Asymmetrical Multiplayer, a genre that hasn’t seen a real smash hit since its birth. There’s the criminally under-supported Depth, the criminally imbalanced Dead by Daylight and the clinically dead Evolve. But, in a stroke of luck, Gun Media and Illfonic, while working on an asymmetrical title of their own called Summer Camp, managed to get the rights to one of the most popular slasher series of all time: Friday the 13th. Just like that, Summer Camp became Friday the 13th: The Game, and we now have an asymmetrical title with some real pedigree.
How does it hold up on its own and against others? Really well. Despite some expected quirks and frustrations of a lower-budget title, Friday the 13th: The Game delivers unique, exhilarating moments with great care for its titular series.
Where Have All the Car Batteries Gone?
In case you aren’t aware of the mythos behind Friday the 13th, Gun Media’s game follows it pretty closely. Jason Voorhees attacks camp counselors, after one of them murdered his mother (in self-defense, but if you’d like to be the one to explain the difference to Jason, be my guest). One person plays Jason, and seven other people play seven counselors trying to escape.
Gun Media did put their own twist on the franchise, though. In this version of events, someone went around removing the batteries from the two cars and syphoning out all their gas. And, rather than hanging these keys on a hook or putting them with their stuff, the counselors have decided to leave their keys in random desk drawers.
Lucky for you, the missing batteries and gas cans are strewn about Camp Crystal Lake. And that phone that is missing a fuse? Don’t worry, someone has an extra fuse in their dresser. I’m sure it’s that overly prepared guy who brought five pairs of underwear for every day he would be camping, and seven mini tubes of sunscreen just in case everyone else forgot.
So, take your pick as a counselor: repair one of the cars, repair the boat, call the cops, kill Jason, or just hide for 20 minutes, all of which are varyingly viable strategies, but that’s how Gun Media has turned Friday the 13th into a video game. How well does this play out? Let’s explore.
Our Special Little Boy
The good news is that playing Jason is a blast. This may be because he is really powerful, but still. It’s fun to hunt down campers played by real people. You get to outsmart them, overpower them, and then use one of Jason’s coveted and much-advertised grab kill animations.
More than that, there are six different Jasons you can play as, all meticulously designed for different iterations of the character in each movie, showing the developers’ care and reverence to the source material. You also see this attention to detail with the soundtrack, which uses much of the same-feeling music and the telltale “ch ch ch … ah ah ah.” Part II Jason wears the bag with one eye hole instead of a hockey mask, Part 9 Jason has a grotesque, bulbous head, etcetera. And these aren’t just cosmetic, either. Each Jason has a different set of stats that affect what he can and can’t do, and how effective Jason’s four skills are. One Jason might have a better morph ability, while another will have a better Shift, and these variations make each Jason have a different feel when you play him.
Admittedly, it’s very hard to play Jason. And I don’t mean it’s hard to be successful – it’s not. Even new Jasons should be able to kill all or most counselors with little trouble. But it’s hard to actually play Jason. It seems everyone sets their spawn preference for Jason, so you have, at worst, a 1/8 chance of getting to play as him. This means you’ll likely spend the majority of your time as a counselor, which, will not have as high a success rate, nor as easy a time.
The developers intended Jason to have a high winrate, but the finished product seems to take this to an extreme. Many people die before they even have a fighting chance – sometimes before they even get a radio to enable long-distance communication, let alone find any item of value like a phone fuse or a car part. Because of this Friday the 13th: The Game might be more remembered for getting into a match, dying in the first two minutes and waiting around for another 18, and that’s not a good public image.
Guts and Glory
But, is this a fair image, or is it just that the players haven’t quite figured it out yet? If I had written my review after my first few matches (as I suspect many others did based on what I’ve read), I might have a very different answer to this question. The truth is, though, that Friday the 13th: The Game is a lot more technical than people give it credit for, and once people figure out all the intricate tips and tricks, the game feels a lot more balanced, with only a few minor changes perhaps needed here or there.
Getting into the guts of the game, each counselor has a selection of stats that makes certain tasks easier or harder. Playing counselors to their strengths is an important part of the game that is often overlooked by new people, who will undoubtedly experience these nagging balance issues more frequently than experienced players. Newer people also don’t really avoid making too much noise, so they are found by Jason very quickly. You also get audible queues as to when Jason’s various abilities are first available to him, so you can use that to your advantage in the early game.
