For whatever reason, the schlocky, slashy fun of 80s horror movies seems to be surprisingly difficult to reproduce. These movies were hardly cinematic masterpieces, and yet numerous attempts to revive Friday the 13th, A Nightmare and Elm Street and their bloody contemporaries have fallen flat. But hey, maybe video games could succeed where Hollywood has repeatedly failed!
Back in 2015, a game called Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp hit Kickstarter, accumulating over $400,000. Eventually the project would secure the official Friday the 13th license and the backing of series-creator Sean S. Cunningham, leading to a massive boost in attention and expectations. But Friday the 13th: The Game seemed to be doing everything right – the game’s trailers struck the right trashy tone, and developer IllFonic and publisher Gun Media promised the games would be packed with morbid Easter eggs. Longtime Jason fans dared to get their hopes up.
Unfortunately, Friday the 13th: The Game was gutted by glitches and severe server issues at launch. For weeks the game remained broken, but bit by bit, patch by patch, the game’s developers stitched their monstrosity back together. Friday the 13th: The Game is now playable, but is it worth playing? Sharpen up your machete, it’s time to break this one down…
Friday the 13th: The Game (PC, Xbox One, and PS4)
If you’ve been avoiding Friday the 13th: The Game because of the scary stories about its servers, I can report the situation is much improved on PS4. Which is to say, the game is actually playable now. Connecting to a Quick Play match rarely takes more than a minute or two, and everything runs fairly smoothly once you’re in the game.
Sadly, crashes, connection timeouts, and other issues remain annoyingly common. More than once I’ve had the game fail to properly save the XP and levels I’ve earned. In other words, the Friday the 13th online experience still isn’t great, it’s just less horrific than it was before.
Friday the 13th: The Game also continues to be very rough on a technical level. The game is glitchy, visually dated, and its characters look like (unintentionally) creepy animated sex dolls. Jason kills that are supposed to be cool just come off as awkward. Graphics aren’t everything, and I don’t expect triple-A production values from a small indie production like this, but perhaps a more stylized approach was in order. Friday the 13th takes a stab at a realistic look, and badly misses its target.
Everybody in this game should be wearing a mask.
Gameplay suffers from exactly the issue you’d expect – it’s a lot more fun to play as Jason than the camp counsellors. Friday the 13th gives the seven hapless teenagers in each game a decent number of options for surviving and escaping Camp Crystal Lake and its other maps, but ultimately, gameplay as a counsellor mainly involves hiding, waiting things out, and just hoping things go your way.
You can collaborate with your fellow counselors to try and outsmart and overwhelm Jason, which can be rewarding if you’re playing with the right people, but I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly sound strategy. Too many people hanging around in the same area will quickly attract Jason, and any victory you score against him is fleeting as the big lug is essentially invincible. Typically, cooperating resulted in my untimely demise, while hiding under a bed, or figuring out how to get the car started or call the police on my own, resulted in a higher survival rate. Ironically, “Everybody split up!” is actually good advice in Friday the 13th: The Game.
Proof bravery and stupidity go hand-in-hand.
It’s a catch-22 – have fun planning, smack talking, and screaming with other people and probably die, or go hide in a wardrobe for 20 minutes and most likely survive? It’s an unsatisfying choice, and too often when you do survive you don’t feel like you’ve done anything particularly remarkable. It’s just luck. You found a good hiding spot, happened to stumble across the car keys, or got a good weapon that let you evade Jason’s grasp. A strategy that works in one game will get you killed in two minutes in the next one, which is always a drag, because then you’re stuck spectating for the remaining 18 minutes.
So yes, playing as a counselor is frustrating, but you’ll forget it all as soon as you’re randomly chosen to play as Jason, as stalking and slaughtering teenagers is a blast. Yeesh, nobody take that last sentence out of context, okay? In addition to generally being an unkillable badass, Jason has a variety of powerful moves that unlock as a game progresses -- he can warp around the map at will, sense frightened counselors, close in on his prey supernaturally fast, and, eventually, enter a superpowered “Rage” state that lets him blast through doors and walls like they’re made of pretzel sticks. You have to love how Jason’s various unexplained powers from the movies have been turned into actual in-game skills.
Typically, games where you play as Jason being with wanton slaughter, as you dispatch of the stragglers and fools too brave for their own good. Things then settle down into a deadly game of hide-and-seek, and finally finding that final victim hiding under some bed in an isolated cabin is deeply satisfying. Ultimately though, playing as Jason is most fun when you’re up against a group who think they’re smart. Chasing down a camper only to discover they were luring you into an elaborate ambush is always a great moment, particularly when you shrug off the attack and chop all the counselors into steak tartar anyway.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for Friday the 13th: The Game to start feeling as repetitive as movies it’s based on. The game boasts only three maps (all of which feel fairly similar) and two game modes, which is less than impressive considering the game’s $30 price tag. You can unlock and upgrade new counsellors and versions of Jason, but aside from that, there’s not a lot to hunt down.
Setting aside the game’s many online and technical issues, which are borderline inexcusable, Friday the 13th: The Game is built on a fundamentally flawed premise. Yes, wreaking bloody havoc as Jason is fun, but you only spend a fraction of your time controlling him. As a generic doomed teen, Friday the 13th is largely a drag, as the most entertaining parts of playing as a counselor – planning, teamwork – aren’t properly incentivized. It’s hard to recommend a game where only one out of eight matches is fun.
Perhaps the most damning thing that could be said of Friday the 13th: The Game is that it would make a really boring movie. Would you watch a Friday the 13th flick where people hide under beds and randomly wander the woods for 20 minutes at a time? Where are the skinny-dipping scenes? Why don’t I get a bonus and achievement for successfully getting it on in one of the cabins? The game feels unfinished, unpolished, and bloodless. Friday the 13th: The Game provides a few cheap thrills, but I suggest everybody but diehard fans stay out of the woods.
Score: 2 out of 5 stars
This review was based on a PS4 copy of Friday the 13th: The Game provided by Gun Media.