Friday the 13th: The Game (2017)

Folks who’ve been regularly reading my writing here and at Rue Morgue for a while have learned a few key points about me over the years. I think the 80s was the best decade for horror movies and that Sissy Spacek never got a fair shake as a leading lady; that I’m a Virgo; and that I absolutely love Friday the 13th. Indeed, one of my first pieces for CineDump was a paean to the series—its’ place in popular culture, its’ role as supreme artifact of the Reagan Era, and its’ personal significance to me (hell, I've hand-made replicas of some of the masks in my garage. I have pictures. I can prove it). If you haven’t read that article, find the link HERE—please go take a look at it before you read any further. It’ll provide some necessary context for what’s to follow.

Back to that point, then—I love Friday the 13th.  So when I found out that a video game was being released, in which I would get to play as Jason, I was ecstatic. Through the roof. Floored. If there’s a turn of phrase to illustrate someone’s crippling excitement and anticipation, it applied to me. I’m probably one of the few people who has fond memories of playing that OTHER Friday the 13th game, the much beleaguered NES cartridge that’s been—unfairly, I think—levied the title of “worst game of all time.” Sure, it’s “Nintendo Hard,” and completely random (Mrs. Voorhees as a disembodied Medusa head?… ‘kay), but it had a certain “video board game” quality to it, and I killed many happy hours unsuccessfully trying to save my campers. Now, here was the opportunity to play as the masked murder zombie himself. If Grand Theft Auto is a way for players to work out some issues with their id by engaging in wonton criminality, then this would be an opportunity to… do much the same thing. But with Jason. Frickin’ Jason. Even Grand Theft Auto had to acknowledge how cool that would be. The coveralls and hockey mask? C’mon. You rampaged around San Andreas with a knife and the hockey mask. Admit it.

So then, here it was. All pretext removed—an officially licensed Friday the 13th Game, with motion capture by Kane “I understand that Jason is actually a character” Hodder himself. What more could a dedicated fan ask for? What more could I ask for?

The answer? Not much. And, hopefully, given enough time, that’ll change to “nothing.”

Eventually, Friday the 13th: The Game will incorporate a single-player story mode, details of which are sketchy at this point. For the time being, gameplay consists of online death matches in which one player is randomly assigned the role of Jason and the others the role of counselors. Players can choose from a number of Jasons—Parts 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and Jason Goes to Hell—and counselors, each with different abilities, advantages, and weaknesses. Arenas consist of three different locations—Camp Crystal Lake, Packanack Lodge (the site of the ill-fated counselor training program from Part 2), or Higgins Haven (the setting for Part 3). The player in control of Jason is tasked with—what else?—slaughtering the counselors. The counselors must either survive the “night” (twenty-minutes of gameplay), escape, or do the unthinkable—kill Jason.

Usually, when I write a review, I like to begin with the positives and then segue into a few polite negatives before wrapping up with an optimistic conclusion. Because of some issues surrounding the game, I’m going to switch that formula up a bit, but, stick with me here. Like the Friday the 13th series itself, this is gonna be a little rocky at first, then pick up quality as things move along.

By now, the game’s launch issues have been well publicized—difficulty in getting into a match, the propensity of the game to crash, and weird glitches (including getting stuck in walls and the characters’ facial expressions being… well… disturbing). For the most part, what you’ve read is true. Were it not for a how-to guide online instructing me on how to manually find games to join, I’d STILL be waiting for the game to “find me a session,” and those crashes are infuriating. I’ll add here to the criticisms that the randomization of who gets to play Jason is sketchy at best. Although the game allows you to set a preference for who you spawn as—Jason, a counselor, or neither—out of the roughly forty games I’ve played as of this writing, I’ve gotten to play as Jason exactly three times—and two of those times the game crashed mere minutes into play. Doubly frustrating are the implications of crashed games on points. For every game you play, you earn points. Points allow you to level up, and as you level up, more options become available to you—more Jasons, more counselors, more kills, and more abilities. It’s like an RPG with brutal murder and cleavage. In theory, that’s an awesome idea, but, in order to earn those points, you HAVE to finish the game. Even if you’re a counselor and you’ve already died, if the game crashes, you lose all your points. The glitches can also be insanely frustrating—during one game, my fellow players and I were able to hotwire a car and were preparing to escape when the car began strobing—blinking in and out of place in the middle of the road, unable to move forward, none of us able to get out of it, as Jason closed in.

