Friday the 13th
Genre: Action Horror
Continuing in the October spirit, I thought about a lot of the unrecognized horror games from the ages. Having just covered the Atari 2600 chapters of some of these games, I figured why not jump to the Commodore 64?
I know there’s a Friday the 13th game there. I’ve played it before.
I love Friday the 13th.
Heck, I could even publish the review of it on Friday the 13th to get everybody as psyched as me that the day falls in October this year!
Well, let me tell you why I’m posting about this game now: because Friday the 13th means too much to me to post about this on that day.
Listen up, and I’ll tell the interesting and sordid tale of the Friday the 13th game that even the NES version may outshine.
So far as the plot of this iteration of Friday the 13th goes, very little changes- just like the films. In this version, you play as one of five counselors who ends up at Camp Crystal Lake for various reasons. Each character actually has a little backstory, which is kind of fun but completely meaningless. As you wander around the grounds, you’ll find yourself wandering around with campers until they start getting picked off one by one.
The catch here is that our usual killer, Jason, is disguised as one of your campers. No, you didn’t misread that. The hulking hockey-masked killer of tens of teens looks just like one of your campers. How the- you might ask- are you supposed to fend them off from the wrath of his machete?
Hit them with weapons that you find across the grounds, of course.
If you hit a camper and they flinch and walk away? They’re legitimate campers. If they flash to a figure in all black? It’s Jason.
Oh, we’ll get to that soon.
There are a few other features that are actually pretty neat in the game, even if they aren’t utilized well. You have a number of factors to work against and meters to keep track of. A ‘fear meter’ gauges your mental fortitude. If you see too many corpses or accidentally kill one of your campers, it will raise. If it raises to much, your counselors dies of shock and it’s game over. You also have a life meter, which works as expected. Once you uncover Jason’s identity, he’ll most likely attack you until you are dead or you kill him. The last metaphysical struggle is against time. As events happen, a hockey mask shaped meter fills, and if it is completed, it’s game over. Fortunately, most of these don’t become much of a factor. The fear meter raises very little, and the time meter usually doesn’t have the chance to fill much. Your real worry, then, is being hacked to death once you find Jason.
One of the big features is supposed to be that you can set up a ‘Sanctuary’ by finding a cross and placing it in one of the buildings. This should cause the campers to convene there and be safe from Jason. Having tried it once, I didn’t notice much of a difference, and I found Jason not once but twice ducking into the Sanctuary after I routed him out. The concept is neat, but it doesn’t seem to play out.
Speaking from a technical standpoint, this game is a bit of a mess and it is hard to figure out where to begin on that. The premise is straight up out of sync with the series. In their defense, this was right around the time that the movies alluded that there would be a new killer taking Jason’s place, so that may have been the idea- but I highly doubt it. Divorced from the movies for the most part, as well, is the setting. There are a couple of locales that feel familiar- an archery range, a barn, and a large counselor’s cabin being the main settings that really strike the Crystal Lake vibe. There is also a graveyard, a church, and- well- no lake.
Inconsistencies aside, the game’s technical issues are problematic, too. Hit boxes are tough to decipher, making a number of weapon swings ineffective. While you can enter houses and building through the front door, if you somehow miss them, your character will disappear behind the building’s sprite or get trapped in it until you can wiggle free. Limitations of the system be damned, there is a lack of precision in the design of this game.
It’s honestly not all bad, though, as there are a few effects that the game uses well. Sometimes, when you happen on a corpse of one of your campers, you are met with a jump scare of a well rendered scream and a gory graphic. There is also something nerve wracking about walking around and hearing a scream in the distance when one of your campers is murdered. For an old game, Friday the 13th does jump scares pretty well.
For better or worse, the tunes in this game are well rendered. As I said, the screams sound great (even though Jason also screams when he dies). The music, for the most part, is completely inappropriate to the setting. Entering the barn makes you hear “Old MacDonald”. Wander into the woods and you’ll hear “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic”. The wedding march plays when you walk into the altar room of the church. It’s like the sound designed shook down every free domain song they could find and shoved it into this game.
Looking at the game isn’t terrible, as the buildings and environments look fine. The sprites aren’t abysmal, though they lack any real detail. They are colorful against the muted palette of the main map so you can keep track of them easier as you try to find Jason. Most of the weapons look like they should, even if it is in a poorly rendered manner. The real travesty to look at is Jason. Rather than the frightening visage one might expect, we are treated to a regular looking guy with short black hair, black pants, and a black half-shirt. The main draw of the game looks like he’s just some person you’d see on the street, and it’s definitely a disappointment.
In the end, this game feels like it was some other game that just had Friday the 13th slapped onto it in the final stages. The game really doesn’t end until the character in play dies, so it’s a matter of trying for a high score by keeping campers alive and killing Jason as soon as possible. That said, if you know how the game works, you can work your way through all of the counselors in a matter of fifteen to twenty minutes, at which point the game just cycles back to the first character again.
If you’re a completionist or interested in playing this game for video game education and expansion, go for it. If you’re looking for a good time, you would be better suited to just watch one of the movies or throw in the NES game- and yes, this is coming from an avid fan of all things Friday the 13th.