This allows experiences truly unique to Friday the 13th. In by far my favorite counselor game I’ve played, I teamed up with a fellow counselor to gas up a car. Since his counselor had a higher strength, he decided to keep watch with a bat (the weapon with the highest chance to sun Jason), while I gassed up the car. Then we met up with three more people, which is great because being near people keeps your fear down. Jason attacked us when we found the car battery, so I grabbed the battery and ran solo back to the car to install it, while Jason was trying to kill the others. This meant that he wouldn’t be able to single out the noise I made from installing the battery. This is a deep, strategic, cooperative experience not found in any other game I’ve ever played, and it makes me want to keep coming back.
Rough Around the Edges
I expect lower budget games to be a little rough around the edges, and I can’t fault them for just that. For example, I’m confident Friday the 13th: The Game can run on your standard store-brand toaster. But, that’s fine. I don’t demand AAA quality graphics from every game I play, and anyone who faults Gun Media for not creating Horizon Zero Dawn: Jason Voorhees Edition is just being dishonest.
And, in reality, the game looks pretty good, all things considered. The texture quality is decent, and their use of dynamic lighting has a way of making everything look higher-end, even though it may not be. It’s actually amazing what they’ve been able to accomplish on such a small budget (just north of $1 million raised on Kickstarter).
That said, anything that directly affects your ability to actually play the game as intended cannot be ignored and forgiven because of a game’s budget, and Friday the 13th: The Game, unfortunately, has a lot that falls into this category. Even something as simple as opening, closing and locking doors can be a technical headache, though not every time. These aspects break immersion and have the ability to destroy the tension when being chased by Jason, which is one of the marquee experiences in Friday the 13th: The Game. Beyond immersion breaking bugs, the game itself can feel a little limited. I mean, you can’t even rebind your keys.
However, reports of matchmaking problems have been greatly exaggerated. On PC, I’ve never waited longer than 15 seconds to find a lobby, and then a couple minutes after that waiting for people to ready up. Any problems people did have were likely temporary and due to the server issues Gun Media experienced during the opening days of launch, something they said should only be affecting .05% of players at this point.
Keeping Me Coming Back
What really keeps me coming back, though, is the progression system. While earning new outfits is a tad on the lamer side, since they’re all just re-colors, you can “roll” new perks for counselors using character points that you earn from playing games and leveling up. These perks have both a positive and a negative effect, and there is a more favorable disparity between these effects for higher rarities.
This a fun and addicting way to progress, but it’s also a wonderful sign that Gun Media and Illfonic didn’t opt to monetize this aspect of the game, which they could have done easily. Rolling perks has all the satisfaction of a loot box without any of the anti-consumer annoyances. Purchasing CP or new perks would have made this game DOA, in my book, and, in a year when we have a game like For Honor, it would fit right in. But Friday the 13th: The Game doesn’t have any of that. It’s all for fun.
The progression system for Jason is fun, too. You unlock new Jasons by leveling up (just like you do with counselors), but you spend your CP on new kill animations, which are a fun way of putting your own signature on a match. Friday the 13th: The Game showed a surprising amount of restraint in delivering a progression system that makes me want to keep playing where I otherwise might look to put the game down.
Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. Indeed, you’ll experience graphical bugs and other quirks that break your immersion. But, after getting into Friday the 13th: The Game, and I mean really getting into it, discovering all its intricacies and more technical aspects, these problems will seem so small as to evaporate, and balance issues you once perceived will be corrected.
And what’s left is a truly unique experience, unlike any other multiplayer game you’ve played (certainly a cut above other asymmetrical titles), where cooperation, wits and sometimes ruthless murder are what it takes to survive. Be wary of this game if only for its propensity to hook you. Jason has sunk his pickaxe into me, and he’s not letting go, ensuring I will be playing Friday the 13th: The Game extensively for the considerable future.
James Kozanitis is the Features Editor at GameRevolution. You can follow him on Twitter @JamKozy.
A PC copy of Friday the 13th: The Game was provided by its publisher. This game is also available on PS4 and Xbox One.