Friday the 13th: The Game is good. Friday the 13th: The Game is terrible. Friday the 13th: The Game is both of these things at once and also in fitful bursts. You’re as likely to cackle with glee at its schlocky gore as you are to want to throttle it for its many technical inconsistencies. What is clear about Friday the 13th: The Game is that it is undeniably a bit of a mess, but not without charm. In that respect, it’s entirely faithful to the films.
Friday the 13th: The Game takes the form of asymmetric multiplayer, with up to seven players playing ‘camp counsellors’ (aka frisky young expendable folk) attempting to work together to find a way to escape from Mrs. Voorhees’ baby boy, who is also controlled by a player that has the simple objective of terrorising and murdering the youths. In theory, it’s the perfect model for a slasher game, with a near unstoppable Jason Voorhees stalking and killing a group of teenagers who have only a slim chance of besting the man monster. Invariably, Jason is far more likely to trudge off the winner, and where that might feel like an imbalance normally, here the agony of defeat is softened by the giddy glee of being the victim.
The game is presented in a fittingly lo-fi manner, evoking the grimy fuzz of 80’s slasher movies, and that alone is the impressive part of the technical side of Friday the 13th. Everything else is horrendously cheap looking, dreary, and unpolished, which might well tie into the concept, but even for me, someone who is willing to understand that, Friday the 13th is an ugly-looking game in motion. Characters clip through floors, ceilings, walls, other characters, you name it, there’s something clipping through it. In some cases, that clipping creates situations where a player can cheat death by clipping into certain areas and essentially making themselves untouchable. Most of the time the game runs to a decent enough standard (in the sense you can play it without getting a headache), but there’s nothing that truly stands out to an impressive degree, not even the use of VCR fast-forward lines on screen for one of Jason’s abilities has more than a passing impact. The presentation is just generally underwhelming.
Obviously there’s a ruleset to Friday The 13th, but the game seems to feel like you’re best served guessing what most of those rules are and what the controls do. That’d be fine if a) everyone had the same level of knowledge, and b) there was a consistency to them. Instead, thanks to a variety of reasons I’ll go into soon enough, you’re treated to a shambolic presentation of how you should play the game. It does get simpler to understand as you get a few games under your belt, but the slog to get there is often infuriating and unpleasant.
The counselors’ objective is to leave the area, or survive the time limit. To survive, there’s plenty of stealth options, misdirection, and weapons that slow Jason down for long enough to facilitate your escape. You can hide under beds or in cupboards, and if Jason happens to wander into your vicinity (which is signified by the famous ‘’Ki, ki, ki; ma, ma, ma’’ sound and intense music), you can hold your breath for a short while to remain undetected, but that’s not always as effective as you think. You can barricade doors to buy a few seconds, stun Jason with flares and firecrackers or even put him down for a little nap with the shotgun. You can’t be rid of him for long though, and the true objective is to escape.
Dotted around the various areas (taken from various Friday the 13th films, as are the counselors and various versions of Jason) you’ll find the items needed to start a car or a boat, or even call in the police to open blocked exits. Finding them is hard enough without an undying behemoth skulking about, not to mention the occasional input lag costing you valuable seconds, but without communication between players, it becomes a far tougher prospect, usually resulting in lots of grisly death. In fact, communication in general is essential to making Friday the 13th more enjoyable. All the best moments I had came from everyone talking about what they could see, and what they were doing. Really adding to the panic when you realise someone just got their virtual nogging popped by Jason just feet from where you are trying to fix the car.
If Jason does get a hold of you, it isn’t the end, necessarily. There’s a small window in which you can break his grip and flee, or if he does indeed crack your body like a bag of crisps, you might have the opportunity to return to the game as a shotgun-toting Tommy Jarvis, who can see where Jason is on the map, but is still relatively susceptible to damage.
As Jason, the game is quite different. Not only are you out to murder the teens, but you can scare the shit out of them by cutting the power to buildings and leaving dead bodies for them to find. Both contribute to the counsellors’ fear, making them easier to spot and hunt down. Jason has abilities (some of which can be earned via points picked up from play; same for the counsellors, only less mystical), such as allowing him to teleport a short distance, closing the gap between our hockey mask-wearing fiend and his prey instantly. Most of the time, you feel almost as unstoppable as Jason should, but the rest of it is frustration from trudging about looking for the teens and recovering from being stunned. It’s a pretty good representation of playing as the iconic monster, but it isn’t always as darkly enjoyable as it could be, thanks to the janky nature of the game.
When everything that does work clicks, Friday the 13th is genuinely a joy to play, but the caveats for that to happen are currently far larger than they should be. I suspect that over time, the game will improve both on a technical and mechanical level, but the danger is that the meat and drink of Friday the 13th comes from having an active player base, and there’s a pretty hefty risk that it won’t be there in time for the bigger kinks to be smoothed out. Friday the 13th: The Game matchmaking has improved after a disastrous launch, but it’s already gravely slow to get you going on most occasions. Whether that’s down to a shrinking player base or the continuing fixes to the matchmaking is unknown, but either or is a cause for concern. The only hope now is that the game gets a bit of Jason’s ability to come back to life and turns this potential horror show into a stone cold killer.