We could all use a little time at PAX South from time to time.
I love the Friday the 13th movies. I love their setting, their cheap aesthetic, Jason’s design, Part 3’s theme music, the NES game, and a million other things. The series isn’t necessarily “good,” but it’s fun to watch if you’re into dumb horror films. That being said, there comes a time when we must kill our darlings. Jason Voorhees wouldn’t beat around the bush, so let’s not either: Friday the 13th: The Game is a buggy, haphazard mess, irrevocably ruined by shoddy design and lack of polish. This game is hardly worth your attention, and almost certainly not worth your money. If that’s not enough for you, then feel free to read on.
For those unaware, Friday the 13th: The Game is an asymmetric multiplayer title in which a group of up to seven camp counselors must survive a night with Jason. It was Kickstarted with just over $820,000 by promising a Friday the 13th title “worthy of the name,” mostly by working with franchise veterans Sean Cunningham (director of the first film), Tom Savini (makeup and effects artist), Harry Manfredini (composer), and Kane Hodder (Jason of the final four films). With all these big names involved, I wonder how much of the funds were left to actually develop the game. I don’t want to spoil anything, but something tells me the amount wasn’t much.
That being said, the game certainly delivers on the Friday the 13th brand. In fact, it’s technically the perfect game to represent the Friday the 13th movies: it’s bloody, pointless, poorly made, and probably just here to turn a buck. However, the difference between watching bad movies and playing a bad game is that games require such thorough engagement that it’s almost impossible to come out the other end without frustration. Of course, that’s assuming you’re able to play the game at all.
The problems with Friday the 13th: The Game start almost immediately. Players attempting to jump right in might find themselves waiting five, ten, or in my case, even twenty damned minutes watching the game attempt to connect with a session. The server problems are apparently due to something left from beta test code, and will allegedly be patched, but it’s still excruciating to sit and wait for a connection. If you’re the patient type, you can spend some time mixing a drink, cooking some pork chops, or leafing through the game’s slideshow “how to play,” which details some important game mechanics without actually telling you how to perform them. The lack of a real tutorial is endurable for the counselors, as their gameplay is fairly simple, but it’s much harder to get your bearings as Jason – assuming you even get your hands on him.
I played Friday the 13th: The Game for a nonstop six hours. When I wasn’t sitting around waiting to connect with a session, I managed to squeeze in about fifteen matches, which generally took anywhere from twelve to the full twenty minutes. In all that time, I got to play as The Man Behind The Mask exactly once, after about thirteen rounds and roughly five straight hours of either twiddling my thumbs or doing the same counselor routine over and over again. Do not expect to buy this game and get a fair shake at playing Jason, because it won’t happen. You’ll have to be extremely patient to get even a shot at controlling the hockey-masked psychopath, and when you do, you’ll be spending about five minutes of the twenty minute match just figuring out how he works. The developers knew people would want to get their hands on Jason, so they sought to make players “every bit as excited” to experience the “challenge and fear” of being a counselor. I can safely say they failed entirely.
In a move out of the E.T. for Atari 2600 playbook, counselors will spend most of the match searching for phone parts, or car parts, or boat parts in order to escape Jason and survive the night. These components are scattered randomly across the map, which sounds interesting on paper. In practice, however, it amounts to locking doors and arming yourself so you can scrabble through drawers and cabinets in various cabins, hoping you’ll find a fuse to repair a phone somewhere on the map – but mostly coming up empty. It doesn’t take long for repetition to emerge; even though the maps always have a few centerpieces modeled on an iconic location from the films, the rest of the camps are always the same five buildings or so just copied and pasted into different locations.
It only takes a few rounds for rot to set in, especially considering there’s only three possible maps in the game. I’ll concede, it’s cool that the aforementioned landmarks from the original Friday the 13th, Part 2, and Part 3/The Final Chapter are majorly screen accurate. However, there’s not much point as they often just serve as bigger versions of the regular cabins with more hiding places and more drawers to search. As far as I know, they don’t impact the game beyond changing the flavor – would you rather root around for the various pieces to escape in the boat, or the car? Either way, better start searching those cabinets.
