Asynchronous multiplayer games have tried their hand before. Games like Left 4 Dead
are oft-cited examples of the format that reached quite different degrees of success. Illfonic's Friday the 13th: The Game
has now arrived in the genre to try to stake its claim like a fireplace poker through the chest of an unwitting camp counselor. In their attempts, the studio mostly achieves a true-to-film feeling of vulnerability and empowerment, depending on which side you're on. However, as it stands now this otherwise promising game is simply littered with all sorts of technical flaws that hold it back from reaching its full potential. Friday The 13th: The Game
is a third-person multiplayer-only horror title wherein up to seven players play camp counselors in opposition to the everpresent and overpowered Jason Voorhees. At the onset of each round, a quick cutscene introduces the counselors to their doom in the form of the seven foot-something manchild, Jason, as he quickly dispatches an NPC. From there, players jump into the game with the objective being to survive by any means necessary. Each of the counselors will spawn scattered across one of the three maps, as will all of the supplies they'll need to achieve one of the many different win states.
Counselors can escape via four- or two-door vehicle, boat, cop car, or simply outlast Jason for the full 20 minute round. None of these escapes will be done easily, though, unless that round's Jason is cripplingly inept. Cars and boats will need parts and gas, the police can't be called until you repair the phone lines and then wait five minutes for them to arrive on scene, and surviving the full 20 minutes seems to be the most difficult of all. You can also kill Jason, but its list of requirements is long and rigidly specific.
You can also phone for help in the form of Tommy Jarvis, a recurring character from the movies, who is assigned to a dead or escaped counselor randomly. Tommy's arrival isn't an automatic win by any means, but he does have stats that outshine all other counselors — plus he starts with a shotgun loaded with a single round. As the number of surviving counselors dwindles, the odds sway further and further in favor of Jason. If you've spent the whole round hiding a very stealthy character, you might well outlast all the other counselors, but it also probably means you've not prepared an exit strategy other than surviving the full 20 minutes, which will become close to impossible once it's down to just you and Jason.
Granted the game probably requires similarly woodsy maps all around, but they could've done with a bit more variety.
As Jason, players will have several executions, traps, and special abilities that can stack the odds in your favor in a way that really impresses considering you're outnumbered by as much as seven to one. Jason can teleport around the map, "shift" quickly in first-person mode to chase down his prey, and spot them on the map from a distance, among other maneuvers. Mastering his abilities is key to winning as Jason. With this sort of setup it's most important that the design makes both sides enjoyable. A game where it's only fun to be Jason, in retrospect, may have been hard to avoid, but Illfonic succeeds greatly in swerving away from that dynamic. The game offers a ton of nuance in its mechanics, some of which you'll still be figuring out after many hours of playtime.
The entire game is a well balanced, violent tango between predator and prey. Each counselor has stats across several categories like speed, stealth, and composure that require players to accept caveats. For example, going with the game's fastest character means you can outrun Jason better than anyone, but her stealth stat is a measly 1/10, so hiding is dramatically ineffective. You could instead choose to go with someone strong to face Jason head on with the many melee weapons in the game, but his intelligence is so low that you hopefully won't need to rely on him for any of the repair mini-games. There's one character who acts as the all-around decent option, weighing a 5/10 in every category, while most of them offer countering highs and lows that ensure players need to play to their strengths.
The thematically and visually dark game shines brightly thanks to its core gameplay loop that provides nearly constant and entertaining emergent moments. Although map variety across the three maps is poor, the randomization of key items means counselors will never be able to quickly run through the motions to escape. Instead, you and the other teens will need to frantically search cabinets, drawers, and houses for crucial supplies, all while awaiting the inevitable arrival of the masked killer.
You may prefer one to the other, but it's always fun playing as Jason or the counselors alike.
Jason and the counselors can hear each other's mics with proximity chat, which makes for some funny moments. It's no doubt a fright to cradle under a bed with nothing but firecrackers in your pocket when suddenly the lights are cut outside, increasing your character's fear level and maybe revealing your location on the map. But it can also be hilarious, like when you know Jason is nearby and someone hiding with you won't shut up on the game chat — or worse, runs toward you with Jason on his or her heels.
