This is Either/Or. A new idea for a column I’ve had festered in my head for a while, and now it’s finally on paper. Well, word editor, but you get the idea. The Premise? Two items of specific similarities go head to head to determine which is the best of the two. There must me a winner. No ties. No draws. Two enter, one leaves victorious. Think of it as Thunderdome, but with words. And no Tina Turner. And no one is running Barter Town.
This time, we’ll be looking at two horror games that just came out in August that’s been getting a lot of buzz. I’m talking about the Demo game P.T. and the indie horror Five Nights At Freddy’s. Both games offer a lot of frights, chills, and something to make your skin crawl. Both games got well received by gamers alike, and both games get a lot of play from Let’s Players on YouTube.
I should warn you that I really am not a big fan of horror games. I find a lot of them very similar, and mostly boring and annoying instead of frightening. Now there are exceptions to that rule. Resident Evil 2 is among one of my favourite games of all time. Condemned is an underrated gem that had my interest all the way to the end. I’m a big fan of Silent Hill games. Other than that, I can’t think of any other horror games at this point that really got me excited to play. But with the buzz of these two titles, my curiosity got the best of me. The end result was two relatively short games that offered a fun time and a mandatory change of underpants.
But of the two, which one reigns as the king of modern horror games? Let’s find out together. Don’t touch that dial now, we’re just getting started.
Tale of the Tape
Before we determine a winner, let’s do an introduction of both games.
P.T. (which stands for Playable Teaser) was created by Konami and is free to download on the Playstation 4. It’s a first person exploration game that has a lot of observation and thinking. The game starts off by throwing you right into a concrete room, without context, with only a cockroach on the floor to greet you, and a single door. That door leads to a long, narrow, brightly lit hallway in someone’s house. At the end of the hallway lies a right turn to reveal a closed door on the right wall, an entrance hall to the far left with a front door that won’t open, and a small stairway straight ahead that leads down to another door. Once you open this door, you enter to reveal the exact same hallway you just entered. The game loops throughout the same path with minor changes to reveal eerie visuals and sounds, like a scary ghost-zombie woman, a radio that spews exposition about a murder suicide, and eventually a crying baby. As you progress, it reveals a really creepy atmosphere that is filled with uncomfortable imagry. There’s even a talking fetus lying in a dirty sink in the bathroom. And I don’t sicken easily with these kind of games or movies, but that did freak the hell out of me.
The end result of all this torture is a teaser trailer for the upcoming sequel to the Silent Hill series, called Silent Hills, due out whenever it’s completed. It also reveals the big names that are attached not only to this teaser demo but to the upcoming game. Those names? Why, highly worshipped video game producer and part-time demigod Hideo Kojima, and legendary director of frightful stories and giant robots Guillermo Del Toro. And it will star the guy who played Daryl from Walking Dead. Well, I‘m Sold! I am so in on this gathering of genius and talent. All they need is the freshly dug up bones of Vincent Price to make it perfect.
Five Nights At Freddy’s is an independent point-and-click survival horror game that’s now available on Steam for just $5. The story revolves around the silent protagonist starting a new job at a Chucky Cheese style restaurant as the new security officer. Upon sitting on your first night at work, you realize you’re not protecting the place from burglars or such, but the animatronic animals that play the music at birthday parties. These freaky little bastards come to life at night to walk around and kill anything that breathes. So it’s up to the player to remain in the same office and survive the night before they come to kill you. And each night you survive, the animals get more aggressive with their moves. And the only thing that can protect you is the available tablet that shows the security cameras, side lights to see the blind spots, and quick-closing doors, (which look incredibly expensive, if you ask me). But you have to be smart with your uses of each device, as you have limited power to last until the six o’clock alarm sounds.
Oh, and the pay is $120 a week. Yeah, that’s it. Is there really no other job out there available? Is there a 20% unemployment rate in this stinking town or something? Actually, while I think about it, if you know you have a job where robot chickens can kill you, why not bring a baseball bat from home? Or a teaser? Or a gun or something? And how is a business still alive after there was “The bite of ’87”? That must have been one hell of an out of court settlement. And wait a minute, what is the security guard protecting? I have nothing to do if something happens like a burglary? And wouldn’t I be safer if I can watch the monitors on the second floor, or from my car outside? Come to think of it even further, if the company is paying $120 a week for a person to possibly die under these circumstances, wouldn’t it be more expensive to clean up the body and the blood off the walls, robots and the carpets? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use that money to hire some university student studying mechanical engineering to fix the robots to stop being so murderous? Something tells me that the following image is exactly how to fix the problem.
So which game is better? Well before we make our decision, let’s break down the components, gear by gear, and let’s see which stand out as the right reasons. Don’t want to jump (scare) to conclusions.
Similarities: Incredible Atmosphere
Both games create such an ambiance in their own unique way, that requires both games to be played with all the lights off, the headphones on, and the volume cranked and the hairs on the back of your neck standing. Both also limit the amount of area the user can see, as P.T. is all inside the same looping narrow hallway, and Freddy’s are all about the claustrophobic office and the limited camera views.
