Any horror fan with a NES remembers the crushing disappointment that occurred when LJN's Nightmare on Elm Street game was released and, contrary to early reports (and even some advertisements) you did not get to play as Freddy Krueger. Instead, you and up to three friends played as anonymous teens with powers that more or less matched up with those of Will (wizard), Kristen (acrobatic abilities), and Rick (ninja - close enough). As far as such games go, it was one of the better ones - and it was a huge improvement from the NES Friday the 13th game, which was crushingly difficult, confusing, and often completely removed from the source material - since when does Jason butcher children while you dodge crows and wolves? There are parts of the game I like, but both of them still paled considerably to simply watching one of the movies in their respective series; beating Freddy's junkyard level or temporarily stopping Jason never quite matched my joy of seeing a new entry (well, maybe the F13 game was better than The New Blood).
Over the years I've played other games based on horror franchises, and I can't say I've loved any of them (the Saw games come closest to fully satisfying me as a gamer AND a fan of the series), to the point that I was pretty sure that it wasn't possible to deliver a game that would do its namesake franchise proud. So when GunMedia announced they were making a new Friday the 13th game (simply titled Friday the 13th: The Game), I was rightfully hesitant, and by that I mean I was the 800th or so backer of its Kickstarter instead of the first. They certainly made it appealing to back it - you'd get a digital download of the game for much less than the retail cost, plus some other goodies - and they promised you really would get to be Jason. The gameplay sounded a lot like Left 4 Dead's (or, though it wasn't out at the time, Evolve), in that one player was randomly chosen to play Jason while the others were his intended victims trying to escape him. Kane Hodder and Tom Savini were on board (the former for motion-capture work, the latter to create a new Jason skin), so unlike the older game it was clear that these guys aimed to do right by this notoriously picky fanbase.
The thing that really got me excited, however, was the aesthetic they were aiming for. While they got Kane to play Jason, the maps were all inspired by the first three films of the series, letting you run around Crystal Lake, Packanack Lodge, and Higgins Haven. The game is set in 1979 or 1984 depending on what map you get, keeping cell phones and other modern niceties out of the equation - it's just the standard Friday experience that was formed by the oldest and arguably best entries in the series. None of the counselors have superpowers, Jason's in his familiar surroundings, and it's refreshingly uncomplicated - Jason's job is to kill everyone, and the counselors' job is to hopefully not die. There are a few ways you can "win" as a counselor (all original characters, except for Tommy Jarvis - more on him later), though none are particularly easy. You can repair and drive a car or boat to safety, you can run to the police when they're called (after fixing a phone), or you can simply hide/run from Jason until the 20 minute time runs out. The items to fix the vehicles and/or call for help are randomized, so you can't learn the path and speed-run your way to victory, making each match a new 20 minute mini-sequel that, like the films, are all kind of the same but different enough to let us argue about which is better for an eternity.
As for Jason, you are gifted with a few powers to help you slaughter as many of the counselors as you can. Even though they all take time to recharge (and only open up as the match proceeds; it takes about half the match for all four to unlock) some of it feels like he's a bit overpowered, but he SHOULD, dammit! Nothing annoys me more than when a game introduces an invincible character - be it Jason Voorhees or Superman - and then makes up a bunch of game rules that has you feel like you're playing the Asylum mockbuster of the character. And his powers are taken directly from the movies, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way - which is to say that yes, Jason CAN teleport as he often appears to (mostly in Jason Takes Manhattan, but there are other occasions where his movements didn't seem to match up to any known reality). In fact he has two forms of teleporting - he can bring up the map and select a spot to warp to instantly, or he can temporarily switch to a first person perspective and glide in any direction for about five seconds or so, which is helpful for closing the gap when chasing the faster counselors. Only two of the Jason models can run (Part 2 and Part 3's versions, just like the movies), and only for a brief period, and without your powers you'd probably never be able to catch up to anyone, which would not only be frustrating as a player, but a huge departure from the source material - who the hell ever successfully just ran away from the guy? He ALWAYS caught up!
