Friday the 13th: The Game is a bloody mess. Initially, though, not in the way its developer, IllFonic, intended.
When it first launched back in May, a combination of grotesque glitches and savaged servers saw the game slaughtered in the press and massacred on social media. Eventually, patches seeped out, exploits were exorcised and, while the peer-to-peer hosting still results in the untimely expiration of far too many matches, the killing now comes quicker and quirkier than a Cluedo night at Freddy Kruger’s house.
Sticking closely to the M.O. of the film franchise, Friday the 13th is basically a game of hide-and-seek where hysterical teens are hunted by series antagonist and amputation enthusiast, Jason Voorhees.
Friday the 13th is basically a game of hide-and-seek where hysterical teens are hunted by series antagonist and amputation enthusiast, Jason Voorhees.
As is often the way with such children’s activities, everything stars off happily enough until the big, social awkward kid who doesn’t know his own strength gets a little carried away, grabs one of his friends round the neck and squeezes a little too hard, causing their head to become detached from their body. The same thing happens in playgrounds up and down the country on a daily basis. A quick trip to see the school nurse and a bump-on-the-head letter later and everything’s forgotten. That’s unless, of course, the parents are of the overprotective sort and come in to complain to the headmaster about why their child has come home in more pieces than they went to school in?
At the beginning of each match in Friday the 13th, one player is randomly selected to be Jason, while the others are cast in the roles of camp counsellors, each with different strengths and weaknesses in abilities such as speed and stealth.
You can count the number of maps on a fistful of severed fingers, but all are based on memorable series locations. And whichever one you find yourself trapped on, playing as a counsellor is, unsurprisingly, a tense affair. Whether you’re sneaking through moonlit woods, stalking along a lakeshore, or dashing between cabins to rifle through their contents, you do so in the mortal fear that, at any second, VHS scan lines will scratch across the screen, that theme music will start to play and everyone’s least favourite cold caller will be hacking down doors hot on your trail.
When the inevitable does finally happen, the odds are stacked firmly against you in a way only a burley psychopath can muster. That said, they certainly aren’t insurmountable. The predator vs. prey dynamic here is similar to that on one of those wildlife films where you watch a seal trying to avoid being eaten by a great white shark. A bit of luck and a bit of skill will see you slip through the gaping jaws of death and live to fright another day.
There are multiple means of survival: fix a phone and call the cops (tough), find and fit the necessary parts to escape in a car or boat (tougher), survive for 20 minutes (asking a lot) or simply just kill Jason. The last of these in particular is near impossible due to the amount of choreography required between multiple players and the fact that scuffles with the big fella are unintentionally slapstick affairs that look like they’ve been co-directed by John Carpenter and the Keystone Cops.
If things weren’t already difficult enough, the counsellors’ attempts are further hampered by the fact that each possesses a crushingly debilitating lack of stamina, which is necessary for really rather important things like running and using weapons. Whether or not this is a subtle commentary on the state of physical fitness among younger people today, it does make you think. Perhaps our world would be a better place if modern educators adopted Jason’s approach and ‘motivated’ their students by chasing after them with an axe. P.E. teachers, of all people, must surely have easy access to a hockey mask.
Despite all the travails and trepidations involved in living the normally short life and slow, unimaginably painful death of a kid whose parents unwitting bought them a losing ticket in the summer camp lottery, there’s one thing worse than playing as a counsellor in Friday the 13th: playing as Jason himself.
“Now, hold on a minute!” I hear you say. “How can being a humongous, mask-faced manic, imbued with supernatural powers and charged with hunting down a bunch of kids who have all the athletic endurance of geriatric sloths and struggle to stick petrol in a car’s gas tank without spilling it all over themselves, stepping in a man trap and generally causing a massive commotion be the poorer alternative here?”
As Jason, your senses are heightened to the point where visual pings and glowing red houses direct you to the exact locations of your quarry, you can fast travel around the map, swim like a psychotic salmon and sneak up on other players at monstrous speed, a veritable jet-propelled serial killer. This is shooting fish in a barrel. It should be a laugh, a breeze, a corpse-tastic tour de force.
The thing is, though, frequently it’s not.
Every second of a match, a tantalisingly evil frustration grows inside you as you desperately race to track down and take out the other players. All of them. Everyone. No survivors. Anything else is an embarrassment, a colossal failure of David vs. Goliath-sized proportions which will see your opponents rightly slinging taunts your way.
Through all of this, Death is your only companion, and aside from him, you’re totally, completely, utterly alone. There’s no one helping you, no one cheering you on besides the occasional disembodied voice of your mother demanding you kill and kill again. Yet another example of a pushy parent causing their child more harm than good.
And when you do murder, there’s momentary relief, a fleeting sense of satisfaction but no euphoria. Your role in proceedings is nothing more than pure evil mixed with all-consuming nihilism. Which after a while starts to get me a bit down. That’s why, every time a match starts and I find I’m a counsellor, my heart starts to race a little faster at the thought of spending the next part of my day running for my life, but every time I realise I’m Jason, confronted by all that killing, I die a little inside.