Friday The 13th does a lot to emulate the classic slasher films. It goes to great pains to replicate the atmosphere and tension of a camp turning into a living hell with a sinister presence out for blood. There are a lot of great ideas at play to help you feel like a counselor trying to survive the night or an unstoppable murderer. There is even the fact that the whole production feels like a cheapo horror movie by being a smaller production of roughly $800,000 on Kickstarter. But despite a cheaper price than most games on the market and some admirable polish, the game has some issues that make it hard to recommend to anyone but hardcore fans of the franchise.
Kill and Be Killed
The entire conceit of Friday The 13th is in its asymmetric multiplayer. Each online match is made up of up to seven players taking on the roles of counselors at the infamous Camp Crystal Lake, with an eighth player playing as the iconic Jason Voorhees. The counselors have to look for a way to escape or survive the night, either by repairing a car and driving off, calling the police, or just plain hiding. Meanwhile, the player who gets to be the towering hockey mask-wearing maniac has to track down and brutally murder all of the counselors. The match ends when every counselor is dead or has escaped.
Playing as a counselor is stressful and exciting in equal measure. Every match turns into a great exercise in coordination and resource management. Running into cabins, barricading them from a Jason attack, and searching for tools and weapons feels panic-inducing each time. Finding a map helps you keep track of where the rest of the counselors are, weapons and firearms can be used to stun Jason temporarily for a quick escape, and there are other useful items to help you out of a bind like firecrackers for distractions, and health sprays to help you keep going after one or two close calls.
But the greatest tool you have as a counselor is communication. In addition to there being proximity voice chat, you can also find walkie-talkies hidden throughout the camp, which can help you coordinate huge sweeps of the large camp ground, giving you a considerable edge in finding a way out.
On the other side of the fence, there is a lot of sadistic glee to be found playing as Jason. As the match goes on, you slowly gain access to different abilities like being able to teleport to any location on the map and being able to dash short distances from a first-person perspective like you’re in an Evil Dead movie. It’s an in-game way to justify how the killer in a horror setting can seemingly show up anywhere at anytime, and it’s an idea implemented well; there’s even a clever VHS tape skipping visual effect that’s used to hide Jason popping in and out of existence. There is also a fear system in place where you can sense where other counselors are, the more frightened they are the easier they are to track. This can be cranked up by killing the power to the camp, forcing the counselors to separate, terrorizing them with traps, and even killing them in gruesome ways for all to see.
When you do pull off a special kill on a counselor, it is the absolute highlight of playing as Jason. The guy behind the mask in the Friday The 13th films, Kane Hodder, did the motion capture for the game’s preanimated kills and there is so much satisfaction in seeing them go off. From something as simple as snapping a guy’s neck or cutting them into giblets with a machete to even contextual kills like death by fireplace or sleeping bag, there is an impeccable amount of satisfaction that comes from pulling them off. This is due in no small part to the physical punch and weight Hodder brings to the movements.
But what prevents you from being a more direct denizen of Camp Crystal Lake, keeping to just holing up during the night or just wailing on counselors with a simple axe to the face is the game’s RPG elements. Every action you take in Friday The 13th, every creative kill or escape route cut off as Jason or every instance of barricading doors and calling the police grants experience points.
As you play multiple matches and gain higher levels, you slowly gain access to other counselors to play as, each one with their own special stats. One might be great at hiding, while another might be great at running or repairing. Alternatively, higher levels also yield more versions of Jason with their own pros and cons, like being able to break through barricades faster but being unable to sprint.
Finally, each game earns you Choice Points. These can be spent on getting randomly generated perks for your counselors. Up to three of these special boosts and buffs can be equipped to one counselor at a time, and can be as simple as being able to sprint for longer periods of time or something as big as starting each match with a melee weapon or a walkie-talkie. There’s an element of luck to these perks since how effective they are is part of a color-coded system: common stuff works but with some drawbacks while epic perks have no caveats. Thankfully, you can sell perks you don’t like and use refunded choice points to have another roll of the dice. Absolutely no intrusive microtransactions are on display.
As for those who prefer killing counselors, you can also spend your Choice Points to unlock specific kill animations from the various films like punching a guy’s head off or skewering them with a spear. It goes a long way to keeping each victory over each counselor fresh and is a way to show off your skills as Jason.
Sadly for all of the great ideas Friday The 13th has at its core, there are noticeable areas where the ambition of the project shadows what is on display. While the environments based on the movies are meticulously recreated with astonishing detail and the music and sound design is impeccable – I’ve actively turned away on multiple occasions just hearing someone’s skull crack in this game, there are some serious issues with clipping and hit detection. On multiple occasions I’ve had counselors swing weapons at Jason, only for them to phase through his body like it was nothing. There were instances where a usually deadly swing from the killer’s weapon or an attempt to grab either misses completely or grabs a counselor that was a few inches away. It turned what should have been a desperate final stand against a horror icon into a farce, watching two characters flailing about like a bar fight that’s gotten out of hand.
There are also some noticeable graphics hiccups and bugs. Counselors will glide to unreachable areas, special items can fall through the floor, there were at least two instances where my game crashed, the list goes on. Also, while Jason is dripping with detail and is animated beautifully, the camp counselors look quite uncanny, their facial animations making them look like perpetually scared wax dummies.
Also, for a multiplayer-only experience, the modes and maps on offer aren’t exactly stellar. Friday The 13th only has three maps, Camp Crystal Lake, Packanack Lodge, and Higgins Haven, and a single mode. Despite key items and resources being randomly generated each game and the entertainment value inherent in playing a horror game where you get to be the monster, the shelf life on this seems pretty low.
There is also a notable lack of game customization options. Right now if you go into a public game, whether or not you get to be Jason or a counselor is completely random. You can toggle a preference in the menu but it doesn’t do much. Whereas if you open up a private lobby and play with friends, the host can flat out choose who gets to play as Jason. Other than that, there is a lot of wasted potential. Just off the top of my head, imagine a sort of blitz mode where the matches are shorter but Jason has all of his abilities and the counselors have weapons and start in one area, or a paranoia inducing mode where a counselor is the killer a la The Thing or Jason Goes To Hell, and the match turns into finding out who the counselors can trust before a timer runs out.
Things aren’t all bad in the long-term quality department though. As of writing, the developers have released several patches for Friday The 13th, including a substantive improvement to some horrendous server issues. They have also confirmed that a single-player campaign is in the works alongside new maps, costumes, and other Jasons for players to enjoy.
As it stands, Friday The 13th can best be described as a perfect embodiment of the slasher genre it draws inspiration from. It’s made on a budget, full of annoying guff and chintz, but becomes very entertaining once the blood starts flying. It’s a steep price at $40 with what is on offer, but if you’re a huge fan of the antics at Camp Crystal Lake it’s not a bad way to spend a weekend.