The Steam Store page for this product states, and I quote: "CASE: Animatronics is a truly scary and challenging first-person stealth horror on PC." Okay, fair enough. Let's analyse this sentence in some depth, shall we?
Yes, it's a Five Nights at Freddy's "homage". At least it's not pretending to be anything else. And it does add a free-roaming first-person aspect to the game which I, um, suppose qualifies as an "innovative" and "original" twist in this day and age. At least for a Five Nights at Freddy's homage. If not for a, er, contemporary horror game, period. (Apparently in its earliest stages, the game even had threat of legal action from one Scott Cawthon, leading the devs to make the game decidedly less Freddy-esque in its environments and character designs. To which one can only say: hmmmm.)
Anyway. Moving on...
It's definitely scary. From the moment the first cut-scene finishes to the moment you receive your first jump-scare, and for pretty much every minute thereafter, it's scary. The suspense is palpable. The flashlight is...erm...irritatingly defective and flickery (police departments apparently can't afford fresh batteries)...but there's no denying that the game's lighting is, on the whole, highly atmospheric. The jump-scares are well-executed and appropriately abrupt. The sensation of vulnerability is consistently high: you never feel safe, and truly feel like something might happen at any given moment. The sound design and music are genuinely eerie and effective.
No doubt about it: this is some scary, scary shit.
Oh, it's "challenging" alright. In fact, by the standards of most gamers, it's borderline impossible to work out what one is supposed to do next, much less manage to successfully execute such a task when one or more hostile animatronics are constantly on the rampage.
But that's okay...most of us dig dying frequently without even knowing what we did wrong...right? I know I did, all ten times before I managed to find the keycard I didn't even know I was looking for, and all fifteen times I died looking for which of the many keycard-locked doors it would actually open (okay, so that's an exaggeration: I didn't actually have the patience to die fifteen times in the latter instance. I'd already given up on the game by then, but thanks to the modern miracle of Youtube walkthroughs, I do know that things just ramp up considerably after that).
Now, I appreciate that the post-FNAF generation despise "hand-holding" in all forms, but at least the Freddy games told you some of the rules before fucking with you left, right, and centre on the later levels. This one tells you nothing, and you're a much better bluffer than me if you can manage not to die numerous times within the first thirty minutes of the game (and apparently the police detective you play is so good at his job that he doesn't even know his way around his own police station; that's some lax employment standards going on in the law enforcement sector these days).
In other words, this one gets WAY too hard, WAY too quickly, and you don't even feel like a "noob" for becoming so shite so quickly. If you're anything like me, you'll instead just feel...frustrated, and kinda annoyed, like a mangy dog in someone's back yard who never gets thrown a single, solitary bone. Even when I found the keycard I mentioned, it was by sheer accident, as was me running headlong into the animatronic psychopath shortly after that. Not once did I feel like I was rightly rewarded for my skill or cleverness, or punished for my stupidity or incompetence. "Shit happens" definitely felt more like the order of the day.
Obvious FNAF inspirations aside (animatronics, checking cameras, talking to a dude on the phone), this game ultimately fits more comfortably into the "stealth horror" sub-genre of horror gaming made recently popular by the likes of Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast. The main difference between those games and this one, though, is that CASE: Animatronics completely does away with anything resembling a tutorial or hint system, and just sends shit straight after you before you even know that you're able to hide in lockers and whatnot. Trial-and-error is all good and well, but it still doesn't hurt for a game to teach you a few of its mechanics before throwing you straight in the deep end.
What's more, the actual stealth mechanics leave a little to be desired when you can neither crouch nor sneak, and hiding spots are few and far between. Many are the times when you know you've been spotted, and given the dead-end you're trapped in, have little choice but to stand and patiently await your fate. Sure, this same situation happened a lot in Alien: Isolation, too, but it felt more like your "fault" in that game due to the sheer frequency of hiding spots here, there, and everywhere. Lack of patience is generally what fucked you in that game; in this one, it feels more like lack of luck. Not exactly sterling game design.
The Steam Store description for this product should perhaps, then, read as follows: "Thinly-veiled rip-off of the Five Nights at Freddy's franchise which will prove impossible to complete for all bar the most dedicated and forgiving of FNAF fan-boys and fan-girls."
The stealth horror sub-genre has honestly been my favourite "development" in horror gaming in a donkey's age, and I generally eat these games up for breakfast, lunch, and tea. But only when they PLAY FAIR. The developers of CASE: Animatronics seem to believe that the way to make a game scary is to make it somewhat random and nigh-on unbeatable.
Scary? Yes. Fun? No. Not unless you always liked to be the injun when you and your little friends played Cowboys and Indians, and thereby accepted that you would invariably be the one to get screwed, each and every time.