The Past and Future of Friday the 13th Games

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When it comes to masked killers, few can top the legacy of Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees. What began as a way for creator Victor Miller to cash in on the success of 1978’s Halloween grew into a horror phenomenon, spawning 12 main films and even a television spinoff. Jason is a veritable horror icon, even crossing over and butting heads with Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger from time to time. If you have even a passing interest in horror movies or slasher flicks, you know all about his iconic hockey mask and weapon of choice, a sharpened machete ready to slice through some unsuspecting teenagers.

So it should come as no surprise that the franchise has spawned a few video games, though none of them have previously been able to successfully capture the gratuitous gore and suspense the movies were able to nail so well. That could certainly change with the latest addition to the Friday the 13th video game series, but to appreciate what’s coming in the future in terms of games starring everyone’s favorite crazed, psychotic slasher, you’ve got to take a look back into the past.

The Marauding Jason’s Filthy Grotto

The very first Friday the 13th game was released for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. It wasn’t exactly a glamorous first run for the franchise, but it did its job, offering Friday the 13th fans a way to interact with Jason himself in the form of a game on their home system. It was also more violent than the LJN release that would be its predecessor on the Nintendo Entertainment System three years later. The Commodore 64 version was also the way to go, unless you really disliked color and preferred the gory portraits that would come with the ZX Spectrum version, which were awesome in their own right.

“You and nine friends are spending the summer hoildays at Crystal Lake Holiday Camp, miles away from civilisation, unaware that Jason Voorhees has a filthy grotto lose to the camp. At midnight on the first day, while unpacking, you notice a bloodstained mask and with horror, you realise that JASON IS WAITING…Terrified, you must protect your friends from the marauding Jason and finally dispose of him……BEFORE he disposes of you!”

Rather than utilizing the familiar score from Henry Manfredini, however, the game relied on the infamous Baroque piece from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” which made for some surprisingly terrifying moments as well as some digitized screams. If you managed to kill Jason, it was a little confusing as to whether you did something right or the game was glitching all the way out, considering the weirdly colorful, buzzing edges of the screen.

The whole game was like that, though. Super confusing. It seemed like there wasn’t really anything to do while wandering around, but there actually were two things you needed to make sure you did in order to coax Jason out. You needed to find a special white cross and then place it in a room inside somewhere for Jason to come to you. Then if you wanted to have a fighting chance, you needed to collect a bunch of weapons to face Jason. The only thing left was to find him and take him out. I mean, among other random, similarly bizarre gameplay mechanics.

But even that was difficult to do, because the only time you really ever saw Jason’s iconic mask was at the beginning screen in the game before the explanation. Jason himself appeared as a regular-looking dude, totally nondescript. Because of this, the NES release that would come afterward via LJN actually had a leg up on its predecessor in several ways in that it was a little easier to understand and much less open and nonsensical.

Camp “Don’t Let Jason Find You”

In 1989, developer Atlus (yes, that Atlus) and publisher LJN joined forces to bring a “real” Friday the 13th video game to the masses in the form of the self-titled Friday the 13th on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Time and time again, it’s been critically panned as one of the worst (and most difficult, for other reasons) NES games of all time. But when you look at it in comparison to its competition as a licensed movie game, it’s actually not all that bad.

You took control of one of the camp counselors, each with their own special speed, rowing, or jumping abilities, and explored Camp Crystal Lake via side-scrolling exploration scenes. Counselors could use rock attacks that were difficult to hit Jason with since they flew in an arc, but after getting the hang of it you could aim pretty well. You weren’t just tasked with killing Jason though, as crows, werewolves, zombies and other monsters would shamble along into your path. Despite how frustrating it could be to best them, you could eventually do so while exploring the campgrounds until a special timed alarm would go off.

The alarm meant Jason would need to be found immediately before he decided to kidnap and slaughter one of the other camp counselors. That’s when things got ridiculously difficult. You’d have to use the notoriously hard-to-navigate map system to find where the camp counselor had been taken to, travel there, and keep Jason from killing the counselor, or swap to the counselor and play as them and defeat Jason before he could make his killing blow. The kids at camp could be in danger too if you didn’t move quickly enough.

When you reached Jason, you’d see him on the pathway, and that would lead to an encounter not unlike Punch-Out!!, where you’d enter a cabin with the killer and fight just like you were in the ring. If you managed to kill him, great. If you failed, you’d get the infamous “game over” screen that implied that you and your friends were all dead because you got killed. Not exactly a way to keep players coming back, but it did its job.

The Jason Voorhees of the Future

Bafflingly, it’s been years since anyone has made an attempt at creating a modern Friday the 13th game. Sure, Jason made an appearance in Mortal Kombat X and copycats and homages have sprung up here and there, but it won’t be until this year that a modern Friday the 13th game hits stores.

Friday the 13th: The Game is an upcoming riff on the series from Gun Media and Illfonic, based on the movies and gathering personalities from the franchise together to make a push forward as the first modern Friday the 13th game.

The game began life as Slasher Vol. 1: Summer Camp, which was a homage to Friday the 13th and slasher films in general. Over time and via multiple meetings with Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham, the game developed into a licensed game that would represent the Friday the 13th franchise by way of an asymmetrical multiplayer game with support for up to eight people. Seven players would control Crystal Lake camp counselors, and one player would be tasked with playing Jason, prowling around the camp.

Kane Hodder, who’s actually played Jason in some of the Friday the 13th films, has provided motion capture for Jason in the game, and as a result there are several deliciously gory kills that really showcase how brutal the slasher can be. It’s a completely different tone than the first two games offered, and with Unreal Engine 4 and the freedom to include licensed Friday the 13th aspects, it’s shaping up to be an impressive tribute to the franchise.

For now, you can feast your eyes on the trailer and understand the one thing that’s totally clear about it: This is definitely Jason in his prime.

Which Friday the 13th game is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured image credit: Gun Media, Illfonic

Image Credits: Domark, LJN, Gun Media, Illfonic

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