I could hear my friends screaming in the distance as I hustled to connect the car battery. One of them was trying to negotiate a way out of being butchered by Jason Voorhees, but that didn’t last long. The faint begging turned to screams, then a pathetic gurgle as another one of my fellow campers was mutilated. Finally, the battery is connected and the hood is slammed. He was close, but I was almost out of there. Another shriek cuts through the air like Jason’s machete. Silence now. Am I alone? Who’s left? After a wait that feels like forever, the engine turns over and I make my way down a dirt road lit only by the car’s headlights. I’m bloody and bruised, but I’ll make it out of here with a healthy amount of PTSD and survivor’s guilt. Then suddenly, he’s there — right in front of me. I slam the breaks and put the car into reverse, but it’s too late. Voorhees drags me out of the car and grips my skull with his massive hands. The player behind the hockey mask giggles and says, “sorry I have to do this, my mom is really overbearing.” My skull pops and the round is over.
This is Friday the 13th: The Game — a hilarious and brutal game of adult hide and seek. You will play as either Jason, the classic slasher film antagonist, or one of seven camp counselors, who need to do whatever they can to escape one of the many Friday the 13th film locales with their limbs still attached. The thrill of running around a digital Camp Crystal Lake is better than some of the movies. In fact, this long-awaited title seems like a perfect extension to the series and fits well within the growing love of Twitch streaming and player-made narratives.
Back in the heyday of slasher films, Jason was hacking up campers as moviegoers freaked out in theaters or on the couch. As technologies and tastes have changed, Jason stayed dead. There hasn’t been a Friday the 13th movie in years (even counting the reboot), but horror enthusiasts still love watching a counselor get their head chopped off. It’s as American as apple pie. Now, they can be the doomed counselor falling into horror clichés and answering the question of “what would I do if I were in that situation.” The answer is: probably die. But at least you can start right back up after a few minutes in the game.
F13 is an asymmetrical multiplayer game like Dead by Daylight or Evolve. Jason is almost unkillable as he stalks and butchers players while utilizing a plethora of supernatural skills that induce jump scares and frightened cries while counselors, based on horror film character tropes, fend for themselves. The nerdy, chubby guy has no stamina, but he can fix the broken phone quickly. The heroine archetype is brave, but she’s relatively weak and can’t fight off Jason one on one (she can wear Mrs. Voorhees’ sweater though). Teamwork is key, but selling out your friends for your own survival can work too.
The beauty of F13 is its ability to let cliché horror movie moments play out organically. You stumble at the worst possible time as Jason powerwalks after you. A door is slammed, alerting him to your presence. Running away, you look over your shoulder to see your buddy get sliced in half as he screams for you to save him. Even after dozens of hours played, the gameplay is still fun and the novelty of Jason as a Big Bad doesn’t wear off. Seeing him peeking through a window is always freaky, and getting behind Jason’s mask and stalking other players delivers a satisfying power few games on the market deliver. Simply put: playing as the murderous and unstoppable Jason is a hilarious joy. People will stop and beg for their lives, others will run towards fellow survivors, leading you right to the group, and campers will curse and turn on each other as you slowly bash down the front door.
The visceral thrill of being stalked by Jason never dulls. Seeing the terror on your character’s face as they run from a lumbering Jason is consistently nightmarish, and if you have a particularly funny gamer behind the killer, they may calmly explain that he’s just gotta do what he’s gotta do, so stay still.
The immersion wouldn’t work so well if not by the loving design throughout. Audiophiles will love how footsteps crunch through the woods, amplifying your fear. Harry Manfredini, the composer of the original Friday the 13th film, returned to put the finishing touches on the whole, terrifying package. The creepy strings of the classic soundtrack swell as Jason nears, giving an audio clue as to when you need to hide, and the disconcerting piano keys tinkle as you’re temporarily safe, desperately searching through closets and drawers for anything that can aid your survival.
The actual gameplay isn’t as simple as it seems, although the game is easy to pick up and play. The game, thus far, seems well-balanced and novel. Sticking together reduces fear, which affects your HUD, as does keeping on your flashlight, but the more noise you make and light you shine, the easier Jason can find you. Communication is key, but this is an ’80s horror movie come to life. You’ll trip over a wayward branch at a random time, your character will freak out, and hilarity will ensue along the way.
Even if you die, the ability to switch multiple camera angles and manipulate the POV makes watching the chase a blast. No matter what, it always feels like a horror movie. Beyond some clipping issues and bug fixes, the only glaring issue with the game is one that plagues any elimination-style game — you have to wait 15 minutes sometimes before getting back in the game. Watching the madness play out makes up for it sometimes, but many gamers will find themselves checking their phones or walking the dog a few times and hour.
F13 is better than most, games in the asymmetric genre. Asymmetrical games have an “infinite loop” problem where the player can, depending on their immediate surroundings, avoid the Big Bad until the game ends by leading the slower Jason through a house or around a fence. The devs have done a good job here by making certain environmental items destructible and have given Jason enough powers to cut through the cheese and keep games moving. Aside from a few goose chases here there, I saw few moments that would lead to more annoyance than fun.
Ultimately, the game’s ability to create player-made stories is what makes Friday the 13th special. Being one of the last survivors rifling through corpses to find the keys for a fully-gassed car is one of dozens of scenarios that naturally played out. The only thing that could make this experience better is being a counselor in VR.
But, if Gun Media is going to charge $40 for a game that is pretty much one game mode on three (gigantic) maps, then tack on DLC, there’s going to be a problem. It’s a relatively expensive game for what it is, but if this clicks for you, there will be few games better.
I haven’t laughed with this many random people online in a long time. There’s something about being chased by an axe-wielding maniac that brings people together.
This review was conducted with a code provided by the publisher and is available on PC, XBOX One and PS4 although the PS4 was having server issues on launch day.