If the chance to play as Jason was somehow, impossibly, more balanced, then the experience as a counselor might not be so heinous. Playing two or even three matches in a row as a teen and then slipping into the killing machine would keep the lesser mode from going stale so fast. Such a switch might help alleviate the constant slog of searching cabins across bland maps over and over again, or at the very least not give players enough time to notice the tedium. That being said, my experience as the counselors wasn’t always horrible: there’s genuine pangs of anxiety when trying to flee from the nigh-unstoppable Jason, and there’s occasionally real jubilation when you manage to escape the map. It’s just a shame these bright spots are relatively minor; smothered by the constant repetition and limited scope of the core gameplay.
When you die as a counselor, which you almost certainly will, you’re usually treated to a wicked death animation as Jason stabs you in the heart, cuts off your arms, breaks your back, etc. One of the reasons the developers stated they went through Kickstarter instead of a publisher was so they could deliver a full range of “blood, guts, gore, and brutal kills,” so it’s almost laughable (and pitiable) that these murders look like mods from The Sims 3. Eyes and teeth bulge out of clay faces, the “gore” is barely noticeable, and ragdolls flail about after the deed is done. If it wasn’t for the lack of polish, I’d be pretty hyped about seeing the head punch from Jason Takes Manhattan, but instead these are the moments when the game’s technical weaknesses are on full display.
The seams are even more apparent when spectating a match. From your eye in the sky, every kill looks like the work of malfunctioning automatons as Jason and his victim jitter, shake, and lock into place. Jason grabs the counselor, but they’re hanging in the air about six inches from his grip, and their eyes look like something from The Simpsons. Jason performs his kill with the grace of a tractor on gravel, and then pops out of the animation back to standing. It’s the nadir of a problem which appears all throughout the game, such as when campers blatantly intersect with the environment, or when you find objects that look like they were made for a PS2 game. At one point I dropped a bear trap from my hand, only for it to clip through a door and vanish entirely. Friday the 13th: The Game has such an egregious lack of fine-tuning that it feels less like a legitimate game and more like one of the endless pieces of Steam Early Access tripe that somehow garnered a full, licensed release about nine months to a year before it should have.
There’s a lot of minor problems with Friday the 13th: The Game that add up as well. There’s no blanket option to mute in-game mics, so you have to go through the lobby and click each player manually. You also can’t mute anyone who joins to spectate, so there’s a chance your session will be haunted by the spectre of a middle-aged man exhaling slurs through a sheet of tinfoil. When entering a session of players, the game apparently assigns a “host” to the lobby, and if that host leaves, then everyone is kicked. In a game where it can take up to ten minutes to find a session, it’s absolutely maddening. At the end of every match, you get a scene inside Jason’s morbid shack from Part 2, which would be pretty cool if the shrine for his mother didn’t invariably, without fail, look like a mound of lumpy dog turds for a minute before all the textures and such pop in.
Admittedly, there are seeds of potential in Friday the 13th: The Game. There’s an interesting mechanic where you can use garnered points to roll abilities for your counselors that improve their performance and survivability. All six versions of Jason play somewhat differently, and their excellent models are apparently where 90% of effort went during development of this game. It’s kind of cool to hook up the radio and call in a dead or spectating player as Jason’s nemesis, Tommy Jarvis. The whole experience is probably much more fun playing with friends, as there’s a vague emphasis on cooperation, and finding a walkie-talkie item allows you to talk over mic in game with other people who have found it. However, convincing your friends to drop $40 on this unpolished, extremely limited game is a good way to ensure you won’t have any friends to play with.
Developers Gun Media and Illfonic have stated that not only are they working to ostensibly patch the long matchmaking times and other bugs, but that a single player Jason “campaign” is coming this summer. There might come a time, after more content is added and the game is patched, that Friday the 13th: The Game will be a much better experience. Right now, however, it’s not recommendable in the slightest. Hardcore fans of the franchise who are extremely, inhumanly patient and don’t mind a very bumpy gameplay experience might be able to tolerate it, but that’s pretty much it. If you’re a fan, your $40 is better spent buying DVDs, posters, figures, shirts, or literally anything else that isn’t this game. Friday the 13th: The Game is a mess, a disappointment, and an embarrassment. Don’t give it your money.