There are six Jason models available, based on the design as seen in Parts 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, and 9. I don't know why the others were skipped (I wanted to be Roy, dammit), but as the developers have promised future content I'm sure they'll add some or all of them down the road if there's a demand. You don't get them all right away, however; you must level up to unlock Jasons (and counselors) at pre-set intervals. As of this writing I can switch between four of them (Part 3's is the only one available at the beginning; you get Jason Lives relatively quickly though), and I quite like how each have their pros and cons. Running is a godsend, but these older Jasons are also much less efficient than their more seasoned (i.e. zombie) successors - it's a lot harder to break free from New Blood Jason's grip, for example. In fact, the balance is almost remarkably perfect - no one Jason is clearly "better" than the others, and there is no counselor who feels like they'd be the only one you'd ever need. The only exception is Tommy, who can be summoned by the other counselors (and is played by a random character who has already escaped or been killed) and is good at everything - he starts off with a few items (including a rifle) that the counselors need to find on their own, but you'd be foolish to think Jason couldn't subdue him just as easily once he had him in his grasp. This makes it fun to keep trying the others counselors to switch up your strategy; I like one guy in particular (a rather rotund, bespectacled one named Eric) because he can fix things faster, but his stamina (i.e. how long he can run) is abysmal, so I often get killed right after fixing up the car for someone else's benefit. Then there's Brandon, who can run all day it seems, but Jason doesn't even need to use his teleporting powers to kill him while he's endlessly attempting a repair (which is a minigame of sorts involving timed button presses until the job is done). After a few plays, it's clear the best way to survive is to work in pairs as much as possible, i.e. have a fast runner bring things to the car to fix it up, but then drop the item and let someone else actually do the repair.
But all that game stuff isn't really what kept me playing it for hours on end over the long weekend (including Friday, which I had off, though the disastrous launch kept me from playing as much as I would have liked - I'll get back to that). What I loved was that the devs clearly put the fans of the movies first, gamers second. The old game felt as if it was made by people who never even saw the movies (their Jason design certainly suggested as much), and were just taking ideas from the latest entries - i.e. the New Blood Jason on the cover and Jason Lives' "there are actually kids at the camp for once" background. But again, the maps here are all taken from the old-school Paramount entries, not the remake (no tunnels!) or even Freddy vs. Jason. I momentarily wondered if they didn't have rights to the New Line entries' specifics, but with the Hell model available that theory doesn't hold water - they just wanted to recreate the ones that are universally loved by fans, as opposed to the more polarizing later ones. There's even a "tip" to remind you that it's "Ki-Ki-Ki-Ma-Ma-Ma", not the erroneous oft-used "Chi-Chi-Chi-Ha-Ha-Ha". And they did an amazing job recreating the look of the cabins, at least on the exteriors - check out this screengrab of Packanack Lodge from the movie and then the game:
I know it's not the best angle, but note the bell, the sign, etc. - they really tried to get it just right. The layout is more or less correct too - there are more cabins in the game than we see in the film (if anything, the maps are actually a bit too big, especially when you're playing with friends only and thus might not have a full roster), but if the movie showed it in relation to anything else, it's been recreated here. For example if you head left after walking off the Packanack porch, you'll see the stairs that poor Mark careened down with a fresh machete in his face, and the Higgins Haven house has the barn right across from it (albeit a bit further than it seemed in the movie, presumably to add tension when running from one to the other). The cars you find also match ones you see in the movies, and take forever to start as they should. The interiors aren't as detailed, however - the general layout is more or less correct, but they don't aim for exact replicas, so you won't find the hammock upstairs at Higgins, or the bunk bed in the Part 1 cabin where poor Jack saw Ned's blood dripping from above before being killed. I mean, it'd be nice to have some of that stuff, sure, but there was only so much they could do (and things had to be spaced out in order to accommodate the needs of the game), and you spend more time outside anyway given how easy it is to get trapped inside a house with so many instant ways for Jason to kill you. To make up for it, they throw in a few Easter Eggs; keep an eye out for an advertisement for Karloff's, and one of the roads on the map is named Cunningham road - both are references to Jason Lives. Here are a few other shots from film locations - a fan should be able to recognize them easily enough:
