The Man Behind The Mask
HIGH Finally going through the all the steps necessary to kill Jason.
LOW Why isn’t the phone box on the counselors’ map?
WTF Actually, it’s Ch-ch-ch, Ha-ha-ha. You’re making the game, how do you not know that?
I can say, with a moderate degree of certainty, that I have watched the Friday the 13th films more than any other person on the face of the earth. For the past twenty years, a week hasn’t gone by that I haven’t replayed the entire franchise at least once. The reasons for this are unimportant, but the fact of it is inarguable. I know the look and feel of the Friday films as well as it is possible to. So, it should mean something when I say that the videogame incarnation of Friday the 13th appears to have been made by people who care about the franchise almost as much as I do.
An asymmetrical multiplayer experience, Friday the 13th puts one player in the role of Jason, the mass-murdering antagonist of the titular film series. On the other side, up to seven players become the camp counselors he’s tasked with brutally dispatching. At the beginning of each match, a video plays in which Jason crashes a party in the most aggressive way imaginable, and then all of the players are scattered around the map, trying to escape while being ruthlessly hunted. They can accomplish this by repairing a vehicle and driving or boating out, by calling the police and reaching a rescue point, or by simply surviving a twenty-minute round with Jason on their heels.
…That last option is, by far, the most difficult.
While the counselors are busy looking for car batteries and gas cans, Jason has a wide variety of tools at his disposal. He can pick any random point on the map and teleport within ten meters of it, use a ‘shift’ power to zoom forward at high-speed like the POV demons from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films, mute the music that plays when he’s closing in on counselors so that they don’t know he’s nearby, or turn a Jason-vision power on to let him see where nearby counselors are, even through obstructions. If it sounds like Jason is overpowered, that’s because he’s supposed to be – he’s an efficient, tireless killing machine.
While there are any number of ways to delay or hurt Jason, once he’s fixated on a single counselor, it’s almost certain that they’re going to get killed. Friday the 13th‘s greatest achievement is that these deaths rarely feel unfair – yes, it can be frustrating if Jason uses his first teleport of the game to coincidentally arrive next to the cabin that a player spawned inside, but the developers have cleverly made early-round Jason weak enough for canny players to be able to outdistance him until his shift power unlocks around the two-minute mark. Although escaping is certainly satisfying, there’s plenty of satisfaction to be found in simply dodging and delaying Jason.
Every minute that Jason spends chasing a single counselor is a minute that the rest can spend prepping their escapes – during play I found that players regularly sacrifice themselves delaying Jason while their friends speed away in a car. The game’s experience and leveling system even rewards this behavior – there’s a point bonus for escaping, sure, but it’s dwarfed by the point bonuses available for skillfully attacking or defending against Jason. Players will never be made to feel like they failed just because Jason punched the heart out of their chests and looked through the hole.
Friday the 13th is a masterclass in perfectly balanced game design, and no place is that clearer than its stealth/hiding dynamics. If players are moving or making noise, tiny blips will show up on Jason’s screen, no matter how far away he is. It’s extremely difficult to judge the sound’s distance, however, which forces Jason to closely examine the direction the commotion is coming from, so he can use his teleport map to guesstimate their location. This keeps a round from ever getting too slow – Jason always knows the general area to search in, making it easy for him to keep the pressure on. On the other hand, Counselors rarely know where Jason is, which makes communication paramount. Microphones are a necessity for succeeding as prey – when they speak, their voices appear in-game, allowing them to craft plans whenever they run into one another. They can even confer across the map, so long as they find a radio during their scavenging.
The game’s most impressive feat is how it manages interior/exterior locations. Each one of the three maps (expanded yet astoundingly faithful recreations from the first three films) are littered with cabins – all of the necessary items players will need to escape can be found inside them, and most come with doors that can be barred to keep Jason out. While Jason’s can sense exactly where players are in the woods, the only information it gives him about cabins is whether or not they’re inhabited.
All of the game’s best cat-and-mouse experiences happen around these cabins because when players are inside and Jason is outside, the two forces are perfectly matched. Jason can knock down doors, but counselors can climb out windows. Jason can break windows so that counselors damage themselves going through, but counselors can set bear traps to lock Jason in place while they make good their escape. Best of all, counselors can hide under beds and inside closets, making their sonar blip completely disappear.
As mentioned earlier, Jason’s sense power is limited when it comes to cabins. Once he’s in one, there’s no way to tell if the counselors are still around, or if they made a run for it. This puts Jason in the position of doing a cost-benefit analysis every moment of his search. Will smashing every bed in a bunkhouse kill the cowering counselors, or give them more time to escape? It’s rare that I’ve seen hide-and-seek transformed so successfully into great gameplay, but Friday the 13th manages it quite adeptly.
Unfortunately, Friday the 13th got off to a rough start in its first two weeks – things like public matches failing to connect, and games dropping for no clear reason. It’s obvious that the publisher and developers weren’t prepared for the volume of people who would be clamoring to spend time around Crystal Lake, but now that we’re past the launch window, most of the problems seem to have been ironed out — games are now stable, and relatively easy to find.
The only remaining technical problem is that games end abruptly if the host quits, rather than simply pausing to select a new host. Friday the 13th matches can take up to 20 minutes, and it’s not unusual for players killed early to go looking for another game rather than sticking around and spectating, or hoping that they get respawned as a hunter that the counselors can summon from the pool of killed/escaped characters. If that impatient player happens to be the host, their selfish choice can immediately ruin the game for everyone else. It’s an issue that should be addressed quickly.
Friday the 13th manages to both perfectly capture the look and feel of the iconic films while also creating a fantastic multiplayer experience. It’s one of the best marriages of property and genre I’ve ever encountered – this is absolutely the most Friday the 13th that a Friday the 13th could possibly be. With only three maps and only half of the possible Jasons, the developer has a lot of room to expand. However, it’s already a great game, and a rare asymmetrical experience that’s just as satisfying no matter which side the player randomly spawns as. It’s been 30 long years since the last Friday the 13th game, and after playing this, I feel like it was worth the wait.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Gunmedia and published by Illfonics. It is currently available on XBO, PS4, PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 20 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes. There are no single player modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains intense violence, blood and gore, suggestive themes, and strong language. It’s a F13 game – what do you expect? Brutal, uncompromising violence at every turn. Jason tears people apart with his weapons and bare hands, or sometimes tosses people into fireplaces or smashes their sleeping bags against trees. He’s a rough guy, and children shouldn’t be anywhere near this game. Surprisingly for the franchise, there’s no drinking or drugs!
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: While you’ll be able to play just fine as Jason, huge swathes of the counselor experience revolve around audio. Listening for the music cues that indicate Jason is around, communicating with other players – it’s going to be much harder to play the game without audio communication. Not accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the game does not offer remappable controls.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.