Lopsided gameplay and egregious bugs almost kill the mood of Jason’s murder spree.
As someone who was Jason Voorhees for Halloween in fifth or sixth grade (probably not a great idea today), I’ve definitely been looking forward to stepping back into the hockey mask in Friday the 13th: The Game. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that I’ve found taking on the persona of Jason and roaming around as an iconic invincible force of murder is the highlight of this asymmetrical multiplayer killing spree. Unfortunately, the large majority of your time is spent controlling the machete-fodder, who are much less fun.
Let me start off by assuring you this is a much, much better game than whatever that crap was you might have played on NES. (That’s a low bar, granted.) The design borrows directly from the films which, when you think about it, were really asymmetrical multiplayer matches all along. It’s Jason versus up to seven teenagers: He’s hunting them, and they’re cooperating to escape.
The developers at IllFonic got the feeling of playing as this menacing character right, and it’s really fun to methodically hunt down your prey. As the match goes on you slowly gain more supernatural powers like Sense (think Eagle Vision in Assassin’s Creed) and Morph, which lets you warp anywhere on the map. Not only are these a good explanation of how Jason can seem to be everywhere at once in the movies, they make you feel powerful and in control of the situation. The situation being that there are some teens that need murderin’.
There’s only a 12.5% chance of you being Jason.
The problem is that, like in the similarly structured Evolve, you can’t choose to be Jason. One player is chosen at random at the start of the match, and with up to eight players that means there is a 12.5% chance of you being Jason. You can set your preference to play Jason in the settings, but the other day I played all day long and only got to be Jason once.
So you spend the vast majority of your time as a teenager, which isn’t nearly as satisfying to play. On this side of the conflict, you have four survival options: escape by car, escape by boat, call the cops to come rescue you, or survive the night. The first three methods require finding key items in order to repair the escape route, but the items are spread across the partially randomized map randomly. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to how the items are distributed, so playing as a teen means just searching every drawer of every room in every cabin. That’s just not a very interesting activity, even while being hunted. The lucky jerk who gets to be Jason is out there having all the fun while you’re rummaging through desks! You can hide in an outhouse or whack Jason with a weapon to stun him, but these mostly just buy you time. There is a multistep process for actually killing Jason that is smartly tied to the movies, but it will require a lot of coordination between you and your fellow teens.
This is definitely a game where communication is key if you want to survive. The important items you need to find are so arbitrarily spread out, happening upon them all on your own is unlikely. Players on headsets will be able to let others know they’ve found the car engine, and if a couple others have the gas and keys you can all rendezvous at the escape vehicle.
A lot of love for the Friday the 13th franchise is on display here.
Whether I’m murdering or being murdered, I absolutely appreciate that a lot of love for the Friday the 13th franchise is on display here. Six different Jasons are playable, including the pre-hockey mask baghead version from the second movie. The differences aren’t just cosmetic, as each has his own strengths and weaknesses. Part 3 Jason can run but has weak stun resistance, for example, adding some variety to the strategies of both hunting and avoiding death.
But no matter which version of Jason is hunting you, his kills are gruesomely delightful and totally on par with what you would expect to see on the movie screen. The unlocked kill descriptions are pretty great:
Head Punch: Not just a knockout, but a knock off.
Head Squeeze: Jason turns the counselor around and squeezes their head until it pops.
You get the idea. Much like in, say, Mortal Kombat, half the fun of Friday the 13th: The Game is seeing all the disgusting ways Jason can end his victims.
Series fans will recognize Jason’s mother’s shriveled head.
The three maps pull from several of the movies, in particular parts two and three. Series fans will no doubt recognize Jason’s shrine featuring his dead mother’s shriveled head and the barn from Part 3’s climax. Even Jason’s nemesis Tommy Jarvis – a relatively deep cut for anyone but the biggest of Friday fans – is included as a hero character that can be summoned by the teens to help finish the fight. If you can trigger it, a player who has already been killed is chosen at random to take control of Tommy, so this mechanic also gives players a reason to stick around after they’ve been killed off – and another chance to survive the night.
Speaking of those colorful kills, most of them are unlocked with “customization points” earned by playing. The same goes for perks for the teenagers that will help them survive, such as starting with a weapon in your hand or higher damage resistance. There are also numerous unlocks that occur automatically as you level up your profile, like new Jason archetypes and counselor outfits. I do like the progression system, even if it circularly expects me to keep playing so I can unlock the new kills and threads for the teenagers that I have to keep playing as.
Friday the 13th is not a polished game.
While there is a lot of welcome attention to franchise details, Friday the 13th is not a polished game. In fact, it’s quite buggy. Collision detection is terrible, and it’s not uncommon to see characters popping through walls, teens hovering in the air, and corpses still flailing about after Jason has ended them. Each teen has a few lines of dialogue, but their mouths don’t move when speaking. And every single match begins with the same shot of the preppy teen’s ridiculous face, which gets old fast.
Of course, polish isn’t a necessary requirement for friends to have some dumb fun together – you only need to look as far as something like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds to know that a little glitchiness doesn’t have to get in the way of a great game. And dumb fun definitely ensues when you and your teammates are trying to be stealthy… but then that familiar music swells and you know Jason is nearby, everybody panics, and next thing you know one of you is being gutted or popped or torn in half.
Even so, I’m disappointed every time a match begins and I’m not wearing a hockey mask. The developer says a single-player component is coming before the end of 2017, and hopefully, that will let us spend some more time wearing it.