Games based on movies generally don’t fare well, but there’s a special space in hell reserved for games based on horror films – Alien: Isolation notwithstanding. All the major franchises, from Halloween to A Nightmare on Elm Street to Saw, have gotten a crack at the video game bat and whiffed hard. But perhaps one of the worst examples is the notorious Friday the 13th for the NES – a miserable slog of a game memorable only for its incredibly broken difficulty and goofy cover art. Widely considered one of the worst games ever made, it’s arguably the epitome of bad licensed games. Undoubtedly, Jason Vorhees is the movie killer most in need of gaming redemption. Redemption is exactly what the old hockey-masked freak of nature has found in Friday the 13th: The Game.
IllFonic is clearly a group of unabashed nerds of Sean Cunningham’s iconic slasher franchise. Speaking as one of those nerds, it’s hard not to look in admiration at this love letter to the celluloid gorefests of the Reagan era. From top to bottom, this is an authentic snapshot of the franchise’s high points, that sweet spot between The Final Chapter and Jason Takes Manhattan. Hodder doing the motion capture, Manfredini behind the score, and Savini at the drawing board – it’s all here. Oh, and it’s also a great game.
Yes, Friday the 13th: The Game is more than just a bunch of fanservice, despite certainly being that. Illfonic’s asymmetric multiplayer game is a title takes the core concept behind the janky Dead By Daylight and does it umpteen times better. It seems as if the developers took note of that game, played it, then figured out what didn’t work and did it better. The result is what feels like the first true marriage of good multiplayer and slasher flicks.
Players have access to a whole smattering of teenagers, all varied in their age, gender, race, appearance, etc. Each character has a different allocation of stats, and has access to three perks. These perks are randomly generated and purchased through points earned by playing matches. Unlike the broken systems found in lesser games, this ensures that players won’t just unlock certain perks at certain levels and then stick to them. That sort of skill stagnation is what kills games’ longevity, and IllFonic was wise to avoid it here. Throughout my several hours of play, I can firmly say I didn’t encounter a game that was identical to another.
Part of that is thanks to how dynamic the game flow is, and how little is spelled out for the player. At first, the three maps look like they might get stale – but looks can be deceiving. Each playthrough gives players a different experience. There’s always a smattering of things to repair, ranging from escape vehicles to police boxes, but their placement is always radically different, as are the pieces required to fix them. Other items litter the environment, like walkie talkies and a mélange of weapons, but what appeared to be random item and location generation will throw players off every time. It helps, too, that IllFonic doesn’t spell everything out for players. You might get an idea of what the police box does, for example, but it’s only through repairing it, using it, and finding the cops that you’ll truly grasp the system. There’s not a lot of handholding here, and because of that, good communication is encouraged.
Communication might be my favourite part of Friday the 13th: The Game, in fact. If you want to survive, it’s best not to be a total dick, which is really just “Surviving an Evil Killer Dude 101.” Different players will inevitably pick up different components to fixing a car or repairing a boat, and will have to talk to each other in order to get everything squared away and escape. Voice chat is proximity-based, which encourages grouping up and adds a layer of authenticity to the whole “sticking together to live” experience – although people with walkie-talkies can talk to each other wherever. When players die, they’ll join an afterlife voice channel, where they can chat, spectate, and cheer for the surviving members. There’s even a chance that dead players might get resurrected as series stalwart Tommy Jarvis, so it’s worth sticking around for that and the XP bonus.
It’s also worth sticking around to see exactly Jason will take down his next target. Jason’s a joy to watch and even more fun to play. Players get access to a whole pool of Jason variations, with Part III’s iconic take being the default. Each Jason is armed with a different weapon, and has different strengths to contend with. Some are faster but bad at tracking, others the total opposite. Each one has access to the same four abilities, though, which unlock gradually throughout each match. These include stuff like being able to jump to any point on the map, or stalk other players without being detected. My personal favourite is the Shift ability, which takes the player into first-person and lets them zip around at breakneck speeds like the unseen force from the first two Evil Dead movies. Stuff like this, coupled with some truly hilarious and gratifying executions, make for one of the biggest power trips in recent gaming history.
My only real issue is on the technical side of things. To preface, the PC version is honestly fantastic – the pretty visuals are rendered with the muted hues hallmark to popular 80’s cinema, and the game runs like a dream. Yet I did encounter some interesting bugs. Jason being unable to let go of a counselor he killed or being unable to open a closet where somebody was hiding are just two examples. Some of these, I noticed, were directly correlated to the other players’ pings, so it could very well be that this game just gets wonky when people have bad connections. Makes sense, but that doesn’t explain the absolutely hysterical broken physics. While these are definitely not gameplay impeding, and honestly made the game more fun for me, the physics engine has the tendency to do some of the weirdest stuff this side of Dark Souls. I watched players get smashed into the ground, then bounce back up ten feet in the air. I saw somebody get killed, then spend the rest of the match suspended in stasis above ground. Nine times out of ten, this just made the match more fun – myself and other players got a good laugh out of moments of sheer technical screwiness. Still, some people might be bothered by this admitted lack of polish.
But in spite of the occasional glitch or physics hiccup, nothing in Friday the 13th: The Game is enough of a knock against the package to keep me from preventing it. This is some of the most fun multiplayer I’ve touched in quite a while, and definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with an asymmetric multiplayer title. It’s a game that seems ripe for both long-term player enjoyment and streaming, with the latter being catered to explicitly with a feature that mutes copyrighted music. On top of that, series fans will be in love with all the effort that went into making this one of the most authentic licensed titles out there. It’s a big, sloppy kiss to Cunningham, Manfredini and Savini, and to everything, they accomplished from Pamela’s head getting lopped off to Jason getting sentenced to eternal damnation. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, can we get some Jason X DLC? I won’t be completely happy until I can smash someone’s frozen head to bits as robot Jason.