Game review: Friday the 13th: The Game Ultimate Slasher Edition comes to Switch
Jason Voorhees stalks the Nintendo Switch with more content and less bugs than the original version, but how much difference does that make?
We love seeing an expert getting excited about their favourite subject. Whether it’s a highly skilled chef, an impassioned music expert, or a developer with a love for rubbish ‘80s horror flicks, we find their enthusiasm infectious no matter the topic. Developer IllFonic clearly love Friday the 13th and that was evident when the game was first released two years ago. What was also evident was that it was clearly unfinished, so this new Switch version is a useful excuse to check in and see how things have changed.
It turns a lot has happened over that time, but most of it not for the best. IlFonic got into a row with the owners of the film licence and gave up making new content for the game last year, although they have still been providing performance patches. A new developer has been brought on to continue the work but since we’ve not played the game for two years we’re not clear on what’s their contribution and what was still made by IlFonic. Although to be honest it doesn’t really matter because the changes aren’t as significant as we were hoping.
Friday The 13th: The Game is an asynchronous multiplayer game, of the sort that looked like it was going to become popular a few years ago – until it didn’t. The closest comparison is probably Evolve, in that one player gets to be the monster (i.e. Jason) and everyone else is stuck playing as mere humans. Horror movies are the perfect inspiration for this sort of thing and the set-up also reminds us of the original cat and mouse idea that evolved into Alien Isolation. Especially as both games have a similar obsession with recreating the look and feel of the films in video game form.
The problem with asymmetric multiplayer games, and the reason they didn’t become popular, is that a) it’s always more fun to be the monster and b) the number of strategies involved, for either side, soon prove disappointingly limited. Friday The 13th suffers from both these problems, but because its roots are in survival horror, rather than online shooters, it’s an immediately more interesting proposition.
If you’re the one with the hockey mask (or bag on their head, if you’re playing as one of Jason’s earlier incarnations) it’s your job to stalk the other seven players and kill them before the time limit is up. At the start of a match everyone runs off and you have to track them down one by one. Any sound they make is shown on-screen as a radar-like blip, but you also have a number of magic powers to aid your stalking.
Each works on a short cool-down timer and allows you to teleport to any location on the map or see your victims as X-ray like silhouettes. You can also switch to first person view and move at super speed, in what looks to us more like something out of the Evil Dead. It’s useful whatever its inspiration though, as is a stealth mode that turns off your theme tune when you get close to people (you know the one: ‘kisk-kisk-kisk’).
Jason can also use bear traps and throwing knives, but his most powerful attack is a rage mode that lets him smash through walls and perform one hit kills. There’s also a range of environmental kills, but the game isn’t really that gory, although the graphics in general are not very good – with some laughably bad facial animation – so we’re not sure if that’s through a lack of trying or not.
Jason can be killed, but that’s by far the hardest way to win as the mere mortals. Slightly easier is to get a car or boat working, or to call in the police. The most common method though, is to simply stay alive until the 15-minute match is over. Although this naturally creates a problem if you get offed in the first couple of minutes.
Players can find a variety of weapons to knock Jason down for a short time, giving them a chance to prepare additional traps or try and get a vehicle working. Playing as a horny ‘80s teen might be intrinsically less interesting, but it’s still very tense as you watch your team-mates getting knocked off one by one and begin wishing you’d all co-operated properly from the start.
When the game originally launched in 2017 it was multiplayer-only but there’s now a trio of offline options: the main game with computer-controlled bots, a challenge mode, and a virtual cabin full of movie trivia. You always have to play as Jason though and the artificial intelligence is predictably poor, so it’s not much use for anything other than practicing the controls.
Most of the other changes are just new maps, skins, characters, and kills, which is great and all but doesn’t fundamentally change the game in any way. The good news is that the Switch port is surprisingly good, with performance pretty much the same as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. And while there are still plenty of minor glitches and bugs the Switch version (and we assume the others, once they’re patched) is generally much more stable than two years ago.
There are some very low-tech textures but we’re not sure they weren’t always like that and in the end the biggest problem is simply that this isn’t really a game that’s suited to handheld mode or the Switch’s natural audience – so we had trouble finding full matches and there’s no easy way to talk to each other online.
Whether the argument over the film rights and change of developer is going to mean more significant change in the future we’re not sure, but it feels like that ship has sailed now. Jason does have a habit of turning up on boats unexpectedly but in this instance we’re not sure it’s really worth his trouble anymore.
Friday the 13th: The Game Ultimate Slasher Edition
In Short: The original version had the potential to be a classic multiplayer horror game, but this updated edition still feels as hokey and unrefined as the movies it’s based on.
Pros: Friday The 13th adapts very well to asynchronous multiplayer and controlling Jason is a huge amount of fun. Multiple win conditions and the schlocky horror atmosphere is perfect.
Cons: There’s more content than there used to, and it’s less glitchy, but the experience is still plagued by clumsy controls and dull combat. Doesn’t suit the Switch particularly well.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Gun Media Entertainment
Developer: Black Tower Studios and IllFonic
Release Date: 13th August 2019
Age Rating: 18
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