Probably Better In VR

HIGH Opening a robot’s faceplate to find roaches swarming beneath.

LOW The blackout game is just annoying.

WTF What is going on with that ‘blacklight’ mode??

Five Nights at Freddy‘s, as a franchise, is all but review-proof.

Fundamentally, these games are not meant to be played, they’re meant to be observed. Whether it’s a single player on the edge of their seat, a group of people cheering at a television, or a Twitch streamer hamming up every scream, FNAF is a far more passive experience than most, and all that really matters is how effective it is at the jump-scares that are the series’ bread and butter.

This also proves to specifically be Help Wanted‘s biggest hurdle — can a game originally made to immerse players in an eerie VR situation work while flattened on a handheld console? As far as I saw, no, it cannot.

Help Wanted places players inside a virtual ballroom where they can use a primitive interface to load up seven different minigames — There’s the first three games in the Five Nights at Freddy’s series, recreated and looking better than ever, a puzzler where the player repairs the horrific animatronics, an escape room set in an Alien-style vent system, and two about using a flashlight to ward off the haunted robots that the franchise is based on.

The first three games are, as ever, a little on the baffling side. There are instructions and theoretical goals that may be possible to achieve, but they’re unfair by design. The odds are stacked heavily in the robots’ favor as the player frantically switches between CCTV camera feeds and looks around the room they’re trapped in, hoping to find some way to delay the monsters long enough to survive the night.

While it’s possible there are tips and tricks to help in this endeavor, Help Wanted is tight-lipped about them. Like clockwork, two or three minutes after starting a new game, I always wound up with a robot animal suddenly screaming in my face. If nothing else, it is reliably startling.

The puzzle and escape room minigames were by far the most satisfying largely because it’s possible to succeed at them, although just barely.

Repairing robots is genuinely unnerving, as the player gets a chance to look at what makes the robo-beasts tick as they follow a series of directions for maintaining the monstrosities. The tension is kept high by the knowledge that a single error will result in immediate game over, and all of the instructions are cleverly written to encourage misunderstandings that result in shocking deaths.

Likewise, the escape room is an incredibly tense experience, with the player forced to figure out how to interact with a series of switches and gears while constantly spinning the camera around to each vent. The monster that’s hunting the player doesn’t like to be looked at, and it flees when the camera finds it. However, as more vents are repaired, more passages open to provide it ample avenues of attack.

The two flashlight minigames are duds. One has the player sitting in a pitch-dark room listening for the approach of a monster, hopefully flicking on their light just in time to stop it atop an X that marks the location of a trap. It’s little more than an excuse to force players to stare at a black screen until a robot is abruptly screaming in their faces.

The other flashlight game involves guarding two doors in a bedroom by constantly darting back and forth between them and holding them shut if there’s a robot on the other side. It’s entirely luck-based, although the addition of miniature robots that must be warded off with the flashlight are a nice touch.

Now, at this point in the review it’s important to clearly restate that Help Wanted was originally a VR title, and it shows. Beyond the opening that goes out of its way to explain over and over again that this is just a VR simulation of stories about the FNAF franchise, nearly every mode is clearly built around the player being able to freely glance from side-to-side. The Switch doesn’t allow for that kind of easy situational awareness, of course, adding frustration to what are already pointedly unfair experiences.

I’m sure the scares are especially intense in VR where the robots actually get right up in the player’s face, but the Switch’s handheld mode just can’t compete. The monsters are so adorably tiny on the little screen that I found it almost impossible to be frightened by their sudden appearances. Only when I docked the system and played on a large television in a dark room did I get anything close to the effect that developers were going for, and even then I’m sure it’s a pale imitation of the VR version.

As I wrote in the opening, it doesn’t really matter whether Five Nights at Freddy’s: Help Wanted is good or not — all that matters is whether the shocks it offers can startle the player. By that metric, it’s a passable success in docked mode. I won’t say the game isn’t scary, but I will say that it doesn’t have much to offer past that.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Steel Wool Studios. This non-VR version is currently available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence. There’s no blood or onscreen violence, just the implicit knowledge that each game over results in the player’s bloody dismemberment. The game’s audio files go into what the robots have planned in chilling detail, and as a result the game should be kept away from younger teens.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game is uniquely unfriendly to players with hearing trouble. There are subtitles, sure, but most of the minigames feature an element requiring players to listen for the sounds of approaching robots to help them plan their strategies. Without that ability, the games are functionally impossible. One of the ‘robot repair’ segments literally asks players to listen to a series of notes and determine which one is out of tune. If you have any hearing issues, avoid this game like the plague.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls cannot be remapped. Each minigame has its own specific controls, but as a general rule the left thumbstick is used to look around and select buttons, and face buttons are used to activate those buttons. Shoulder buttons and triggers are used for contextual special actions, like turning on a flashlight or putting on a mask.

Daniel Weissenberger
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