Now, anyone who has played knows it had a rather rough launch, with frequent crashes and painfully slow matchmaking (largely due to a higher player base than expected - yet Paramount won't make a new movie because they think the fanbase is dead!). Most of these issues have been fixed or at least improved*, and I was ultimately satisfied with how much I got to play over the weekend. And as a Friday fan, if there's one thing I should expect at this point it's delays, so if anything they were kind of living up to the movie series by frustrating us so much. Ironically, the endless wait for a new film helped me enjoy the game more, as the most uniquely entertaining element about it is that it's just as fun to watch as it is to play. Usually if I die in an online game that doesn't respawn me right away (i.e. most online shooters) I just grab my phone until I can play again, or even leave the room entirely. Here, I was just as riveted, because I was getting to watch new Jason slasher sequences for the first time in my thirties! Even better: old-school ones that mimicked the films I love the most, as opposed to their bigger budgeted, slicker modern counterparts (though I won't lie, I'm a bit annoyed I can't play as a Derek Mears-style Jason). When you die you have the option of looking at your corpse (why?) or following the other players around, with some camera control as well, allowing you to watch a brand new scene of Jason Voorhees - as played by Kane Hodder - chasing down some attractive teen through a near perfect recreation of Camp Crystal Lake. If you're playing in a private match you can also switch to Jason himself, watching him stomp around trying to find his prey. If the player is good/lucky, these final chases (preferably with a female counselor) can last several minutes, easily living up to the same thrill of seeing Amy Steel dodge Jason as she makes her way to his shack.
Things are even better with a headset (which you almost need to play the game effectively, given the need to communicate i.e. "I found the gas, who has the car keys?"), because for the first time in history, yelling at an idiot teen in a "slasher movie" can actually have some effect on their fate. "Don't run upstairs, moron!" you yell, and - if chat is enabled - your friend can actually hear you and run somewhere else. "Look behind you!", "Oh shit, RUN!", and "He's right there, shoot him!" are things we've all yelled at the characters on our television or movie screens, but they've never been able to heed our warnings until now, which delights me to no end. It's also amusing to see how quickly I found myself doing all of the exact same "dumb" things I've yelled at these people for over the years; in a recent match I honest to god ran upstairs and into a room with no exit when I saw Jason burst through the downstairs door. And unlike Alice, Ginny, Chris, and all the rest, I've actually seen a number of slasher movies and thus should know better. My sincerest apologies to any of them I've mocked over the years - I truly get it now.
As I think about it more and more, I realize the game's value will vary depending on how much you love the source material. In my case that's a lot, but in the case of say, the Gamespot reviewer, who didn't even seem to be aware of the significance of Tommy Jarvis, the things it does well won't hold a candle to the glitches and the game's stripped down state (even I'm kind of annoyed that there are only three maps, especially since they're all basically "the lake and some cabins around it"). Hardcore gamers who are just looking for the newest vehicle to annoy random players, look for ways to exploit the leveling process, and prove how alpha they are (i.e. the sort of gamers that give gaming a bad name) will likely hate it, which is fine - they'll eventually leave. Longtime fans of the Friday series will just look past the bugs and revel at how much the developers tried to recreate the experience that's basically dead on the big screen, laughing and cheering at their own demise (on occasion I don't even put up a fight, because I'd rather see the kill play out) and hammering the "new match" button to see what other classic kills have been recreated for our nostalgic amusement. Is it a perfect game? No - but on Friday night, playing with six or seven real life friends (all fans) while busting each others' balls and laughing at each other being killed, it was the most pure and enjoyable Friday the 13th experience I've been able to have in years.
Note - I played on PS4, and all screenshots were taken with the built-in "share" button. The game is available on Xbox One and Steam as well, and is currently digital only - a physical release will be coming later.
*It's not a "glitch", just a graphic anomaly, but I really hope they never fix Chad's face in the opening cut-scene. He looks like Judge Doom as he transforms into a Toon, and it makes me laugh every goddamn time.