Horror video games are sort of a mixed bag. Some get the atmosphere down but forget to make the experience fun (I know some of you like Alien: Isolation, but that game is just a series of frustrating panic attacks), others are just too silly to be taken seriously (like pretty much every Resident Evil before 7), but a select few are able to find that sweet spot between the two extremes. Games like Before Dawn or The Last of Us manage to be both fun and scary as hell, but can run a little long for some. If only there was a game that was scary, oozing with atmosphere and super fun even when you absolutely suck at it. Well there is, and now that it’s been out for several months and patched and re-patched to move past its early status as a glitchy mess, Friday the 13th: The Game is the horror party game to beat.
The game, which launched in May of this year, is a sort of hide-and-go-seek simulator that sees eight players take on the role of either the murderous Jason Voorhees or one of the unfortunate camp counselors charged with surviving a terror-filled night on Crystal Lake. Each match can last as long as 15 minutes, and sees the counselors running, hiding and fighting for their lives as Jason stalks them across maps that correspond to different locales found throughout the films. The maps, like many other parts of the game, are painstakingly recreated from the source material — a feature not overlooked by series superfans like myself. From the main house of the second film to the barn from the third, the setting is picture perfect and entirely film accurate. It’s far from the only easter egg for the die-hard Friday the 13th faithful, but it really helps add to the atmosphere of the game. Also helping? Kane by-god Hodder, the most famous actor to don the hockey mask, performs all the motion capture for the various Jasons found throughout the game. Add to that the series-accurate music that pervades everything from the game to the lobby and this is a great mood setter if you’re playing late at night or alone in the dark.
Whether players are assigned a counselor or Jason is random, though they can set preferences for who they would rather be, as well as which specific counselor or version of Jason they hope to explore Crystal Lake as. Currently, there are 10 different counselors and Jasons to play as, (though a free update due to drop today will add an 11th for both), each of which has their own strengths and weaknesses. Like the settings and music, most of the counselors (and all of the Jasons) are based on characters from the film series as well as common series tropes. There’s the goth girl AJ Mason (a take on the character Violet from the fifth movie), the bland everyman Kenny Riddel (Bill from the first movie), Deborah Kim is the nerdy girl (Maddie in Part 7), the preppy guy Chad Kensington (Trent from the remake), and more. In game, there is also a way to summon arguable series protagonist, Tommy Jarvis as a late addition to the game. Tommy has the best stats of any counselor and comes equipped with a hunting rifle, much as he did in the seventh movie. As for Jason, his variants all correspond to different films as well, barring one re-skin that is an ode to the original Friday the 13th video game (and has his own cool chiptune theme song) and an original Jason designed by the god of horror-movie special effects, Tom Savini that was only available to early adopters who backed the game on Kickstarter.
While the easter eggs are a big plus for the die hards, the real joy is in the gameplay. The name of the game for the counselors is escape, and fortunately there are a number of ways to get the hell out of Crystal Lake alive – it’s just that none of them are particularly easy. On certain maps there are as many as two cars (one two-seater, one four-seater) in need of gas, a new battery and keys. These items are randomly generated throughout the map, so every game is different. Furthermore, depending on the counselor’s ‘Repair’ and ‘Luck’ scores the process of fixing a car can be simple or extremely time-consuming. Getting the car started in and of itself is a bit of a nightmare, as Jason can smash the hood of your ride if he gets in the way and pull you out through the window. There’s also a boat that you have to gas up and repair the rotor of, but the water improves Jason’s speed to an insane level, so don’t be surprised if you end up capsized and pulled under by Mrs. Voorhees’ baby boy. Lucky players can even call the police and escape with them, provided they find the cabin with the phone, find the missing circuit, successfully repair the phone box, call the police, survive for an additional three minutes till the cops show up, then make your way to the correct location on the map where the fuzz will actually be waiting. You know, simple stuff. There’s also a way to actually kill Jason, but it’s such an involved process that I won’t go into all of the details here. YouTuber Fairlight Excalibur has done that for me:
Much like being “it” in a game of tag, playing as Jason is often a lot more challenging – even if the stakes are lower than for the counselors. Your job sounds simple enough – seek and destroy. Now a 1 on 7 fight doesn’t sound too fair, so Jason is SUPER overpowered and comes with a number of unique abilities that allow him to be the unstoppable monster from the films. Whether it’s the ‘Stalk’ ability (which allows Mr. Voorhees to turn off the music when he nears his prey to better launch a surprise attack) or ‘Shift’ (which lets Jason effectively teleport short distances to catch up with his speedier targets), you’ll need all of these legs up to snare any of the counselors who will fight you off with weapons they find throughout the camp, evade you by diving in and out of windows and setting traps. Later in the session you will get a boost to your strength, speed and stamina by entering the “Rage” state, which will be invaluable when busting down doors or walls to chase down the remaining counselors. You can damage the counselors with melee attacks using your Jason’s film-specific weapons (ranging from the classic machete, to a pitchfork, to a pike) or grab the counselors for cinematic one-hit kills. These do take a few moments to enact and can be escaped, but they are the coolest finishers in the game – especially if you can perform any of the environment specific fatalities like the fire stomp or the sleeping bag kill.
The game is played online, meaning if you don’t create a room with your own friends, you’ll be paired with a bunch of randos of varying skill levels. This can be a bit of a mixed bag, as some players are more into teamwork than others. To this end, this is definitely a game where it pays to have a Bluetooth mic. There’s a bit of a community shorthand where micless players will get others’ attention by clicking their flashlights, but it is obviously a lot more difficult to deliver nuanced messages via this very rudimentary system. That being said, teamwork is essential to playing as a counselor — especially if you are trying to fix a car or any other time-sensitive activity that requires multiple stages. It can also be absolutely hilarious to hear people shriek over their Bluetooth mics and then bash the player controlling Jason when they die — and die they shall, by the way, because it’s pretty common to find a game where no one makes it out alive. Part of the fun is failing over and over again and trying to learn from your own mistakes — plus dying is the easiest path toward playing as Tommy Jarvis, which is an essential part of killing Jason in the game. Of course, this does put pressure on players who are playing as Jason, as failing to get kills or being stunned (and often tea-bagged) repeatedly by counselors can get super frustrating at times.
With several patches correcting issues facing early adopters, gamers across all platforms can enjoy Friday the 13th: The Game the way it was meant to be played. The game is constantly being updated (with two new counselors and a new board already announced) meaning there is an increasing variety of ways to play, and the randomization of spawn points for players and items means every game is different. For the price point? This is a winner.