Perhaps as an ode to the horror movie genre itself, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre starts out with all the same joy and promise of a group of friends preparing for a weekend at a cabin in the woods before things quickly take a turn for the worse. While I definitely enjoyed plenty of my 20 hours with this novel take on the asymmetrical multiplayer blueprint, where three powerful murderers hunt down a team of four elusive teens, getting started wasn’t as smooth as it is in similar games and there’s less to do than expected once you’re up and running. Between that and some seriously frustrating technical issues, there was definitely a chloroform-doused wet blanket over the whole thing.
If you’ve played any asymmetrical horror game, be that Dead By Daylight or Friday the 13th, Evil Dead or Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed (among others), then you’ve already got a pretty good idea how developer Gun Interactive’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre works, to the point where it feels extremely familiar at first, right down to borrowed ideas like quicktime events and minigames to do things like turn on generators and pick locks, and hiding from baddies who can’t be killed.
But it also includes some important distinctions that help separate it (at least a little bit) from its peers, the biggest of which is that instead of a group of survivors running from one psychopath, there’s a whole team of psychopaths working together to entrap and eliminate their high school-aged quarry. It’s still lopsided at three killers vs four victims, but that adjustment has pretty substantial implications on the asymmetrical horror recipe, since now both sides require communication and teamwork to achieve victory. In other games, it can certainly feel unfair when one side requires a whole group of people to know what they’re doing and work together to pull off a win, while the other can handily lone wolf it and kill everyone without breaking a sweat. I certainly enjoyed preying on uncoordinated groups of survivors in Evil Dead: The Game last year, but I gotta admit – sometimes steamrolling everyone felt a tad mean.
Cooperation is required to pull off a win – and that makes things a lot more interesting.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre makes things a lot more balanced by making the family of killers only marginally more powerful than the teens they’re hunting, as well as being slightly outnumbered by them. The bad guys are still unkillable and will absolutely wail on their targets in open conflict, but without all of that raw power concentrated into one monster, cooperation is required to pull off a win no matter which team you’re playing for – and that makes things a lot more interesting.
Each member of the murder-loving Family has modest but useful abilities, like Johnny’s power to track footprints in a handy detective vision mode, or the Hitchhiker’s ability to place traps that leave survivors frozen in place. I favor Cook, whose slothlike movement and weak attacks are offset by his incredible hearing and ability to padlocks doors to slow the Victims’ progress; basically, I become the ultimate irritating groundskeeper while my friends do most of the killing, which doesn’t sound all that glorious but you can’t argue with my stack of bodies.
Victims, in turn, have some pretty substantial and interesting ways to fight back or speed along their escape, like how Leland can use his jock body and tiny brain to shoulder-charge his pursuers, stunning them for a good while, or how Sonny can mark members of the Family, revealing them through walls for everyone to see, which helps the survivors stay one step ahead. My personal favorite on this side is Connie, whose incredible lockpicking skills allow me to break into areas extremely quickly. That both counters my own tactics while playing as Cook and also lets me lead my team to an escape at an unbelievable pace – sometimes I was able to get out before the bad guys even had a chance to form a plan of their own. The Victims can also do cool things like sneak attack the psychopaths with a makeshift bone knife or burst out of a hiding place to stun them for a time, or even grapple their attackers in a quick-time button-spamming contest to fend them off for a bit.
Technical Issues and Bugs
Even with those good ideas working in its favor, though a lot of wind is taken out of it by some pretty egregious technical issues that everyone I played with experienced, every single match. The biggest one is that anytime a Victim and a member of the Family get into close proximity, and especially when they engage in combat with one another, the framerate takes a nosedive for everybody in the match. It’s not unplayable, but the most tense moments are frustrating to play, since you might lose track of someone you’re chasing due to massive frame hitching or, even if you do kill someone, you don’t get to enjoy your victory to its fullest because even the kill animation is choppy.
Even with rocky technical performance putting a damper on things, each match has a compelling back-and-forth where survivors work to avoid notice and find a way out of the death trap they’re stuck in, and maniacs keep the pressure on and lock down the level as much as possible until they can eliminate their captives.