ending you get unless you’re deep into the fandom, but it’s a much more satisfying omega station.
It’s time for Cawthon to elevate FNAF above the status of an indie game. SISTER LOCATION makes some strides towards this goal, with each of the levels requiring different mechanics of staying alive and a plot that is incorporated into “real time” as opposed to getting filled through cutscenes and minigames. However, there’s simply too much of an amateur effort present to not drag things down. Anyone can objectively appreciate how large of an empire Cawthon has managed to create on so small of a concept and budget, but surely there’s enough precedent now for him to really take his time and bring us a bona fide FNAF experience. There is clearly enough lore and context present to develop a full-length game, and perhaps with more scope, we could be spared the repetitive deaths and elongated periods between checkpoints. FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S: SISTER LOCATION wasn’t exactly what I expected, but there’s no way around the fact that it’s just not a fun game to play.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PC