I started playing Friday the 13th: The Game nearly a month after its release on Xbox One, and despite reading about the game being riddled with bugs, I was relieved to hear that a patch was imminent. Alarm bells rang, however, when that same patch failed Microsoft’s certification. I had a gut feeling that the game would fare worse than the counsellors at Camp Crystal Lake.
Turns out my gut feeling was correct: Even after the update, bugs, exploits, and laggy gameplay mired my experience of what could have been a solid game.
Friday the 13th: The Game features multiple versions of Jason Voorhes from the movies, although most require unlocking after reaching certain levels. In addition to different looks, they all have different pros and cons, like decreased cooldowns or slower movement in water.
Jason has a variety of abilities at his disposal. He starts with one already enabled, and as the game progresses, he slowly gains the rest. He can morph (teleport anywhere on the map), stalk (become silent so counsellors can’t detect him), sense (highlight targets in red), and shift (disappear and moves a short distance).
By utilising a combination of these, Jason can be a ruthless hunter – or a bumbling-behemoth moron. At times, he’s easy to control. But when the game is lagging, you find him walking around in circles or trying his darndest to suffocate the trunk of a tree.
Unfortunately, this happened often. As I'm on the low end of internet connection speeds (Thanks, Spark – Gigatown my arse), there is definitely a discrepancy in my gameplay compared to others. The major problem, it seems, is that the servers couldn’t handle public demand for the game. Connections are spotty at best, or non-existent.
Playing with others in U.K, for example, gave me upwards of 400ms, yet playing with people closer seems to give me a better ping, around 100ms or so. Being the host of a game is the best approach to remedy the situation, but at times I find myself stranded in a lobby by myself for hours on end.
Server issues don’t just plague the person playing Jason, they can also affect the seven others playing counsellors. Like Jason, each counsellor has their pros and cons, displayed statistically for easy comparison. They can also buy perks by way of a loot box-like generator, each of which will provide a bonus in one category at the expense of a minor decrease in another.
There are four methods of escaping Jason’s wrath, each requiring a series of steps to accomplish freedom. The counsellors can escape by cars or a boat, but in order to do so they need to collect the gas, battery, keys for the car, or gas and the rotor blades for the boat. They can also escape by calling the police or radioing Tommy Jarvis – the only other recurring character in the Friday the 13th series. Calling the police requires reconnecting the phone lines and waiting for the police to arrive, and radioing Tommy Jarvis allows one of the other dead players to return as him, shotgun in hand.
While each of the methods of escape are unique, and require team-work and communication via proximity chat or walkie talkies, most players seem to rely on calling the police for escape. As the locations of various key elements required are procedurally generated, each game plays slightly differently. After a few games, however, it becomes educated guesses on Jason’s behalf in order to get the upper hand, such as camping near the exit route to the police.
The 80’s era – when Friday the 13th movies were at the height of their popularity – shows prominently here. Clothing, vehicles, and even the visual effect of rewinding a videotape on screen to indicate Jason is shifting gives the game an authentic flavour. Even the maps are based on three of the locations that the movies were set in.
But these visual quirks bring the game’s technical shortcomings into focus. The look of “fear” on the counsellors’ faces – especially the preppy Chad – has become an in-joke, and a drastic departure from the horror game that it sets out to be. I compare their faces more to the laughing clown carnival games that you toss ping pong balls into.
It's when those technical problems plague gameplay that it stops being fun to play. The meter that gives you a chance to break free from Jason's chokehold starts later than the animation, so by the time you start furiously mashing the button to escape, you've already lost the encounter. Or when you try to jump through a window or close a door, only to accidentally open it again and greet Jason. Of course, you’ll only encounter these issues if you get into a game in the first place.
Once connected and waiting for people to join, there is a chance the lobby will time out. After everyone has readied up and connects to the game, there is another chance to time out. As the game is loading, there is a chance to – you guessed it – time out. If the host leaves the game, everyone gets disconnected; no returning to lobby, and more egregiously, no XP is rewarded. If the host quits at the last minute? Sorry, you've just wasted twenty minutes of your life. The fact that I have heard and read multiple people accounts of the same issue – before and after the patch – has me concerned about the legs this game has.
I had a chance to play Dead by Daylight: Special Edition after playing this game for a week or so, and considering that I managed to play more matches in Dead by Daylight in 45 minutes than I did in the first two or three days of playing Friday the 13th (and not for a lack of trying), it speaks volumes to the technical issues Friday the 13th has.
It’s been more than 30 years since the Friday the 13th franchise launched, and nearly 30 since the last game was released. While graphically and technically superior to the 1989 NES game, gamers now have higher standards, and unfortunately Friday the 13th hasn’t lived up to those. A myriad of bugs, server issues, and gameplay glitches plague the summer camp, and at times it feels like Jason isn't the only problem you need to worry about.