Both games also use an incredible mix of sound effects and minimal to no music to create this tone that makes the playing all that more terrifying. For example, P.T. will have the sounds of a woman sobbing or a baby crying from a distance to evoke emotion out of the player, mostly while in the same familiar hallway with dimmed lighting. This will create such an uncomfortable mood that you’re more afraid of what you don’t see than what you do.
Freddy’s does something similar and different as each click of the camera shows a frightful image, whether you see that eerie bunny staring at you, or there’s nothing in the room. Not knowing where the animals are at a given time makes you so paranoid that they could easily be in that one place to kill you. Then it throws in sounds that come from the kitchen (which has no video feed), so you can only assume someone is in there, but still can’t be sure. On occasion as well, the camera’s video feed will flicker off for a couple of seconds, then you can easily lose track of where they are. This all create such tension that leads to paranoia that makes you more freaked out by any sudden movement. Plus the loud sound effects when you turn on the hallway light and see that creepy bastard chicken is within touching distance and you need to slam that door shut.
Similarities: First Person perspective
A lot that goes into a good horror video game is making the player feel that the actions and consequences is happening to them. So the easiest way to make them invested is to make the perspective of the game from a first person point of view. Sadly, it seems that almost all horror games are going this path, but sometimes a good formula can still work. P.T. tells the story of what the silent protagonist might have done to deserve such frightful punishments. Freddy’s goes to the idea that it is you that answered the job listing, and now you have to lie in the bed you made yourself. It helps with the immersion to have the player think that they are the playing themselves in a frightful situation.
Both games also use the idea of loneliness to help with that scary perspective. Each time something needs to be explained, using telephone recordings like Freddy’s does or the radio in P.T., gives you that feeling that no one will be around to help you or save you. That way, when a ghost or a possessed fox robot is very close by, it makes it all the more terrifying.
Similarities: Simple controls
A good game that’s fun for the whole family requires controlling the game without being too complicated. And thankfully, both games do this right. P.T. uses the analog sticks of a Playstation 4 controller to move and look, and pressing R3 will zoom in. That’s all you need. It would be nice to have a run button, but I’m not complaining. Because there isn’t much to interact with in the game, and you have no weapons to shoot the mysterious threat, there is no button to pick up and use items. Eventually there are hidden pieces of picture you need to collect, and to pick them up, you need to zoom in on them for several seconds. All the doors open by touching them. This prevents spamming the X button to find the important items needed to advance. There is one part that requires that X button, but other than that, it’s all good.
Five Nights At Freddy’s just use the mouse to activate the lights, the camera and the action. To view the cameras you hover the cursor to the bottom of your screen and select the camera you wish to monitor. Apparently there is an IPad port of this game, and it makes perfect sense. To be perfectly honest, for the computer version, I would have loved to have seen keyboard controls as well. Even if it was space-bar to open up the cameras, or using Q and A to the left switches. It’s just a minor complaint, but I started to realize that maybe I’m playing a guy in a wheelchair with a broken left arm, and that’s why I can’t run.
Differences: Gameplay Mechanics
The most significant difference between the two games is the game play mechanics. P.T. is a first person exploration horror game, and Five Nights At Freddy’s is a point and click survival horror game.
P.T. is a game where you walk around and trigger events based on actions and intervals of the loop. At one point the exit door will close and the bathroom door will open to reveal more of the story. Next time you enter the hallway, the lights will be darker and something else will be different. At one point there will be an ominous figure standing in front of you, and as soon as you’re a certain distance, the lights will go out, and won’t come back on until you are a certain distance closer to the now disappeared figure. Each trigger will result in a new scary moment to endure until you reach a point where you are collecting picture pieces in a dark hallway with only a flashlight and creepy sounds to light your way. All leading up to a series of events that are needed to activate the ending and the trailer.
In contrast, Freddy’s game play is stationary and requires reactions to the events taking place. You are viewing alternating cameras, that work the same way as that Sega CD game Night Trap, to see where all those machines are located. You don’t see them moving at all, because they freeze on the cameras like they are Weeping Angels from Doctor Who. Basically, you’re playing Duck Duck Goose with a Bear, Bunny, Chicken and a Fox.
By the way, that chicken looks like a duck. And watching several Let’s Plays on YouTube, so does everybody else.
The game also uses a limited power mechanic, so you have to sparingly look at the cameras, or use the door to protect yourself. If you run out of power, then you have to see a frightening lighted face to the sound of a jack-in-the-box version of Toreador. The good part of the game is that you can still win if you run out of power if you can hold out enough until the 6am rollover, but only if you’re lucky and time it right.
Differences: Use of Jump scares
I think I’m part of the majority that think jump scares are mostly used by lazy game designers and movie script writers to make something scary. Having something come barreling towards you in seconds with a loud screech in your ears will make anyone jump, but that doesn’t make it scary, it makes it annoying. But sometimes it’s effective to use when done right.
