'Friday The 13th' Video Game Review: A Terrific Horror Game That Actually Feels Like The Movies

Last week, one of my more anticipated video games of 2017 arrived: Friday the 13th. Well, part of it did. The game is being released in two parts: the multiplayer component, where players can play as camp counselors and the hockey-masked menace who wants to murder them, became available on last Friday. The single player mode is expected to arrive later this summer.

Still, my horror nerd heart was all aflutter in my anticipation to play as Jason or one of his teenage victims. Having grown up on the Friday the 13th series, my nostalgia meter was cranked to 11, but knowing that nostalgia can sometimes cloud judgment, the gamer in me still wanted to make sure that this was a great game to be enjoyed by all. With that in mind, and plenty of snacks purchased, I settled in to play Friday the 13th with my two other willing test subjects: my husband (who is new to Friday the 13th in general and has only seen through the fourth installment) and our close friend, a lifelong gamer, who had admittedly only seen, "that one scene in that one movie where the couple gets impaled while they are doing it" (a formidable PSA against the dangers of pre-marital sex if there ever was one).

What transpired was a gaming experience that satisfied my rose-colored nostalgia goggles and the high gaming standards of my two counterparts, in what proved to be just a damn fine horror game to sink your machete into.

Getting Started

Loading up the game, you are met with VHS-style opening credits. As the company logos wobbled, and the music flattens, you can't help but giggle at this modern time machine bringing you back to days of watching old slasher films after your parents went to bed. However, as per the course with brand new multiplayer games, Friday the 13th was riddled with connectivity and server issues in its opening weekend. Sticking to open instead of private matches, we would be waiting upwards of ten minutes, half of the total time for each match, while the server was hard at work trying to find an open session. But once that session was located, we were transported into the twisted world of Jason Voorhees in either Packanack, Camp Crystal Lake, or Higgins Haven, each of them perfectly replicated from the original movies.

Our first match was in Higgins Haven, and we explored that the giant curved staircase, the barn, and the docks. Tt felt like walking straight into Friday the 13th Part 3...until our character, Counselor Jenny Myers, was slashed from nose to navel three minutes later, as we were unbelievably unprepared for the experience. Trying to survive for only 20 minutes seems simple enough, but this is no ordinary game. Death is final in these matches. Once dead, you stick around for what is left of the 20-minute game with the ability to flip between the other characters and watch how they are faring against Jason. Your only hope at rejoining the game is if one of the other counselors is able to find the radio and call good 'ol Tommy Jarvis. Once called, a random dead or escaped player is selected to return as Tommy and try and save the remaining counselors. Just don't get cocky, as Tommy Jarvis is just as likely to die as any other character.

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The Counselors

When you initially start the game, your choice of counselors is limited, with only a few available at Level One. The rest are only unlocked once certain levels are reached. Their outfits match the time period of the '70s and '80s, letting you know that this is staying old school and sticking to pre-remake era Jason. This is just one of many small details that let you know that this is a game for the fans. Each counselor comes with stats: composure, stamina, strength, luck, stealth, repair, and speed. The set of stats for each character pulls double duty, both making characters reminiscent of your standard slasher movie buffet (the athlete, the nerd, the pretty boy, the clever girl), and giving you an idea of how best to guide this character to success. If your character is low on speed but high on stealth and luck, your best bet is to stay as hidden as possible – trying to outrun Jason is sure to lead to a lot of tripping over nothing.

Tommy Jarvis

Surviving the Night

Speaking of tripping over nothing, the forever reliable horror movie trope of screaming and running being a bad idea carries over into gameplay, as extended periods of running will lead to some limping, falling, and rising levels of fear. In a relatively small arena, running and hiding aren't going to save you for long. Counselors have several survival options recognizable to the genre. You can escape by car, but oh no! The cars won't run! This is where that repair stat comes into play, as you need to not only find the keys and a gas can, but also repair the vehicle. This all takes time, leaving you fairly wide open for attack. If you get caught by Jason, all is not entirely lost, as long as you can keep your 'composure,' you have the ability to fight your way free. If you happen to have a friend nearby that is high in strength, they can hit Jason hard enough to briefly stun him giving you the opportunity to run away.

However, always be cautious of your knife-wielding foe, Jason has a stock of throwing knives guaranteed to slow you down. Unlike many violent video games, Friday the 13th takes note of your character's suffering. Getting hit by one of Jason's knives or jumping out of a second story window or stepping into a trap will not only damage your health, it will hinder your action and reaction abilities. This is not a game that allows you to get maimed a dozen times and still keep running and fighting at full speed. We are dealing with teenagers, not soldiers and space marines. If your character comes across a dead body, becomes isolated, or is being stalked, their fear rises and their ability to get away decreases. The counselors have the ability to call the police, but that is about as successful as it is in the movies. The police take five intense minutes to arrive, and even their presence, much like that of Tommy Jarvis, does not guarantee victory.


Teamwork in Action

The Counselor game play turned out to be a real test of old slasher film stereotypes and human nature. During a few of our matches, we were witness to the kind of bond that only fear can build between strangers. Our anonymous comrades would be fully working together on their headsets to make sure everyone was safe, even going as far as to ignore the more easily accessible two-seater vehicle in favor of trying to fix the four seater vehicle so that we could all make it out alive.

However, those bonds wavered in what I found to be one of the more entertaining revelations about what is stereotype versus what is real human nature in the face of a threat. Everyone is guilty of thinking that the teenagers in these films are so dumb and doing all the wrong things, yelling out what they should be doing from the comfort of our living rooms, but when real people are making the character choices in a real time unscripted setting, every player abandoned the car and scattered in different directions, some running inside, others into the woods. It was every man for himself as soon as Jason crashed the party.