So, difficulty connecting; low odds of playing as Jason when you DO connect; frequent crashes; and glitches. What more is there to say?

Quite a bit. And it’s all awesome.

The fact of the matter is I’m willing to overlook everything I said in the last paragraph—the way I’m willing to overlook certain aspects of the series—because when the game works, it’s amazing; and, given the time to fix the glitches, patch the game, and get things smooth, I feel in all honesty—as a gamer, a horror fan, and most importantly as a Friday the 13th fan—that it has the potential to revitalize the series.

First and foremost, the graphics are beautiful. From the intentionally kitschy retro-80s opening to gameplay itself, it’s clear that a lot of love and care has gone into bringing the game to life, and the Jason animations in particular demonstrate that this was a game designed for fans, BY fans. The counselors have a degree of cartoonishness to them, but, conceptually, it works—what were the counselors in any F13th movie but caricatures of what a forty-year-old scriptwriter thought teenagers were like? Further working in the counselors' favor is that all of your choices have analogues in the series itself—I’m not going to spoil anything here, but, see if you can match each of the player choices to the movie from which they’ve been culled.

This leads me more directly into gameplay. The counselors' varied abilities make for a nice challenge depending on which you’ve chosen, and makes for interesting permutations on teams when you’re able to get together a group of players interested in working cooperatively. On a few games, I’ve been the muscle, staving off Jason while my teammates repaired the car or called the police; on others, I’ve been the ersatz mechanic, popping in the battery and filling the gas tank. Depending on who you’ve chosen and how you’ve leveled them up, different strategies work better than others, and there’s a level of fun in figuring out what the best survival tactics for each counselor are.

Then there’s playing as Jason. As I said earlier, I’ve only been able to play as Jason three times thus far, for a total of about ten minutes of gameplay. Those ten minutes of gameplay, though, have been some of the most enjoyable of my life, and I wait with bated breath every time a game loads for the opportunity to step into the ol’ slaughtering shoes yet again. For every horror/gamer/F13th fan/crazy person who’s dreamed of being able to play as Jason Voorhees and slaughter a bunch of promiscuous twenty-somethings, Friday the 13th: The Game does not disappoint. Not only have the developers—Gun Media, IllFonic, and designer Ronnie Hobbs (who’s, like, the nicest guy in the world)— perfectly captured each iteration of Jason cosmetically, but playing as different Jasons FEELS different, in accordance with the film being represented. Part 3 Jason is a quick, agile killer, while Part 6 Jason is a hulking, slow moving brute and Part 7 is a heavy-breathing brawler. Perhaps it’s the input of Kane Hodder, or maybe the developers simply had that good of a handle on Jason, but they’ve beautifully captured the essence of each of his appearances.

Oh, and playing as him was so damn fun.

