It should be well-established by this point that I’m a big ol’ Five Nights at Freddy’s fanboy, yes? Okay, good. With that understood, there’s one facet of the franchise that’s been absolutely gnawing away at me for a little over a year now: Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted. This is the VR entry in the series, and needless to say, I’ve had no VR headset to play it on, and the “flat” version that got released a while after just didn’t appeal to me. It seemed like a “why bother?” kind of situation. The whole point is to be in it. You take that away and you’ve got… well, you’ve still got a pretty robust game. But it’d be missing the spark that makes it truly special.
I’ve spent a lot of time watching people play “FNAF VR” on YouTube to vicariously get my fill, but again, it just wasn’t the same. And I had absolutely no idea on just what level it wasn’t the same. Last weekend I was finally able to strap on an Oculus Quest 2 headset and take my first trip into a virtual version of Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza.
The title screen – the title screen – is God. Damn. Terrifying.
You boot up this game, and you are greeted by versions of the Freddy, Bonnie, and Chica animatronics that tower over you. Like, they have to be at least eight feet tall from your point of view. And as you’re paralyzed by fear while they stare into your soul with their lifeless eyes, you start to hear sounds of things moving behind you. You slowly turn around to see a table covered in party favours, and then you notice the gigantic Foxy that is mostly obscured by shadows, ready to strike.
You shout “NOPE NOPE NOPE” and yank off the headset and wonder if those twenty seconds of absolute terror were worth the $35 that the game costs.
Yes. Yes they were. I just about pooped my pants, but WOW was it ever cool!
Now, I adore the FNAF franchise, and while I admittedly find the games a little difficult to play because of the anxiety they cause, I’m not scared by them (at least not anymore). I’ve spent so much time in that world, with those characters, that I thought I would be completely desensitized to it. But then I actually went into that world, and it became something else entirely. I thought that obsessively watching others play the game would be enough to allow me to overcome it, but it just doesn’t work that way.
I forced my way past the title screen, and into the pizzeria area that serves as the main menu. I also made the mistake of picking up a couple of the secret tapes scattered around, which spawned in the horrifying Glitchtrap. Suddenly the menu, which is supposed to be a safe place, became just as hostile as any of the actual game modes. Sure, he just stands in the doorway, waving and muttering garbled nonsense, but that’s exactly the kind of creepy garbage that gives me nightmares for weeks! Why do I do this to myself!?
Deciding that anything was better than the evil gaze of Glitchtrap, I booted up the first game: a VR recreation of the original Five Nights at Freddy’s. I’m pretty familiar with this one. I know all the animatronics, how they move, what to do to defend against them. No problem, I can handle this.
But then you get there. It’s oppressively dark everywhere but the tiny office you’re in. The camera feeds are grainy and hard to see. The hallways feel unsafe even before the animatronics start moving. You can’t hear anything over Phone Guy’s inane chattering. And then it happens. Suddenly Bonnie is no longer visible on the stage. My legs begin to de-solidify. I page through the cameras frantically, having completely forgotten which areas are in Bonnie’s patrol route. My heart beats like a jackhammer in my chest. I hear a “dum dee dum dum” reverberate through the halls. I can’t find Bonnie on any of the cameras.
“NOPE NOPE NOPE” and I yank off the headset. It was 1 AM.
That was the end of my first FNAF VR experience. I quickly switched into Rez Infinite VR to cool off in a synesthetic world where I felt safe and in control.
It’s no secret that I scare pretty easily, which makes it seem a little weird that horror is my favourite genre of pretty much anything. But I like being scared. That adrenaline rush is fun, at least in small, reasonable doses. A Girls Fabric Face, for instance, terrified me to the core, but I knew that it was going to be a short experience. And if it proved to be too much, I could simply turn my head and look at something comforting in my room. But VR horror… It’s different. It’s a completely different experience to, for all intents and purposes, be in that world. You can turn away, but you’re still there. And there might be something even worse behind you.
I don’t know if I can handle it. I think that I may have found my limit. It’s been so long since I’ve played with a real VR system that I forgot just how terrifying it could be. It’s the most incredible thing when you’re playing something comfortable, but when you switch into a game that wants to scare you… well, it’s still incredible, but much harder to endure. I still want to play FNAF VR for myself, but it’s going to be a hell of a challenge.