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So You Want to Be A Killer? 

Playing as Jason is as fun as it sounds and offers a unique insight into what's ticking behind the hockey mask. If you ever wondered how he can somehow get his slow lumbering undead body around the camp, Jason has the ability to morph in this game, transporting quickly and easily to anywhere that he senses fresh rebellious teen meat. It may seem cheap to have a killer that can travel directly to his would-be victims, but in these brief 20 minute matches, it is the tool that ensures a true Friday the 13th experience, delivering him in close range of his victims so that he can put his brute strength to work.

Every installment in the series gave Jason a little something different, a little more oomph, and the game honors that by offering six different Jasons, including the iconic burlap sack version from Part II and the first hockey mask, as seen in the third movie. Others include the Jasons from Jason Lives, The New Blood, Jason Takes Manhattan, and Jason Goes to Hell. Most of these are only accessible at higher levels and each one offers different abilities to the Jason player.

Kill Them – Kill Them All, Jason

Jason always starts the match in his shrine. There is a map available, but it doesn't show the locations of any of the victims. As he gets further into the camp, he uses his sense ability to hone in on noises being made by the counselors as well as being able to detect anyone whose fear is on high (maybe they just saw a dead body or find themselves alone and in the dark). All of his abilities – morph, stalk, sense, shift, and rage – have warm-up and cooldown times. You are immediately able to morph at the beginning of the game, but being able to 'stalk,' which allows him to sneak up on his victims mostly undetected, and utilize 'rage,' which allows him to break down doors and some walls, take time to build, creating a nice sense of climax in these short 20-minute matches.

Things like 'rage' and 'stalk' are quintessential Jason. Every film is divided between those first kills, where neither the audience nor his vicim sees what's coming (a knife enters the screen and slides across a throat before the poor soul knows what hit him), and the final kills, where Jason goes into full 'rage' mode, loudly bashing in doors and making his intimidating presence known. Jason also has the ability to set traps for the campers to fall into. One of the more effective and diabolical maneuvers is finding a cabin with a few scared counselors and setting traps underneath all of the windows. There is a playful trickery in the way that Jason operates in this game that really brings what could have been just a bloody version of hide and seek to life.


Almost Unbeatable

One of Jason's weaknesses is getting stunned. As nothing can seriously injure him, counselors rely on the fact that Jason isn't necessarily the brightest bulb in the crayon box. Firecrackers, flares, and swift hits with various scattered objects stun Jason long enough for them to get away. In these stunned moments, Jason cannot move, but the voice of Pamela Voorhees comes to his aid, sharing with him various psychotic motivational phrases to get him moving again. The mere proximity of this massive killing machine to counselors can raise their fear levels, but even with brute strength and almost no way to die, Jason is still our favorite momma's boy.


But is it Really Friday the 13th?

Upon loading up Friday the 13th for the first time, you will get hit with a massive nostalgia bomb. Between the purposefully low-quality opening credits and the perfectly recreated settings, you immediately feel like you are getting ready to watch one of your favorite slashers go to town on some sin-filled camp counselors. Friday the 13th manages to walk the line between making you feel like you are actually at Crystal Lake and making you feel like you are roleplaying a Friday the 13th movie. With the occasional, strategic wiggle in the picture and the escalating score as Jason hones in on his target, this game manages to offer a cinematic gameplay experience without excessive cut scenes and dialogue. Running, screaming, and slashing – it's the true Friday the 13th way.

With the return of make-up master Tom Savini to help create the iconic kills for the game, the next box to check to take this from general horror game to Friday the 13th is Jason himself. Leaving nothing to chance, and in the interest of maintaining authenticity, Kane Holder, who played Jason in four films, strapped on a motion capture suit and made Jason feel like, well, Jason.

Where Freddy Kruger had his wit, Jason had his stride and his size. Jason is a shark. He is emotionless, extremely hard to kill, and murders without hesitation. But this monster is also a strangely empathetic villain. You wouldn't think it possible to empathize with a man (zombie?) that can nail people to a door frame or crush a skull with his bare hands, but Jason's unique origin story makes you look at him as a sad (albeit disturbed) puppy that was never given his opportunity in life. As a disfigured child, Jason was ignored and bullied, and would have likely (in that era) never been given a chance to really find something he was good at. So, in a way, you have to be kind of proud. He found his niche. He is like crazy good at killing teenagers. Top notch.

So how does that empathy tie into the game? Through the narration of Jason's psycho revenge-fueled mother. If Jason manages to kill all of the counselors, he returns to his mommy dearest's shrine, complete with sweater, candles, and decapitated rotting head, and the soothing words of Pamela Voorhees telling him how proud she is. It should come as no surprise that one of the badges players can earn as a counselor, and one of the only known ways to kill Jason in the game (I still haven't seen it done), is to distract Jason with his mother's sweater, as seen in Friday the 13th Part II.

The badges available to the counselors and Jason, offer not only motivation to keep playing and trying new methods to win, but also offer more little nuggets of nostalgia for those of us that want to see a highlight reel of the series come to life.


Final Thoughts

With patches on the way and single player coming out later this summer, this already fantastic game can only get better. After countless matches of three days, Friday the 13th has proven itself to just be a really great survival horror game, appealing to both fans and non-fans of the movies alike. It is what video game adaptations should be, building on the core of what makes the movies work. Maybe one day, we will get Pamela Voorhees as a playable character or the upgraded Jason from Jason X as playable characters. With 10 movies and one remake to choose from the possibilities are limitless.