Review: Friday the 13th: The Game (PC)

Like the victims in the classic slasher film, Friday the 13th: The Game seems destined to make mistake after mistake. It's an experience that trips and falls one too many times to make an easy escape, bloodied and bruised from a lack of polish and care.

To put it simply, Friday the 13th: The Game is a 1v7 multiplayer game, in which one player takes control of the hulking, perpetually advancing killer, while the others are placed in the shoes of dopey camp counselors. As one might expect, the counselors’ goal is to escape, while Jason tries to ensure they don’t.

Of course, the game is more complicated than that, and the counselors have a number of escape routes during each match, including phoning the police, escaping via car or boat, or even killing Jason outright. These options all require wandering around a creepy campsite, moving from empty cabin to empty cabin, avoiding Jason and collecting various parts. For example, to start a car, it’s first necessary to find a tank of gas, a battery, and a set of keys. Each of these components spawn randomly in different cabins, and collecting all of them requires teamwork and collaboration.

Jason on the other hand, can sense “fear.” If a counselor stumbles across the body of a teammate, makes noise while installing a car battery, or jumps through a window, their location is highlighted. Added to this extra sensory perception is Jason’s ability to warp all across the map, and sprint (invisbly) at a high rate of speed, allowing him to catch up to fleeing victims. While those are great mechanics in theory, they serve to undo the precarious balance of the game.

At first, playing as the poor rodent in this cat/mouse scenario is a fun, nerve-racking challenge. Escape feels attainable, but always just slightly out of reach. With practice, I told myself, I’d be able to flip the tables and sprint my way to victory. But even after dozens of matches (and a handful of successful escapes), Jason had the upper hand more often than not. As my team was whittled down again and again, my hopefulness diminished until I had little desire to play as one of the sexed-up teenagers.

The biggest problem is that encountering Jason in open space almost always results in death. Sure, there are instances in which a well-timed sprint and heavy tree cover can aid in escape, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. Jason simply has too many tools at his disposal, and too many ways to prohibit escape.

That's not to say that playing as Jason is any more exciting. You see, Jason's overpowered abilities take time to charge at the outset of each match, and without his abilities, he's as dangerous as a neutered puppy. He walks slowly and swings his machete with the speed and grace of a 90-year-old woman batting away a purse-snatcher. This essentially renders the first few minutes of each game a frustrating bore, and it's not until all of his abilities are unlocked that Jason feels powerful and worthwhile. Unfortunately, the pendulum swings way too far in the opposite direction.

Though unbalanced and frequently frustrating, I found myself returning to Crystal Lake more than the quality of the game should warrant. There's a certain allure to being hunted and stalked, to have the odds stacked firmly against you, and the possibility of escape was alluring. In those infrequent moments where I triumphed over the masked killer, I was elated and proud, happy to overcome the fundamental unfairness of the game. Unfortunately, not everyone is as zealous and optimistic. On a few occasions, I noticed a handful of players simply hide in a closet, under a bed, or at the edges of the map while their teammates did all the work and took all the risks. There's no getting around the fact that the quality of your team will make or break the experience.

The game’s three maps do an impeccable job of recreating the oppressive atmosphere of the movies. The campgrounds are dark and eerie, with sinewy tree branches slicing moonlight, squawking crows, and upturned canoes around every corner. Simply wandering around the environment set fire to my nerves.

It's a shame then that the tension is interrupted by frequent bugs. I’ve witnessed my poor camp counselor’s body be flung 15-feet into the air after a grisly execution, seen Jason walk through walls, and even tried to hide in a closet while my face stuck through the door (very effective). Those problems carry over into the character customization screen, where “rolling” for a new character perk with the in-game currency causes the game to lock up entirely. And that's not even the worst of it.

In its current form, Friday the 13th: The Game offers players a broken mess of an online experience. Despite the quality of my Internet connection, 75% of my matches were crippled by astronomical pings, which hovered between 150 and 500 milliseconds. Believe it or not, those pings were among the lowest in the room, with others hitting 999ms. In a few matches, I was completely unable to pick up items, open doors, clamber through windows, or crouch to regenerate my stamina, essentially making me a hapless blood bag. During other games, I warped around the map uncontrollably, even appearing waist-deep middle of Crystal Lake on more than one occasion. There’s nothing more frustrating than investing 20 minutes into a match, only to have it come to a screeching halt because of an unresponsive server.

There's a fun and frightening skeleton at the core of Friday the 13th: The Game. It gets the big pieces right, and when everything works, it’s a tense, atmospheric, thrilling experience. Unfortunately, the highs of the experience are matched only by its devastating, game-breaking lows. While I have no doubt that these issues will be fixed eventually, it just doesn’t make sense to dive in to Crystal Lake until the experience is as smooth and polished as it should be.

6.0

In 2013, Brian combined his love of video games and passion for writing to create Games Under Pressure, a gaming website, based in Milwaukee, that focuses on both console and ultra-high-end PC gaming.