Friday the 13th The Game Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One and PC
The hokey mask donning slayer of camp counselors, Jason Vorhees, is as iconic a character as they can get thanks to his hulking and menacing presence that always seems to pop up at just the right time for the perfect kill. While some would expect a game based on such a series to be a slasher’s walk through a camp of unsuspecting victims, Friday the 13th The Game barely manages to cut the mustard in almost every aspect including the slaying itself.
Friday the 13th had already set itself up for an uphill battle from the get-go as it was meant to be a purely multiplayer experience. It follows in the footsteps of Dead by Daylight where players are divided into killers and survivors to play an elaborate and deadly game of cops and robbers. The main difference is that the killer is Mr. Vorhees himself in various incarnations from the longstanding movie series of the same name. Depending on the setting, survivors are either camp counselors or some other repeated trope of young-and-dumb victims whose main objective is to basically make it through a game without dying. It’s an on-paper fun type of premise that ends up losing its novelty fairly quickly as both hokey-loving killers and idiot-sandwich survivors feel extremely limited and clunky in how they play.
Playing as Jason is probably the main hook of the game; one that only a single player per game gets to experience for its entirety. Unless playing a custom game, you could find yourself waiting for a long time before you’re able to step into the heavy boots of the man with an ax to grind. What’s worse is that once you’re able to play as Jason you’re faced with the daunting task of figuring out how to navigate a dark and obstacle-ridden terrain whilst praying that the steps you take would come a bit faster. The Friday the 13th series isn’t known for having an Olympic sprinter for a killer because let’s face it, a slow walking faceless brute is far more menacing due to the sense of inevitability his strolling around produces. This, however, doesn’t translate well to an interactive experience like a multiplayer video game. There are versions of Jason Vorhees that do have a slightly faster walking speed and a barely noticeable sprint but even still it’s not enough to make his movement feel less frustrating. Not even his relatively overpowered abilities do much good to enhance the experience.
Aside from splitting his victims in two with whatever weapon he’s carrying, Jason has four abilities that allow him to get the jump on them, all of which have their own cooldown. His first ability allows for the sensing of prey that has had a run-in with the masked brute. The second skill allows Jason to teleport to any part of the map he wants. The third operates like a stealth ability granting Jason reduced noise when moving. The last of the abilities is by far the most useful and infuriating at the same time. With this ability, Jason’s point of view changes to a first-person one and allows him to quickly wraith in a chosen direction. The problem is that any obstacle that gets in his path with halt his pursuit and must be canceled in order to reasonably navigate around it. It’s great when you need that extra bit of speed to catch up to a helpless fleeing prey over a short distance but anything longer and you’re bound to run into something that you didn’t expect was there. Jason’s attacks are also lumbering and sluggish, whether you’re slashing or grabbing, the latter of which might as well not exist considering how easy it is for victims to escape it.
Survivors in Friday the 13th are far more nimble in their movement and can employ several tricks to escape Jason should they find themselves face to face with the masked terror. Tools, such as knives and fireworks, can be found throughout the map. Fireworks are especially effective as they stun Mr. Vorhees for a considerable amount of time. Knives and other weapons can be used to escape his grasp and temporarily fend him off should he get too close. Besides waiting for time to run out, the helpless barely-out-of-their-teens can opt to start up one of two cars in the map by finding fuel canisters and engine parts to get it started. It’s not all lost for Jason if the car is ready to go, however, as he can just simply employ the classic “Killer in the Middle of the Road” technique to stop his victims from fleeing. It’s pretty fun when that does actually happen, which isn’t often. Another downside to playing as survivors is that they’re generally designed to be played with co-ordination which requires voice communication and an obvious flaw of the Nintendo Switch is that it relies on a phone app to make it possible.
It’s in this aspect that Friday the 13th The Game succeeds the most; the atmosphere is almost completely spot on from the films. Everything from the eery “ah-ah” induced tracks to the sounds of the darkness around you makes each game feel like you’re actually in a slasher movie running for your life. Encountering Jason as he pops up from behind you feels genuinely frightening. The locales look and feel like replicas of those found in the iconic movies. There’s even a virtual cabin where the rooms and items all contain little nuggets and facts from across the franchise’s history.
Friday the 13th The Game’s uphill battle begins and ends with the fact that it’s a multiplayer-focused experience that clearly targets a specific audience of slasher movie fans. The stiff controls, uninteresting combat, and frustrating mechanics beg the question if a price tag was a better choice over making it a free-to-play game. Single-player modes are essentially non-existant with a simple bot mode and challenge mode included, the latter of which makes a half-reared attempt at recapturing some of the movies’ most iconic moments. It’s eery atmosphere can make fans feel right at home but they’ll quickly fall victim to the repeated bludgeoning of the game’s shortcomings.