By the time Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 came out, it had been just over half a year since the first game’s debut. The low budget feel and ongoing lore had solidified the series as a popular mainstay, although for many, a modicum of franchise fatigue was beginning to set in. Though each game features its own take on the core gameplay, there’s only so much mileage that you can get out of such a simplistic premise, and Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 demonstrates the beginning of that central idea wearing thin.
Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 sees you taking the role of a newly hired employee of Fazbear’s Fright, a haunted house-esque attraction based on the events that the previous two games covered. For whatever reason, you’re tasked with watching over the grounds overnight to make sure nothing catches fire. By the second night, however, your boss joyfully informs you that he found a “real one” when he was searching for props to fill the place with, and this animatronic of course doesn’t take long to start walking around and trying to kill you. Worse yet, the conditions in the building make it so that your character occasionally hallucinates, seeing horrifying approximations of the original cast of characters.
Much like the first game, the main gameplay loop focuses on using a series of grainy CCTV cameras to track the movements of your certain doom. The twist this time is that you have nothing to hide or defend yourself with; your primary defense against the roaming “Springtrap” monster is an audio cue that can be played to lure the creature from one room to another. It wouldn’t be a Five Nights at Freddy’s game without some limited resource, however, and here it takes the shape of the security systems frequently breaking down, necessitating a lengthy reboot that critically forces you to take your eyes off the cameras.
We rather appreciated the simpler approach to gameplay here, as it makes the experience more of a skill-based game of knowing when and where to fire the audio cue to lure Springtrap away and buy yourself some precious time. The tradeoff with this, however, is that the horror elements are far less effective; the reliance on basically babysitting one animatronic makes this the least tense game yet. Sure, the ever-looming threat of one of the phantom machines jump-scaring you is still real, but these lack the kind of heft they did in the past games and almost come at expected times. Case in point, every time you see Freddy walking by the window, you know for a fact that he’ll jump at you in the next five seconds. Considering that Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 sells itself as a horror game first, we felt rather disappointed at the relatively watered-down scares this time around, especially given the highs that the previous two games were able to hit.
Luckily, the visuals remain just as creepy and unsettling as they’ve ever been, perhaps a little more given that the place you’re watching over is explicitly designed as a horror attraction. Dingy corridors, empty-eyed animatronic heads, and flickering lights are all par for the course here, and though you only really have to worry about one figure lurking through it all, this layout is still effective at building an uneasy atmosphere. On the other hand, the audio design is a little less impressive, with the ‘sting’ sounds played during jump scares lacking that kind of sharp punch necessary to get you to leap out of your seat. Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 isn’t bad by any measure, but neither is it particularly good; this is easily the most skippable entry so far.