The Texas Chainsaw Massacre horror game from Friday the 13th developer Gun is an “authentic” part of the classic movie’s canon that aims to do a lot more than reskin other asymmetrical multiplayer games like Dead by Daylight and Evil Dead, explains the game’s publisher Sumo Digital.
In an exclusive interview with PCGamesN, Darren Campion, Sumo’s executive producer, and Kelvin Moore, project design director, discuss how The Texas Chainsaw Massacre takes great care to maintain the tone, atmosphere, detail, and distinct style of fear and violence from the 1974 Tobe Hooper classic. Pitting four survivors (or, as Moore is quick to remind me, “victims”) against three killers, the game focuses on stealth, cunning, and the difficult choice of whether to work in a team or let everyone else get cut to pieces and cannibalised while you selfishly sneak out.
In terms of mechanics, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is unique among its current multiplayer horror peers in pitting the surviv- victims against multiple killers. As well as offering a more intense experience, where you no longer have the option for one player to distract the killer while the rest complete objectives and escape, Moore explains how including the entire Sawyer family – Leatherface, The Hitchhiker, The Cook, and even the cadaverous Grandpa – is vital to capturing the spirit of the film.
“It’s solely based on the original 1974 classic,” Moore explains. “All the characters, the setting, the theme, the tone – everything. And it’s all wrapped around recreating those kinds of daytime nightmarish experiences that you’ve seen. We start off with the victims in the basement. You’ve already been captured. You have to work through a series of stealth mechanics while being hunted by Leatherface, who starts in the basement with you. And then as you kind of broach out the family members start to appear, the Hitchhiker and the Cook, and then basically, they want to kill you, you’ve got to escape”
“The key word that we have used more than any other is authenticity,” continues Campion. “We’ve been working with Kim Henkel, the producer of the 1974 film, and he’s considering this canon. It’s set before the 1974 movie, within a year or so, and there’s a narrative which will come out a little bit later that leads you into why these people are here. These aren’t just some random characters with some random killers.”
Each of the killers come, naturally, with unique traits and abilities. Leatherface is an efficient murderer who can bust down doors and is hard to push past, but he’s also a little sluggish, the archetypal tank. The Hitchhiker, who’s voiced by Edwin Neal, the actor from the original film, is quicker, nimbler, and can follow victims into tight spaces like vents and gaps between walls. At the same time, if a victim uses one of their shove abilities, they might be able to knock him over and escape.
The Cook feels like a balance of the two, with the added bonus that he put locks onto doors to cut off victims’ escape routes. A fantastic moment in the latest hands-off demo sees a player controlling The Cook come charging out of the Sawyer house into the hot, orange light of a Texas sunrise, perfectly capturing the colours, mood, and terror of the film’s climactic chase. “We have tens of thousands of photographs from our trips to Texas,” Moore explains, “so everything right down to the flowers and the ground is authentic.”
But what about Grandpa? Though he isn’t playable, he still serves a vital part in either a successful escape or a successful hunt. Given the famous dinner scene, where the Sawyers bring Sally to their beloved patriarch to be bashed on the head with a hammer, you might think Grandpa has a similar function to the hooks in Dead by Daylight. But again, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is about authenticity to the film – Grandpa’s role is much more involved.
“It’s dinnertime, basically,” explains Moore, “so the killers have got to feed him up. Obviously, when you’re in your own home, you hear everything – if a door goes, you know someone’s in that room or this room, and Grandpa’s got that same sensibility. If victims make too much noise, he’ll be what triggers an alert. When you capture blood as the family members and you feed that to Grandpa, that levels him up, so part of the meta replayability is the ability to build your own kind of loadout for Grandpa and give him different abilities. But obviously, victims have methods of counteracting that as well.”
Like Dead by Daylight, Evil Dead, and Gun’s previous horror effort Friday the 13th, maintaining a balance between the two sides in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – especially when there are three killers to manage rather than just one – presents a significant challenge. Campion says that the goal is to ensure that no-one always prefers playing a killer or always prefers playing a victim. Through extensive focus testing, each team has to offer varied but balanced experiences.
“It would be so easy to overpower one side just by slapping or plastering on some of the extra abilities or features,” Campion says. “We hoped we wouldn’t have this overriding answer of everyone prefers being the victim, or everyone prefers playing killer. It depends on your mentality. We don’t want to just deliver on day one. We want to continue to expand that universal canon, but part of the challenge of being a developer or a publisher is listening and filtering out the noise and not being reactive too quickly. You pull a lever, and you please someone but you upset someone else. That’s the challenge of any games-as-a-service developer.”
Rewatching the original film, it seems like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may lend itself more to a single-player, narratively-led game, where you play a sole victim navigating your way through the Sawyer house and then the Texas wilderness. Campion says that Sumo and Gun have “thought about how a single-player campaign could be,” but that multiplayer allows Texas Chainsaw Massacre to deliver a fundamental gameplay mechanic in regards to decision-making and choice.
“If you think about the film,” says Campion, “you get that dark narrative exposition at the beginning – for half of the film, it’s kind of bright blue skies, setting you up, then it’s the third act. This is a way for you to experience that third act many, many times, and automate your own movie every time. The thing that a single-player campaign wouldn’t give you is that choice between deciding how to work as a team or how to work alone, which is what this game is all about.”
“It’s better than a single-player experience because you’re playing against the best AI characters out there – other humans,” continues Moore. “You’ve got no vision cone, you’ve not got those kinds of blinkers going on. You’re just watching. No two games are the same, because people think differently, and you’re double bluffing.”
Also rewatching the film, you notice that despite its reputation The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is largely bloodless. Deaths are implied. Mutilation happens off-screen. There are no big flashes of gore. Since authenticity is key, this is something both Sumo and Gun have had to keep in mind, while still aiming to deliver enough gruesome kills to keep horror players gratified.
“We have more blood than the film,” says Moore, “but we’ve not gone over the top, and when we’re looking at our executions and stuff we’re referring to the shots from the film – the lenses, the angles, everything. It’s not showing guts going everywhere. It’s alluding to it; cutting away at the right time, just like the film uses those shots, angles, and frames. We could have gone yes, arms off, legs off. But that’s not authentic. And the key thing is authenticity.”
“The important thing to us is how do we make a game that could only be made with the Texas Chainsaw IP?,” continues Campion. “Another group of people might have taken the game and just skinned it. That would have been the easy solution. But these locations and tactics really come from the film. What other horror games are in broad daylight? It would have been easy to set this at night and completely mismanage that authenticity. But fans want to see that we’ve been authentic to the film.”
Watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in action, where even the eponymous, dismembering power tool has been rebuilt by Gun to look and sound exactly like it does in the film, and then 3D-scanned into the game, it certainly feels like this is more than just Dead by Daylight with a different franchise layered over the top. From the acutely detailed interior of the Sawyer house – one of several locations that will be playable in the final game – to the humid, heady Texas landscape, it’s hard to think of another movie tie-in, other than maybe Alien: Isolation, that goes to such great labours to capture the source material.
Moore describes how players will sometimes stop running and chasing, and spend time simply exploring the environments in order to see the iconic film sets from a fresh perspective. When it launches in 2023, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre faces stiff competition in the multiplayer horror genre, but its minute attention to detail, coupled with its systems and mechanics all designed around the spirit of the film, mean it could stand out as a lot more than just a copy of Dead by Daylight.
While you wait for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to arrive, you might want to try out some of the other best multiplayer games, or perhaps some of the best survival games on PC. Or, if you’re planning to kill the time – no pun intended – with Dead by Daylight, check out our Dead by Daylight tier list of all the best killers, including, naturally, Leatherface.