Experience points can be spent on RNG-driven bonuses for counselors or new executions for Jason. I cared little for buying up new kills though, as the bonuses for counselors can sometimes be too great to pass up. Like an RPG, there are several color-coded levels to each stat. You may roll for a new stat with every 500 CP (counselor points) you have, and sometimes you may get a bonus you already have, but it will have different stats — sometimes better, sometimes worse. For example, you may have a perk that boosts your composure by 13%, but a re-roll much later in the game may give you the same bonus with an increase of something much more or less than that.
Each counselor can carry up to three bonuses into a round and any bonuses that are useless to your playstyle or outnumbered by an improved version can be sold back for a fraction of the purchase price, letting you recoup some of your losses in CP. The RNG aspect of this is a bit annoying but it also seems to keep this portion of strategy fresh, because even if you have what you think is an ideal bonus, there may still be a better version of it to chase.
Keep the bonuses you like, sell back the ones that don't fit your play style.
As glowing as it may be, all of this information is sadly just prologue to the game's myriad technical flaws that repaint the whole experience in disappointing colors. Friday The 13th
released in a nearly unplayable state, making all the fun mentioned above a rare occurrence. Since then it has been patched once, but still needs plenty more work. Matchmaking is all but completely broken right now, saved only by Xbox's built-in Looking For Group function. Choosing Quick Match doesn't work and Illfonic has stated they need to revamp and totally restructure the game's matchmaking function on Xbox Live to get it to work. Thankfully the LFG ability is available, which makes finding a game several menus and button presses of work — unfortunate but game-saving.
Matchmaking isn't the only area of concern, though. Even rounds of the game will often be marred with bugs that range from annoying visual problems like kill animations that don't play out, to more pressing issues like guns and door locks ceasing to react to player input. These sorts of bugs unbalanced a game that needs to so delicately walk a tightrope of mechanics and it becomes inexcusable. Server disconnections and complete game crashes also aren't uncommon as of now, which really stings when you're 16 minutes into a death-defying 20 minute round and suddenly you're thrown out of the game for issues that can't be blamed on anything any player did.
The developer deserves some praise for the way they've remained in constant contact with players on social media since the game's release. They have already delivered one major patch that fixed a lot of other issues that now needn't be mentioned in this review, but there's also no way they didn't foresee many if not most of these issues, meaning they released a broken game quite willingly. If these technical issues weren't present, or even in such abundance, the game would be one of the best of the year. Maybe it can get to that point in time, too. Right now it's simply too problematic for such high praise.
The goal of any respectable Jason.
The achievement list quickly found infamy
when it was shared on site last week due largely to the nauseating level of grinding it requires for a full completion. Playing 1000 matches as a counselor is already a feat most players won't reach, but doing the same as Jason seems plainly ill-conceived. Other massive or annoying milestones exist all throughout the list, like killing 666 counselors, which would take nearly 100 complete wipes of a full team of counselors — something that often won't happen due to games with fewer and/or successfully escaped participants. For the most committed, there is a private match function that still allows all of these achievements to be chased in boosting sessions. A game completion will come naturally to no one. If you want to do the full list, you'll need to play for a long time, even if you boosted the whole thing.
In the future, we may view Friday The 13th
as one of the year's great games. Its mix of laugh out loud moments and tense chase sequences is unique, refreshing, and a draw even if you're not usually a multiplayer fan. As it stands currently, however, the game is weighed down by far too many issues that hurt the overall experience. A lot of the game requires wits and patience, but it'll be hard to retain those qualities when the game is regularly throwing technical flaws at you. The bright side of this is its issues rarely relate to design. Bugs can be patched, like some already have been. If Illfonic can rein in the many issues seen in Friday The 13th
it will go down as a classic multiplayer game. Until then, it's simply wishful thinking.
- Nuanced balance between predator and prey
- Somehow both scary and funny at once
- Addictive gameplay, hard to put down
- Captures most of the movies' atmosphere
- Littered with technical issues
- Matchmaking mostly broken, requires workarounds
- Little map variety
The reviewer spent a coincidental 13 hours with Friday The 13th: The Game, alternating between chasing down teens and cowering in closets with the super-stealthy AJ. He unlocked 8 of 52 achievements for 71 gamerscore. An Xbox One copy was provided by ID@Xbox for the purposes of this review.