Developed by Gun Media and Illfonic, Friday the 13th: The Game looked to be the definitive horror game, and where it succeeds in some aspects such as atmosphere, music, and tension – it fails handily in others. Bugs, early server issues and some wonky animations detract from a surprisingly fun horror survival game.
Friday the 13th: The Game started as a Kickstarter project in October of 2015 and quickly garnered a lot of attention. To keep the look and feel of the films they brought in Friday the 13th alums such as FX artist Tom Savini as the game’s producer, Harry Manfredini (who scored many of the previous films) as composer, and popular Jason actor Kane Hodder to do motion capture. While Hodder and Savini’s presence might not be as noticeable, Manfredini’s score is pitch perfect, retaining all of the Psycho-like accents while keeping a classic 80s slasher-horror sound. The developers set out to create a game world exactly as you remember it from the 80s, and they succeeded. Then they marketed it to those born in the 90s – rather successfully.
There are 3 maps at launch, each based on locations from the Friday the 13th films. You can play as Jason Voorhees for the first time ever, or as one of 7 camp counselors trying to evade certain death at the hands of the hockey masked killer. There are 10 counselors to choose from, with only a few available initially. As you level up customization options, counselors, and even different versions of Jason unlock. You can eventually play as 6 different versions of Jason, with a seventh variant only available to Kickstarter backers. XP is gained as you play no matter if you’re killing counselors or playing as one.
Playing as a camp counselor can be tense, exciting, and thrilling – but it also tends to be frustrating, and sometimes dull. As a counselor, much of your time is spent quietly moving around the camp and gathering supplies to repair your means of escape. Each map has different, yet similar objectives: repair a boat or car to escape, or call the police to help you out. Making the repairs doesn’t guarantee your win though, as you must still make it out alive. There is an amount of skill required to stay alive as a counselor, but a lot of luck is involved, too. Parts needed to make repairs are randomly scattered around the map, as are weapons and other items. You can’t memorize an efficient route to the items you want, and it changes up the game every round.
Each of the 10 counselors you can eventually choose from has their own strengths and weaknesses – some are better at stealth, others are faster at repair, etc. This is enhanced by being able to equip perks you purchase with points you accumulate as you play. As a counselor you aren’t totally helpless, though it isn’t necessarily a good idea to go toe-to-toe with the killer. Some weapons allow you to stun or even knock Jason down, forcing a slow and inevitable return from his latest mortal wound. Sometimes no matter how well you do, you can still get unlucky, singled out, and murdered early on. This can be frustrating as you’re stuck looking at the round timer until Jason kills all of the counselors, the surviving counselors escape, or you return as Tommy Jarvis if he was called. Dying very early on can leave you stuck waiting over 10 minutes or longer for the round to end. Practice will help, but it also pays to work together as a team, though other counselors can betray or even kill you. Direct communication with other counselors is possible, but only when you are in proximity to each other, or if you have found a radio, though Jason can hear you too. Fellow counselors can also be used as a distraction if you’re being chased, or as a means of pinpointing Jason’s location via death screams.
The main draw for many will be playing as Jason Voorhees. Each Jason has their own appearance, strengths, weaknesses, and weapons. Playing as Jason can feel like you’re playing with cheat codes on, but he is not invincible. You can stagger him, hide from him or even kill him. Jason also has multiple supernatural abilities available that make it easier for him to move around Crystal Lake and spot the hiding counselors. Morph allows him to teleport to most major locations in each area, while shift allows him to travel invisibly faster. This allows you to literally appear in front of a counselor, despite having just been behind them. This may seem unfair, but it lends itself directly to the type of experience a Friday the 13th game should have if it were to stay true to the films.
Friday the 13th: The Game has a lot going for it – but it feels like an early access release, despite being sold as a full-fledged retail product. Single-player was a widely touted component, but is absent at release. You are also unable to rebind keys on PC, and many players are having problems with earned achievements unlocking. The game also suffers from janky animations, character clipping, and random bugs that detract from the experience. My earliest experiences with the game were negative – I felt like I was fighting the game itself more so than Jason. Some of that was the bugs and animations, but a lot of that was the learning curve. Learning how the game works can be a barrier to entry, with little guidance in the game itself.
The players I encountered online ranged from downright creepy or toxic to incredibly helpful and fun. This is normal for almost any online community, but something about playing as Jason Voorhees brings out the extra weird in people. Still, the more I learned the game, the more others were willing to help. I had some matches where I was intentionally left for dead by counselors I was just helping, but others where someone miraculously came back to save me in the car after I decided to try and fight Jason. At the same time, in matches where I played as Jason against counselors who did everything right, I just happened to run into them one at a time, a la’ the films, and finish them off. This is where Friday the 13th: The Game really shines and each encounter feels unique. If you are playing Friday the 13th: The Game to just play as Jason, prepare to play as a counselor more often than not, even if you selected Jason as your preferred character.
Despite my initial frustrations with Friday the 13th: The Game I eventually started to like it and now I’m trying to convince my friends to play. It feels like what it’s trying to emulate: a low budget gory experience that is unintentionally campy. But with only 3 maps at release, no single-player promised for months, and a high price tag, you might want to wait for more content or a sale to visit camp Crystal Lake.
Friday the 13th: The Game is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows.