While I always acknowledged the appeal of asymmetrical multiplayer titles, even indulging in some EVOLVE back in the day before it self-destructed, the genre didn’t quite speak to me. Yes, it looks cool to play as K-pop star-turned-serial killer or the Xenomorph in Dead by Daylight or control Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th: The Game (which also faded into the sunset). However, as a fan of horror films, I liked watching the madness unfold in these games instead of partaking.
So along comes The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, based on the film franchise but sticking to the aesthetic and overall direction of the 1974 classic. It’s from Gun Interactive, which also published Friday the 13th, while Sumo Nottingham handles development. Unlike other titles before it, this is not a 1v4 multiplayer title, but 3v4, as the vaunted Family attempts to slaughter the Victims trying to escape from their property.
The opening text crawl and narration set the tone, almost like the calm before the storm. You can queue as either a Family member (aka a killer) or a Victim, though there’s also Quick Match and an option for Private and Public Lobbies. Once you’re in a game, your job as a killer is to slaughter the Victims mercilessly. Obviously, as the latter, you want to escape, ideally together (but you won’t be penalized for leaving someone behind).
"Though the Family can’t die and is equipped with all kinds of nasty abilities, from Leatherface’s ability to destroy barricades and crawl spaces or Sissy poisoning areas and scattering some in her target’s face, they’re not all-powerful."
Despite the overall goals of each side being clear, there are some interesting variations on how they achieve them. The Family, for instance, are on the prowl, and while they have a detection skill to see through walls, they can also feed blood to Grandpa, who sits decrepit in a rocking chair, awakening at the first sign of noise from a Victim. By doing so, they activate different perks and improve detection to scout their Victims.
The Victims must rely on stealth, break out of the basement where they’re being held captive and unlock the door to ultimately reach the surface. There are a couple of exits to choose from, some requiring the disabling of traps, picking of locks and powering generators to finally be free. Beware though – any injuries sustained cause you to lose health until you’re incapacitated. At that point, you must wait for an ally to help or be slaughtered by the Family, who can pick up and execute you. It’s nothing personal. They need that XP.
There’s an unmistakable terror as you’re sneaking around, trying to avoid Leatherface and utter dismay on seeing Family members like Sissy or the Hitchhiker pass through gaps or crawl through spaces to pursue you. Hearing the chainsaw revving up as you flee for your life is pretty harrowing. On the other hand, that feeling of chasing and cornering a Victim before killing them is also fun, even if some of the hit responses can be a bit iffy. Sometimes, it’s hard to know whether your chainsaw connects with a target’s body, especially if they’re crouching.
However, because this is a 3v4 scenario, there are some fundamental differences from titles like Dead by Daylight or even Friday the 13th. Though the Family can’t die and is equipped with all kinds of nasty abilities, from Leatherface’s ability to destroy barricades and crawl spaces or Sissy poisoning areas and scattering some in her target’s face, they’re not all-powerful. Like the Victims, they’re bound by stamina, and thanks to the overall size of the maps, you can spend a lot of time running around without catching wind of the opposition.
"There are five Family members and five Victims, each with different abilities to make the opposing side’s life a little more difficult."
In that sense, teamwork and cooperating with your fellow Family member is key, and I didn’t mind it. Watching the teammate pursue a poor Victim, and cutting off their only escape as we hacked him to bits was neat (in-game, of course). You may also have teammates unlock and leave doors or gates open, making it easier for the Victims to escape. I’m not going to pretend I’m innocent, having accidentally triggered an electric trap on a fence my teammate set and becoming stunned in the process. On the plus side, it was a good learning experience as a Victim when trying to disable the same trap and escape.
It doesn’t help that you’re thrust into the game with the most minimal of instructions. Some video tutorials explain what must be done, how certain characters play and so on, and it’s all well and good, but learning the maps, knowing which ability does what, etc., necessitates a single-player component, if not the option to practice with bots.