As with the counselors, there’s some initial fun to be had matching up each of your possible kills with the movie from which it’s derived. The developers clearly did their homework (and Hodder his handiwork), pitch-perfectly recreating not just the series’ iconic murder sequences but some you’ve forgotten (as well a few that I think may even be originals—and I’m not even sure that I’ve seen all of them yet)! In keeping with Jason’s sometimes quasi-supernatural, sometimes-fully-supernatural nature, playing as him also allows you some special abilities not accessible to the counselors--  namely, the ability to warp around the map, rapidly charge across the screen, and sense the presence of counselors via a type of echolocation, among other things. It’s a nifty representation of Jason being able to suddenly appear out of nowhere in the films, and the developers have incorporated it splendidly as an aspect of gameplay.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of gameplay, though, and the one success that overcomes all other flaws—the one thing that makes me unconditionally love this game, in addition to its’ other pluses and in spite of its’ drawbacks—is that it has perfectly recreated the experience of the Friday the 13th movies… and made them scary again. It’s difficult to imagine Jason Voorhees having ever been frightening. Even by the time the series had reached its’ midpoint in the 80s, he’d become a pop-culture icon robbed of any uncanniness or terror. He was a Halloween costume. He was in kids’ cartoons. He was on freakin’ Arsenio Hall. Playing as a counselor, though, you WILL fear Jason. When the music on the soundtrack (another faithful recreation from the series) suddenly spikes; when a red dot appears on your map; when the screen turns to static (a nice gimmick used to indicate the Jason is near); when you get the sense that you’re about to die, and there’s probably nothing you can do to stop it—there’s an adrenaline rush that ranks alongside the best moments of Silent Hill and Resident Evil. Hunkered down in a cabin, wildly aiming a shotgun, waiting to see through which door my fate would come, my heart was racing. My hands were tight. It was a fully immersive experience—I was in a Friday the 13th movie, with all the fear and excitement the series must’ve held before it became shorthand for slashers. For that experience alone, the game is worth it.

One of the drawbacks of the modern gaming world is the compulsion to release incomplete or flawed products too soon. Imagine playing Super Mario 3 and having Mario get stuck in mid-flight in 1-1, and your dad telling you that you’ve got to wait a few weeks for Nintendo to patch the cartridge. The flip-side of that is that every player essentially becomes a Beta Tester, allowing the powers-that-be to receive real-time feedback and, if they really care, tweak, adjust, and add to the game as time goes on. The good news is that the people behind Friday the 13th: The Game appear to really care; and, if they’re out there, listening to feedback—hell, reading this article—only good things can lie ahead. In the few weeks I’ve been playing, the improvements have been marked, and I’d like to think that this is only the beginning. There’s plenty to be added, and, rather than wrap this article up on a critical note of what needs to be fixed, I’d like to be a bit more optimistic and toss out some wishes for additions I’d like to see:

  • A nifty feature is that, if a player is able to repair/use a CB radio, one dead counselor will randomly be selected to come back as Tommy Jarvis, Jason’s nemesis from Parts 4-6. It’d be cool to see Ginny—arguably the ultimate Final Girl of the series, and the only one to ever outsmart Jason—tossed into the game in a similar capacity. (On a similar note, it’d be nice to even further diversify the counselors with a few more starting options).
  • Hopefully, we’ll get some more escape options, and perhaps some alternative to killing Jason. (As of this writing, there’s only one confirmed way—a portmanteau of elements from Parts 2 and 4, and it’s a doozy)
  • Rights issues have prevented the developers from using the Jason model from Freddy vs. Jason, but, it’d be fantastic to see that blood-drenched, death-skinned, ax-in-the-mask version from Part 4 crop up. And, hell, why not Roy, too?
  • Mrs. Voorhees, anyone? Beyond that head in the shack, I mean.
  • This one probably goes without saying, but, more maps, please. It’s cool to see Parts 1, 2, and 3 so lovingly realized, and a tremendous amount of work has gone into them. Can some of the other movies get similar treatment?

Beyond that—kudos, ladies and fellas. I’m giving the game the benefit of the doubt—that, given time, the bugs and hiccups will be stripped away and what we’ll be left with is pure Voorhees awesomeness. The game can only go up from here, and I’m waiting to take that ride to the blood-soaked heavens with it. Somewhere, a sixteen-year-old me is smiling broadly; I’m going to let him keep smiling. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to head back to my X-Box. I’m feeling optimistic; I think I’ll get to be Jason this time.

Preston Fassel