Publisher Gun Interactive already brought one iconic slasher series into the world of videogames with their asymmetrical multiplayer adaptation of Friday the 13th. Commendable for its gameplay variety compared to the more popular Dead By Daylight, licensing issues ultimately killed the game before a map inspired by Jason X could be released. Now, they are trying this again with another franchise, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
That is not a typo in the title. The titular weapon the unhinged Leatherface uses on his victims is spelt like that, because this game only carries the license for the 1974 horror classic directed by the late Tobe Hooper. Instead of falling into the same legal issues that are still plaguing Friday the 13th, Gun cleverly chose to focus on making a faithful game that focuses on the cannibal family from the first film (sorry, TCM2 fans: no Chop Top will be added here).
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre adds some interesting twists to the now-trite formula of these multiplayer games: instead of only having one killer per map, there are three killers active at all times, chasing down four soon-to-be victims. Leatherface is always needed to start a match, but the other two players can choose between the Hitchhiker (who can lay down traps) and the Cook (who can use padlocks on doors and track survivors through sound) from the movie, or also one of two new characters: hunky Johnny (capable of tracking footsteps) or nimble Sissy (who can poison pick-ups). In an ideal match, the three villains should collaborate to use everyone’s ability to their best effect, but such coordination is hard to find when playing with random players online.
A similar thing happens with the four survivors: they can pick one of five characters, each with their own unique skill and stats (one can instantly open doors, another can sprint quicker, and so on). However, in the general chaos of matchmaking, it is unlikely that players without a microphone will communicate effectively to escape together and share the location of the weapon-wielding enemies. Such is the nature of online gaming, of course, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is in the unfortunate spot of needing a lot of balancing to create a smoother, more fair experience for both parties.
The first couple of rounds as a victim are exciting: having to escape Leatherface in the basement, only to be faced by the other two killers above ground is incredibly effective, and the pulse-pounding score by Ross Tregenza does a great job of immersing gamers into the sweaty Texas landscape circa 1974. Major props must be given to the level designers as well for lovingly recreating iconic locations such as the family house and the gas station.
However, as thrilling as it is to run through such familiar locations and hear the revving of the chainsaw in the background, it takes very little for the victims’ game to start losing its appeal: the structure of the levels is disorienting even after multiple runs and getting stuck on the geometry and environmental elements leads to frustrating easy deaths. The QTEs necessary to unlock doors and find items are refreshingly different from Dead By Daylight’s mind-numbing “hold button to power generator”, but they grow exhausting after a dozen matches.
The real fun is had by playing as the killers, especially as there are three of them. It is admittedly cool to use Leatherface, awkwardly jogging in the basement, breaking barriers, and wounding the victims with the chainsaw before it stalls. The other characters all have their pros and cons, with newcomer Sissy feeling like the most well-rounded one: she has enough stamina to potentially kill a victim before exhausting it, the poison she disperses is great in locating the survivors, and she can go through cracks in the walls and vents just like the Hitchhiker.
However, even as a killer the fun starts to dwindle after a couple of hours. The most annoying problem is the hit detection: hits that should land seldom do, and if a survivor jiggles ever so slightly before getting hit, the lock-on system flips out and causes the player to miss. These instances happen a handful of times per match, which is tiring, to say the least. It does not help that the progression system, through which abilities for both victims and family members grow stronger the more matches are played, adds very little variety to the gameplay.
Only time will tell if The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will be enjoyed even by its most ardent fans. Personally, it feels unfair to recommend a game that feels like it has a limited timespan: balancing and bug fixes are desperately needed to make this more fun to play, and the lack of a roadmap that promises new maps and characters holds little hope for the future. While different games deep down, there is a reason why Dead By Daylight remains one of the most played games in today’s market, while Friday the 13th, Evil Dead: The Game, and Predator: Hunting Grounds quickly lost their player base: it knows how to keep itself fresh, constantly updating and adding new content. Texas Chain Saw Massacre already feels stale, and it likely will be rotten meat by the end of the year, which is an absolute shame.
Copy supplied by the publisher.