P.T. only has one jump scare in the entire game to grab your attention. At one point the radio will tell you to look behind you. You’ll turn your view to see nothing, then turn back. Then there she is, to scare the bejeezus out of you. And in a cool yet frightening scene, you get lifted into the air by this woman ghost and choked to death. It’s really beautiful to look at from a visual standpoint the second time you see it, but when you didn’t see it, you’ll be screaming in fear because you didn’t see it coming. The rest of the scares in the demo involve the use of lighting, sounds and the Playstation 4 vibrations. It also uses creepy visuals, like the previously mentioned fetus and a talking dirty brown paper bag to get the point across. Seriously, it’s messed up.
Freddy’s uses the jump scare mechanic as your punishment, in the same way those Japanese quiz shows use shocks to punish a contestant for getting the answer wrong. As such, it’s used as a motivator not to lose, because you don’t want your wits pissed out of you. As you lose, the animal that succeeds suddenly screeches into your headphones as they plaster your computer monitor with scary, shaky faces and motions. This follows up with static and a game over screen to confirm that you failed.
However, when I have the sound off when losing, it’s actually quite funny. The bunny and the chicken look like they are shouting at you for some reason, the bear looks like he just wants a hug, and the fox peers in wondering if you want anything from the 24 hour McDonalds as he’s doing a quick run.
Differences: Clear Cut Objective or Obscure Puzzle
One of the other clear differences between the two games is how easy it is to understand how to beat the game. Five Nights At Freddy’s makes it perfectly clear. You have to survive until 6AM every day for the five nights. It says so on the opening screen. And the top right corner of the game screen shows which hour and day you’re on. It only shows the hour it’s on, not the minutes. I guess if they showed you the full time, it might make it easier to plan ahead, or something.
P.T. is a lot more cryptic in what the objectives are. Sometimes it’s something as easy as zooming in between the ajar door to trigger the scary moment, followed by the opening to the next area. Sometimes it’s looking at the writing on the wall that can be pretty easy to miss. Even the final puzzle where you have to use a microphone to speak someone’s name at the right time to watch the teaser trailer is not something that you could have easily figured out on your own. On one hand, I love the idea that it makes you have to think about it, and it’s intense difficulty forces the player to observe everything possible. But the biggest strength of how this game was presented is also its biggest weakness. I love the idea of enigmatic puzzles that make you think, but you still have to set the pieces to solve that puzzle somewhere obvious, so that the player knows what to look for and where to look for them. The last puzzle of the game requires to find all the picture pieces, translate the messages that pop up with each piece, that’s written in French or German. Then from that, you have to figure out the name of the protagonist from the numerical code that’s repeated over and over. And it specifically wants you to take a certain number of steps, wait for a certain sound, whisper the name, remain motionless, then answer a telephone. Casual gamers would never be able to figure it out. It’s so perplexing that it can easily remove all engagement the game offered.
So which one is the winner? Which horror game will have a longer standing blow to my psyche? Is it the ghost-zombie woman and child duo seeking vengeance, or surviving a week with the murderous hybrid of Teddy Ruxpin and Lots-o’-Huggins Bear from Toy Story 3?
Winner: Five Nights At Freddy’s
P.T. is a great game, with tonnes of fantastic atmosphere and frights. It was made to hype up the next Silent Hill game without any game play to show for it, and it did a great job on a marketing platform, because everyone was talking about it. But let’s call it what it really is. It’s a digital haunted house where the scary parts are just peeled grapes in a bowl.
On Halloween night, I will choose to play Five Nights At Freddy’s again. I know I’ll be there doing robot roll calls that don’t have Cambot or Tom Servo. I still need to beat that fifth night. And then that sixth night. That damn bear keeps getting me at 5AM, I’m so close.
Key to Victory: Outright Fear
The biggest problem I have with P.T. is that the fear factor disappears the moment you get frustrated over the lack of input from the game about what to do. You need a walk through to beat the game, and watching someone else play it over YouTube gives you the same experience as actually playing it. Plus, there’s no real replayability to the game. Playing it a second time doesn’t feel as eerie, or as fulfilling. I recommend trying it yourself if you haven’t done so, but if you don’t have a PS4, a Let’s Play on YouTube works just as well.
Five Nights At Freddy’s has it so that you can still be terrified even if you’re no longer afraid of the scary faces or the quick loud sounds. And if you play it enough, can find the pattern to predict when the bunny and chicken will be standing next to your door. Even with all that, you’re still on edge the whole time and experience paranoia and fear throughout, and it doesn’t give you a break. It lingers with the possibility of screwing up and getting jump scared to death. And for that, it’s the main reason why it’s superior to its demo competition. Five bucks is totally worth the five nights.
Sometimes a game gets a lot of buzz, and because of that, gets accused of being over hyped. Sometimes, like in the case of Five Nights At Freddy’s, the buzz is well justified. It’s a very creative horror game that does everything right, and is so unique that it’s worth recommending. And I hate horror games, and I really hate animatronic robot animal things, and I love this game. I’m so glad to hear there’s a sequel coming soon, and I can’t wait to see how creator Scott Cawthon improves on this concept. You have to try it yourself. You owe it to yourself to get scared to near death from that damned bear.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to sell my teddy bear collection on eBay. The nightmares still linger from that damn game.