With the release of the long-awaited film adaptation, the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise has been firmly cemented in the pop culture sphere and does not seem like it’ll fade anytime soon. Not that there was any worry about that, with a terrifyingly large fanbase amassed in a little under a decade. From the start, it grabbed audiences’ attention, with its simple but horrifying premise of playing as a security guard trying to defend yourself from animatronics hunting you with just some doors and a camera system, and has only evolved from there. So, what better time than now to look at the source of all this success—the games—and decide which truly deserves to be considered the most horrifying of all. So, here is an only slightly subjective ranking of the first handful (as there are several) of Five Nights at Freddy’s games based on which is the scariest.
5 – FNAF 2
An unfortunate example of last but certainly not least, the second installment of the franchise functions exactly as it should; expanding upon the first game’s mechanics and universe. It does this exceptionally well, making changes to the formula that would become core features (checking the front as well as the sides of your office, extra tasks like keeping the music box wound to prevent a certain animatronic’s attack, and a cast of enemies almost double the size of the last game). This is also where the lore begins to pick up, and the story of Fazbear’s before we were introduced to it last game truly starts to solidify, as this is not a sequel but prequel. But, after you grow accustomed to the (admittedly many) jumpscares featured within the game, it becomes rather frustrating to go through.
4 – Sister Location
The most lore-heavy and complex entry by far, the horror here moreso comes from the story and its implications than anything else. Of course, the scares the gameplay itself provides are no joke (the marionette minigame still gets me years later), but you can clearly see where the developers put forth the most effort. It can be argued that this game is more of a story than an actual game, and when compared to the rest of the series this does seem to be the case. This is most certainly not a bad thing, and in fact makes it stand apart from the others, though the entry does have more of a somber and tragic feeling than a scary one in retrospect. In the midst of it though is an entirely different story, with Ennard specifically being particularly nightmarish.
3 – FNAF 3
The third (and what was then thought to be final) entry of the series, FNAF 3 can best be described as an encroaching panic attack in a humid bathroom. On top of that, there’s a guy who’s seeking to kick your ass like a drone missile slowly making his way towards you. While there’s only one real threat to your in-game life – Springtrap, undoubtedly the most horrifying animatronic both in design and concept –that does not mean he is the only thing you have to worry about. No, rather than a cast of animatronics seeking to stuff or kill you, all the others are simply phantoms, figments of the player’s imagination brought on by a mix of panic, adrenaline, and lack of oxygen due to a failing ventilation system. So less to worry about, right? Wrong! Due to the fact that these are not real animatronics, they instead hinder your progress, letting Springtrap get closer and closer to you. And unlike in the past two games, it is not known just what’ll happen if he catches you, and the fear of this unknown really helps with the tense atmosphere of the game. Like the second installment, there are also a number of easter eggs and semi-secret minigames, the latter of which the player has to pass in order to get certain endings.
2 – FNAF 1
The original set off a chain reaction in the world of gaming rarely seen before, and for good reason. At the time, there was nothing like it. You sit in an office, unable to move or fight back in a truly meaningful way, as murderous animatronics systematically hunt you down to stuff you into a spare suit, undoubtedly an agonizing and painful death. Fun times! The simplicity only enhances the hair-raising nature of it, as you are utterly helpless for the most part. Unless you are very lucky or skilled, you are only postponing the inevitable. And since it was the first in the series, there was also a strong fear of the unknown, as players were first making these discoveries. Now, with all the knowledge that we do have thanks to years and years of lore building, there is the opposite effect; the fear of knowing exactly what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen, and that nothing can be done to change it.
1 – FNAF 4
An expected choice, but for good reason. The setup is similar to FNAF 2 in structure; two sides and a front to check, and one other responsibility like the two previous installments, this time being checking the bed behind you for miniature Freddys. There’s yet another horrifying factor: the game has a feature where it can register the player’s volume, including that of their breathing, and the louder they are, the more likely they are to be attacked by the animatronics. And the animatronics themselves are pure nightmare fuel. Barely recognizable are Freddy, Chica, Bonnie, and Foxy, now transformed into horrifying reimaginings of themselves, with far too many teeth to be comfortable with (seriously Scott, are they now part shark?) But the most terrifying one of all had to be Nightmare, the final antagonist and the culmination of what made the previous designs so fear-inducing. A hulking size, abundance of teeth, and dark color palette unnervingly complimented by a bright yellow and vivid red, and enough resemblance to another, more “friendly” character. Combine all of these elements with the fact that you are playing as a child alone at night, in your bedroom (the safest place for a child to be) and you have one hell of a hair-raising experience, even for those who can get through the past games with little fear.
The FNAF franchise began as a lightning-in-a-bottle success, but is now one of the most recognizable faces in modern gaming, having spawned countless fanworks and ripoffs. And with the success of the movie, there is no doubt that it’ll stick around for the foreseeable future. The FNAF games are available on many platforms such as Steam, the Apple app store, the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4 and 5, and beyond. The movie is currently in theaters, streaming on Peacock, available for digital purchase and will be on 4K, blu ray, and DVD December 12th.