You’re fleeing from Jason Vorhees, the nearly-unstoppable killer wielding a razor-sharp machete, with your best friend alongside you. You’ve been surviving for what feels like an eternity now, outwitting and outrunning the killer at every turn, but now he’s right on your tail. He reaches out and grabs your friend, lifting them into the air. In a panic, you bolt, hoping to survive. You only have a few minutes to go before you’ve survived the night. Just when the sun is about to rise, your view cuts to black, and one infuriating phrase becomes visible. “Disconnected. Host has left the game.”
Friday the 13th: The Game was designed from a Kickstarter project that began in late 2015. Since then, the developers at Gun Media reached their funding goal and completed a game that attempts to lovingly pay homage to the classic horror franchise, build an atmosphere of suspense, and provide a socially interactive experience for fans. Does it succeed? That’s a difficult question to answer.
In this title, players either take on the role of Jason Vorhees or as one of his possible victims. Each match is a game of hide-and-seek in the form of asymmetrical multiplayer, in which most players spawn as camp counselors in different places around one of three campground maps, and the Jason player must hunt them down and slay them before they escape. The counselors have a few different paths to victory; they can leave in a car or boat, call the police for assistance, or simply avoid the killer until the match ends. They also have multiple survival tools at their disposal that they can scavenge from the camp cabins, including bear traps and handheld weapons that slow Jason down. Friday the 13th ensures that these items are essential to success, because Jason has little incentive to show mercy. He uses a handful of powers to traverse the map and take down counselors, including a teleport ability and a throwing knife maneuver. He may lumber along slowly, but he can pop up around any corner, ready to strike.
Generally, the gameplay is balanced. If counselors properly communicate, scavenge, and fight as a team, they can ward off Jason together and make a safe escape, sometimes not even granting him a single kill. However, if they fail to collaborate, Jason can easily pick them off one by one, using his “Sense” ability to track down their individual locations and eliminate the isolated players. Counselors come with different base statistics, and can be customized both aesthetically and with some perks. These are mostly arbitrary, since the outcome of the game will typically depend upon the skill levels of the counselor players, but they can still provide a slight edge wherever necessary. For example, a particularly loud player on the microphone was drawing Jason’s attention to my location, so I hid underneath a bed. I played Jenny, the counselor with an inclination towards stealth and bravery, so I didn’t give away my location (and my obnoxious cohort got dismembered, much to my relief). Essentially, this can add a form of strategy to playing a team of counselors. Individuals can pick balanced stats so that they may survive on their own, or they may elect to specialize in a specific field—such as combat or repair—so that they can cooperate with their teammates and fulfill their role to escape with the group. Even if it doesn’t have a substantial impact on every single match, it’s still a welcome addition and a layer of depth that Friday the 13th sorely needs.
The sound design is clever, utilizing the noises of nature to improve the ambiance and integrating aggressively campy musical cues to indicate when Jason approaches. The counselors all do a fine job with their voicework, even if they only have a few dialogue bits here and there. The standout actor is Jennifer Ann Burton (Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior) as the voice of Jason’s mother, but her haunting drawl is only present for a handful of lines.
One of my favorite ways Friday the 13th pushes the envelope is through its in-game chat system, in which players can only speak to each other if their characters are within a proximity, or if they’ve found walkie-talkies. This limitation to communication heightens the tension, as does the knowledge that Jason can hear you speaking if he’s in the vicinity. I’m excited to see this system appear in different games, especially ones done better.
While Friday the 13th’s overall concept is an excellent foundation and almost brilliantly experimental, its execution needs some work. This review was supposed to be completed on PC, but my colleague’s Steam copy of the game is completely unresponsive and therefore unplayable. The game is loaded with bugs and glitches of all kinds, ranging from minor graphical issues to game-breaking exploits. Any time a host leaves a match for any reason, everyone gets kicked from the server, robbing them of their XP and cutting off the fun of the match. Additionally, I played this title for around fifteen hours, but at least two of those hours were spent trying to find a lobby. The matchmaking queue often takes absurdly long, sometimes upwards of ten minutes, and even then, it can fail to find a group. In a title with only one game mode, these problems are inexcusable.
The game is also a mixed bag regarding its visuals. The environment is adequate, and the character models are average. Textures are mostly bland and missing key details, and characters’ faces often look misshapen and silly. Thankfully, it’s hard to notice in the darkness, but when these poor visuals are highlighted, they become problematic. Animations are about as smooth as car crashes. It’s hard to feel terrified of Jason when characters are clipping through walls, hairdos are flailing wildly, and corpses are bouncing around like cartoon ragdolls. It’s an immersion-breaker, and it needs some fixes.
Friday the 13th exists in a strange place. It’s mechanically strong, and the premise is innovative and exciting. There’s a lot to love for Twitch streamers, since it’s a great game to watch. Despite being outside of the counselor’s shoes, it’s a social experiment to watch matches unfold, seeing how different players behave when Jason forces them to choose between team support and personal safety. The game is also enjoyable for friend groups that can repeatedly play together, since that fixes the matchmaking and disconnection issues. However, considering the assortment of bugs and sloppy visuals, be prepared to laugh at the game as well as with it.
If you weren’t in the aforementioned categories of players, I struggle to recommend Friday the 13th to you. It’s fun at first, but can easily get repetitive due to a lack of content. In the end, the title is still a Kickstarter-funded project with only one mode over three similar maps, without much variation in the mechanics over time. There’s a little bit of customization to keep you going, but otherwise, this game only works for niche groups and audiences. Perhaps some patches and maybe some story DLC will raise this game’s worth, but right now, the machete needs some sharpening.