Crouched in a cabin, desperately searching for car keys to the newly repaired, refuelled car, the ominous sound of frantic music sends shivers up my spine.
Jason Voorhees is close by and he wants to kill me. I remain crouched, perfectly still, hoping he will find another quarry. Suddenly I’m startled by the loud “THWACK” of his axe against the barred door. I wait for a few more whacks before I rush towards the far window and dive through, get up and run. Jason is giving chase. Seeing that I’m running out of stamina, I turn and face my attacker. I take a chance and swing the baseball bat I’m holding and strike Jason in the head, knocking him down, giving myself a brief reprieve from his bloodlust.
This is one of many thrilling moments I’ve experienced in Gun Media’s Friday the 13th: The Game. A game that offers plenty of thrills but also plenty of frustrating issues and design decisions that unfortunately mar the experience, making what could have been an amazing game simply a good one.
I’ve been a Friday the 13th fan ever since I was 11 years old and I snuck into a screening of Friday the 13th Part 3. Scared out of my wits, I was fascinated by the hulking Jason Voorhees in his green shirt, dirty khakis and his wide array of tools used to murder the teens visiting Higgin’s Haven. Ever since then I’ve seen every Friday the 13th film in the cinema on opening day. No matter how terrible they have become since my favourite, The Final Chapter, I still go, hoping that the series will return to its basic slasher roots. You can imagine my excitement when I heard Gun Media announce Friday the 13th: The Game.
The set is simple and executed pretty well. One player plays as Jason, while up to seven others play as counsellors trying to survive the slaughter. There are five ways to accomplish this: escape by car, by boat, call the police and make it to them when they arrive, survive to the end of the match and lastly, kill Jason. On paper it sounds simple enough, but in design and practice, it’s far more difficult. At the start of each match players can choose one of the available counsellors (the game starts with four but six more are unlocked as you level up in the game, making a total of ten), each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each counsellor has seven stats, all of which can factor into a match so choosing your counsellor wisely is key.
To escape by car or boat you need to find items before it’s possible such as gas, a battery, or motor for the boat and the keys. Finding these items can prove to be challenging because their respective locations are randomly generated on the map. As such, you can either work together as a team or separate to cover more ground. Once one of these key items is found, the player has to take it back to the vehicle and then partake in a minigame to pour the gas, install the battery and so on. Once all of the items are found, you can either gather up to three other survivors and escape in the vehicle, or save yourself and drive away.
Calling the police first requires finding a fuse and then installing it in a damaged phone box then using the phone. Once the police are called a timer appears on your screen that counts down from five minutes. This is how long before the police arrive. Once they do arrive – providing you’ve survived that long – you can make your way over to their location and get to safety. From experience, I know this is a great place to set up an ambush as Jason and take out at least one of the fleeing counsellors.
I won’t spoil how to kill Jason because it’s quite the fun surprise and you can only be surprised by it once.
As a counsellor, each of the stats really matter, especially stamina. Even just moving at the default speed depletes your stamina bar and only standing still or crouching can recover it. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to run out when Jason is chasing you. It will cost you your life. You will know Jason is nearby based on the music. Harry Manfredini’s score is used to great effect here; it gets louder and more intense the closer Jason is to you. Even with doors barricaded it’s never not a tense moment when the discordant orchestra ratchets up the tension.
Also making matters more interesting is that the map of the area has to be found before you can use it, and in a neat design choice, players in the game chat can only hear each other when they’re in close proximity until someone finds the radio. This makes separating extremely tense.
You can also find items that will aid you should you be confronted by Jason, such as a pocket knife which can be used once when Jason has grabbed you. This will stun him for a moment and allow you to make a quick getaway. You can throw firecrackers at Jason’s feet which will also stun him, or you can shoot him with a flare gun. If you’re lucky you can knock him out briefly with a good swing of a bat or a pipe, or you can set up a bear trap to keep him in place briefly. Going toe-to-toe with Jason isn’t always recommended though because he can kill you in two to three hits from full health.
For the extremely brave, you can enter Jason’s Shack and grab his mother’s sweater (just like Ginny did during the climax of Part 2) which will cause Jason to stop his attack briefly. The sweater plays a part in how you can kill Jason as well. Be careful though, because it only has one use and once it’s used, unless you have the other elements to kill Jason, you will have lost your chance and will have to survive by other methods.
When selecting which Jason you want to be, there things to consider. There are six Jasons to choose from – Part 2, Part 3, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8 and Jason Goes to Hell. Each one has his own strength and weaknesses in terms of damage he can take, his ability to run or not, and the length of cooldowns for the skills available to him. These skills are really clever if you’re a fan of the series. First the player will start with the ability to teleport to any place on the map. Next available is Sense, which allows Jason to see players’ locations. Shift allows Jason to quickly traverse a distance quickly in an Evil Dead-cam kind of way, quickly closing the distance between himself and an intended victim. This is useful to make a quick and startling grab of a counsellor and hopefully end them in a brutally gory way. Lastly, there is the Stalk ability, which allows Jason to silence his music and creep up on an unsuspecting victim for that jump scare.
Certain actions you perform, such as picking up a weapon, escaping from Jason’s grasp, or using a radio to call for help, give you experience for the round. At the end of each round you can spend what is called “CP” on new kills for Jason (4 can be slotted at a time and vary depending on the specific Jason’s weapon) or roll new randomised perks for the counsellors. Applying these perks will aid you in future matches as they decrease the time for getting free from a trap, shortening the time to start the car or barricade a door and so on.
All of these elements on both sides can lend themselves to highly entertaining matches and very tense situations. That is, if you can get into a match. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the servers are severely overloaded, causing really long search times. This won’t affect everyone, and it affected me far less than some of my friends, but it’s certainly something to bear in mind if you’re on the fence about whether to give Friday the 13th: The Game a try.
The game also has some straight up jank. Clipping through the wall and the ground is common, dead characters floating off the ground was a relatively frequent occurrence, and one time I saw Jason and his victim fly up into the sky. The lack of polish in this department doesn’t bother me so much because it’s basically the video game equivalent of the movies themselves which are full of filmmaking mistakes that add to their charm. Technical issues aside, the biggest design gripe I have with Friday the 13th is the lack of ability to climb over things. In 2017, not being able to vault over a waist-high fence shouldn’t be what causes you to die – especially when you can easily climb into or dive through windows. It feels like an odd oversight – or maybe it’s by design because Jason isn’t the most nimble of enemies.
It’s by no means perfect, but Friday the 13th: The Game has a lot of fun to offer when you can get into matches. It delivers the promised tension of the film series, and you can see the love for the franchise in nearly everything. Unfortunately, as it’s currently a multiplayer-only experience, the connection issues really do sour the game a bit, and it really could have done with a final bit of polish. That said, I’m very pleased to say that if you like the sound of the concept or are a fan of the franchise, you’re bound to have a bit of fun playing as Jason or one of his victims.