The development team opted out of any single-player or bots to focus on polishing the online portion, and that’s fine. However, for a game like this, where the Victims can escape quickly if they know what to do, or the Family can slaughter their prey before they get out of the basement, it can lead to some frustration. Unfortunately, you can’t even create a Lobby without a party of four players, so forget about learning maps and characters on your own time.
There are five Family members and five Victims, each with different abilities to make the opposing side’s life a little more difficult. Connie can pick a lock faster thanks to her Focused Ability, using up stamina, while Ana can shrug off pain from attacks or fall damage. On the other hand, Leatherface is your quintessential killer, charging through the fields with his chainsaw held high (which can short out if you don’t execute the target at the end). The Hitchhiker favors traps, and the Cook can set padlocks while using his enhanced hearing to better sense Victims at the cost of speed and toughness.
Completing matches nets XP and Skill Points or SP, with the latter used to unlock skills for each character (while using them enough times unlocks other outfits). You can only equip three Skills at a time while the Family has a fourth slot to accommodate skills that activate when Grandpa is fed, like slightly increasing melee damage for all allies or regaining stamina when Grandpa’s sonar is active. The more you use a core ability, the more XP it gains and improves, allowing you to equip modifiers.
"If only the overall stability of the game was better. There were only slight frame drops when playing, and my system could handle the overall experience without any issues."
By progressing through each character’s Skill Tree, you can unlock Attribute Points to increase Stamina, Savagery and Blood Harvesting for the Family and Toughness, Endurance, Strength, Proficiency and Stealth for the Victims. You must make choices since other paths on the tree become locked if you branch towards a specific one. There’s no cost for respeccing, though it can be annoying in the early going when you have low-level characters and need to reset the Skill Points for one to free up enough to unlock another’s Skills.
Each character feels varied enough, and matches are fairly dynamic, at least at the start, to prove entertaining enough. However, as faithful as each map feels to the films, their overall flow can feel the same after a while. When playing as Leatherface, I’ve always started in the basement, and the Victims always have to escape their shackles while trying to reach the same four exits. You also can’t play matches without Leatherface – he’s required because, well, that’s how the films are. After all, having him do his trademark chainsaw dance at the end would look weird if he wasn’t present.
There are also only three maps, which can further add to the repetition. Matches also wouldn’t start without the full three Family members and four Victims – this shouldn’t be an issue at launch, but when the player base declines, as often happens with every multiplayer title, it can prove an issue for those matchmaking.
I was satisfied presentation-wise, especially with the animation work for the Family, and the sound design is well done. When the latter is necessary for tracking down Victims or sensing just how far a Family member is while hiding, having it feel on point is great. Now if only the overall stability of the game was better. There were only slight frame drops when playing, and my system could handle the overall experience without any issues.
"The atmosphere and audio do well to convey the horror of the films, delivering brutal kills without going overboard with the blood and gore (though you’ll find plenty of it strewn about the environment)."
However, there were several crashes, whether from starting the game or getting into a match, necessitating a restart. It’s annoying when you’ve found a match after several failures and waiting, only to have it crash and start the process all over. At least there were no network issues during the actual matches.
Boiled down to its raw gameplay, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has some issues but provides a riveting experience when everything starts to click. The atmosphere and audio do well to convey the horror of the films, delivering brutal kills without going overboard with the blood and gore (though you’ll find plenty of it strewn about the environment).
It’s unfortunately hamstrung by lackluster tutorials, no bots or practice, limited maps with all too similar gameplay flows, tedious respeccing when you don’t have enough characters leveled, odd design choices and bizarre crashes. It may become something special with time but must settle for being a competent stealth vs slasher experience rather than the next breakout horror multiplayer title.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Presentation channels the classic films, creating an atmosphere of tension and dread. Strong sound design. Each character feels unique and both sides have interesting tests and ways to complete matches. Network performance is solid.
Some annoying crashes before starting matches and even the game. No bots or ways to practice offline. Only three maps available at launch, with gameplay flow feeling a bit samey after some time. Can't have matches without Leatherface.