When we published our review in progress of Friday the 13th last week, it was after a couple days of playing relatively smooth matches on PC. Since launch day, the PC version has remained our go-to option, but more out of necessity than by choice. On both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Friday the 13th has been intermittently unplayable. Yes, private matches with friends are sometimes possible, but if you wish to join up with a band of strangers online for a bout of deadly hide-and-go-seek from the comfort of your couch, you’re either entirely out of luck or stuck waiting upwards of ten minutes for a match–after days of not being able to play at all.
Developers Gun Media and Illfonic are on the case, providing frequent updates that seem to be improving the situation in minor ways, but for reasons involving platform holders’ patching policies and new bugs that emerge with continued testing, it’s hard to imagine Friday the 13th being anything other than a half-baked experience for the foreseeable future.
Even if servers were up to speed and able to keep up with the purported influx of eager players, you could still look at Friday the 13th and ask yourself if it would have been better off released as an early access game. The answer is “yes.” The dearth of maps, inconsistent frame rate on consoles, laughable animations, and shoddy collision detection are evidence of a game that isn’t ready for prime time.
These issues are disappointing, but not only on the principle of meeting the expectations of a finished product. There is a good game in Friday the 13th that pops its blood-soaked head up every now and then. Its asymmetrical teenager-versus-supernatural-murderer premise is one that will speak to anyone with an affinity for survival games, cooperative problem solving, and ’80s slasher films. It has great potential, which is why you can’t help but be frustrated to see it left unrealized, if not outright squandered.
A single match lasts 20 minutes, and that time will either fly by or feel twice as long depending on which role you’re randomly assigned to. As a camp counselor, you are set free in one of three maps pulled from early Friday the 13th films, and are tasked with either repairing escape vehicles, calling the cops, hiding from Jason until the end of the match, or killing him–an obtuse and complex process that the game never explains, let alone hints at. If you are the lucky one who’s picked at random to play Jason, your only goal is to kill every counselor that you can get your hands on.
Playing as Jason is without a doubt the most enjoyable time you’ll have with Friday the 13th. As the lone killer, you are essentially unstoppable, and you gain new abilities over the course of a match that increase both your awareness and mobility. Jason can warp from one end of a camp to the other, rush across large stretches of land (think Evil Dead’s encroaching force), detect fearful or active counselors, and silence the haunting theme that usually plays when he’s approaching a target. He will also earn the strength to bust through doors rather than hack them open, a skill that directly thwarts a counselor’s best line of defense: shelter. Playing as Jason is the epitome of a power fantasy.
These shortcomings and ongoing server issues aren’t easily overlooked, and work against what promise Friday the 13th shows.
When caught, a counselor has a small chance to fight back by staggering Jason with a single-use weapon such as a pocket knife or a flare gun. But most of the time, once Jason has someone in his grasp, they are as good as dead. There are several places to hide, which include tucking yourself into an armoire, a camping tent, or under a mattress, but Jason can still find you if the counselor you’re controlling is prone to yelp in fear–an automated process triggered by the sight of Jason. Pick a counselor with a high stealth rating, and you’ll have an easier time waiting out a match from the safety of a confined space. It’s a boring but effective way to “win.”
If you instead choose to escape rather than simply avoid Jason, you will have to poke around every available building in search of items like keys, fuel, and batteries to repair nearby cars and boats. Items are placed at random locations, so you never know exactly where to look. Teamwork then becomes important as you can coordinate your efforts to simultaneously search multiple buildings and report Jason sightings as you go. This is of course assuming that your fellow counselors are not only wearing chat-enabled headsets, but that they are willing to lead or be led at all. Playing with friends makes this easy; playing with strangers does not.
When you are a counselor without reliable comrades, Friday the 13th is typically boring or frustrating. You either hide or wander around cautiously in search of items, or ironically invite death to hasten your progression unlocks. The amount of XP you earn from sticking around long enough for the results screen to appear is unreasonable; you’re likely to earn far more from dying and waiting than actually making an earnest effort to be a resourceful player. XP plays into a progression system that allows you to acquire new counselors and outfits as you level up, so if you want to experience the breadth of Friday the 13th’s playable characters, you might as well exploit–or put up with–the match-based XP bonus early on.
It’s refreshing when the counselor routine is interrupted by being assigned to play as Jason, but regardless Friday the 13th grows stale in short order. Part of this comes down to the fact that there are only three maps to choose from, but numerous bugs and presentation flaws are equally grating. Characters regularly clip through objects, get stuck in geometry, and occasionally end up floating off of the ground, entirely negating their vulnerability.
These shortcomings and ongoing server issues aren’t easily overlooked, and work against what promise Friday the 13th shows. As of now, a week after launch, it’s short on content and performs poorly all around, especially on consoles. The story goes that the developers weren’t prepared for amount of people who wanted to jump on day one, but that does little to assuage players who were convinced that they were paying for a finished product. Despite showing potential that may one day be realized, Friday the 13th comes across as an unfinished game that shouldn’t have been released in its current state.