When Gun Interactive revealed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre last year, I was disappointed with its short teaser but excited about its potential. It’s one of my favorite horror movie franchises, partly as much as it still scares me: every good haunted house has a Leatherface at the end that chases you to the exit, right? – but also for its background: Texas. Horror, whether it’s from movies or games, typically draws attention to sad atmospheres, a spooky atmosphere, perhaps bad weather and the night. The Texas chainsaw massacre reversed this trend in the 1970s. After trying Gun Interactive’s upcoming 3v4 asymmetrical multiplayer game of the same name, I was very impressed with how well the otherwise serene Texan farmhouse functions as a playground for escape attempts and murder.
Gun Interactive, formerly Gun Media, is perhaps best known for Friday the 13th: The Game, which he released for developer Illfonic. I loved Friday the 13th; became the night hangout game for me and my friends. It’s home to some of my favorite gaming memories, like turning on a Tiny Tim song so campers can hear it through proximity chat as my Jason went to kill. However, some intellectual property rights issues have prevented the game from reaching its full potential, effectively disrupting its development except for regular maintenance. The rights holders of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were huge fans of Friday the 13th: The Game and were aware of the problems they encountered because they approached Gun Interactive with this game idea and a desire to let the studio lead the charge.
“They contacted us, and it was a very humbling experience,” says Wes Keltner, CEO of Gun. “We were still with Friday the 13th and I received an email from the rights holders of [The Texas Chain Saw Massacre], and they had played that game, they loved it and they loved our approach. They loved that it was some kind of white glove treatment until Friday the 13th and thought, ‘These are the guys. These are the ones we trust that we want to bring our game to market. ‘”
Keltner tells me that he talks to the rights holders of this franchise on a daily basis and that it was easy to work with them during development. He says rights holders sometimes get a bad rap, but that’s not the case here. They were open to ideas, progressive in pursuing them and open to letting the team play with this world.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s like, ‘Oh my God, that’s a great idea, let’s go do it,’ so it was really great working with him,” Keltner says, teasing that there might be some kind of relationship between too. this game and past and future movies, pausing before telling me more.
Keltner says the team met with them and decided the game should perfect itself in the original 1974 film. It would always be an asymmetrical game right from the jump – that’s what the team does best, after all – but how. and how far they could play with the franchise was a question. The team eventually arrived on a 3v4 format that tasked four victims to escape the house of horrors that is this Texan farmhouse and three assassins, one of whom is Leatherface, to kill them before that happens.
It’s a unique setup in the already niche realm of asymmetrical horrors currently dominated by the likes of Dead by Daylight, but playing it was awesome in a familiar way. Each victim has a unique ability, and weapon designer Robert Fox III claims that players can customize them with cosmetics and things that directly affect how they play. This includes unlockable skills, perks, and more. He and Keltner say players will be able to figure out different builds that work best for them, and that, coupled with the game’s customization options and unique 3v4 dynamics, is what they hope will keep players around for 1,000 hours.
In my hour with the game, I played Connie, who has a reloadable ability to break through locked doors, which allows her to bypass the simple but effective door unlock minigame. Breaking down a locked door was incredibly helpful, especially when Leatherface, Cook’s killer or Hitchhiker’s killer were in tow.
When the match began, all four victims were in the basement. So was Leatherface, which I loved because it meant the round immediately started with chaos. You can’t move, decide how best to escape with your team. There is probably a chainsaw roaring in your ears and you need to get out of the basement as soon as possible. Connie’s ability to quickly break through closed doors made this easy, but the first and second floors of the house presented a number of challenges. This is where the NPC grandfather resides and the three playable assassins can feed him blood to improve his ability to see and hear where the victims might be in the house. It is also the place where the cook and the hitchhiker roam.
I didn’t get to play with the cook, but I practiced with the hitchhiker. This lanky character hits victims with a pocketknife and killing them takes much longer than Leatherface and the chainsaw does. However, killing is only half the kit of him. He can place bone traps on the map, which warn everyone in the house when they are stepped on by a victim. Hearing and seeing a victim stepping on my trap brought an exciting adrenaline rush to me and my fellow assassins as we all rushed into his position, hoping to find a victim to kill.
In the third game I attended, I checked out the star of the show, Leatherface. She is a massive, bouldering figure who is loud and the exact opposite of agile. That’s okay, though, because where victims can crawl through cracks in a wall or narrow crevices, Leatherface can cut through specific barriers. I liked the fact that I couldn’t spam the chainsaw; it’s loud and every victim will know where you are when it’s on. Also, to turn it on you need to play a quick and easy minigame. It was fun to use this crank and the subsequent roar of the chainsaw to let the victims know I was on them, and pressing the left trigger to speed it up for a stronger effect made me laugh out loud to myself. The most satisfying part of this character, however, was the kills. His chainsaw pulls the victims out quickly, with lots of blood gushing from the incision point of my weapon.
All of these murders and escapes took place against the backdrop of a gorgeous Texas sunset on a lush green farm filled with sunflowers, old barns and sheds, overgrown grass, and a terrifyingly macabre house. Fans of the original 1974 film will recognize how much love and detail went into the house, complete with hanging bodies, buckets of blood, knick-knacks and more.
“If you watch that movie, most of it [is] bright, bright, happy, beautiful views, right? “says Keltner.”[That] it allowed us to play more with beauty and find that balance between the macabre and certain things that were serene. There are times when, yes, you’re running to save your life, but you might stop like, ‘Dang, it’s beautiful here.’ “
And he is right! The game looks great. It’s a big step up from the graphics on Friday the 13th, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre still retains some of the jank that fans of the former, if they’re anything like me, have come to love the game. It’s not a huge triple-A game, but the team made it with love. And it hasn’t quite come out yet. I could tell what I played was a preview build. Hope the team can massage the game more to make the movements smoother, more realistic, and the animations smoother.
I’m excited to see what the team is able to refine more from now to its release in 2023, and can’t wait to learn more about the skins, how Gun will incorporate other Texas Chain Saw Massacre movies into the game, the other maps, and more. If what I’ve seen so far is any indication, though, I think my friends and I will have a new hangout game next year.