A couple months ago, I was able to play The Texas Chain Saw Massacre the Game during the tech test. I had an absolute blast, and you can read my initial thoughts here.
The first thing I want to iterate for this review is that it is written with immense love for the franchise, and the genre of game. It is very possible TCM won’t be for you specifically, and that is okay.
When it comes to asymmetrical horror games, we have an established formula that is relevant in the most successful titles within the genre. For example, in Dead by Daylight you have a Killer role (one person) and survivor role (four people). The reason I mention this is one of the best features of TCM and what separates it from its brothers and sisters in the genre is its sense of community. At no point are you alone responsible for winning a match, it is a team effort, and this is especially appreciated in the family role in my own observations.
In TCM, you have three “family members” and four “victims”. It is important to note that each of these roles has a different mission with the family being tasked with slaughtering the victims, Victims are tasked with escaping the family’s property. The Family role is simple yet has some flair to make the experience a more technical, and a social endeavor. The Victims however have the meat of a learning curve to venture into before becoming an expert survivor.
The game has an excellent explanation of the game’s mechanics and flow in the tutorial section of the menu which I highly encourage everyone take the time to analyze and this information will make your first few matches much much better and more enjoyable. The more you know, the better the chance you have of understanding the mechanics for either role, or the character you are using.
When you start the game off fresh, it is the most intimidating, strenuous, and tension filled as a Victim. You’re tossed in an unfamiliar setting and tasked to survive. In my experience playing, this is just about how everyone starts, and the game flow of the match is significantly easier as a family member when you begin your TCM adventure. As you gain experience in both roles, it becomes significantly fairer, but there are some map design issues and characters that can really take advantage of the games mechanics once you have a full understanding of map layouts, and mechanics in the favor of victim players. I’m sure tweaking is on Gun Media’s agenda for the meta, and I am sure this will be changing in the future with patches. Your experience might even be significantly different from my own.
Mentioning that should not be a factor reflecting enjoyment in TCM. I know a lot of people with interest in the title are fans of other games within the genre, and in my personal opinion TCM takes massive strives to make their unique venture a casual and enjoyable one, even if your intestines are hanging off the end of Leather Face’s saw.
The typical way each match begins is with all four victims hanging upside down in Leather Face’s basement like lambs led to slaughter. The first order of business is breaking your bonds and hoping Leather Face isn’t nearby. Second is to rummage through a tool box like a raccoon for scraps to find an unlock tool and a basement door that leads to the property. You’ll find bone shivs in the environment that can be used defensively to protect yourself by stabbing a family member in the back. You can also use these nifty tools to cut noise makers down.
Once you have escaped the basement victims have four options: open the valve exit, fuse exit, generator exit, or car battery exit. These exits are universal to each map, although some are easier then others to utilize on different maps. Then the only job victims have is to survive. With crawl spaces, barbed wire barricades, narrow spaces, and dastardly dives into the property wells you have many means to try and escape your captors, although I will always recommend being stealthy.
For family members the first order of business is who is where. Leather Face starts in the basement with the sole purpose of terrorizing victims in a way only a big lovable guy with a chainsaw is capable of. If he were an artist, slaughter is the players canvas and the chainsaw is your art brush. It is also important to destroy all of the pesky crawl spaces and barricades to help your serial cannibal siblings assist in the slaughter.
For any other members of the family you start above Leather Face’s lair, and are tasked with starting up those anti-exit traps to prevent those rambunctious young adults from leaving the property. This means starting up the generator, the car battery, and if you are Hitch-Hiker, The Cook, or Sissy trapping objectives or locking them. Don’t forget to lock all doors! If the family has all of that down the two most important things to do are hunt and get blood for everyone’s favorite senile, chair-bound, all-seeing Grandpa to assist finding the meat that got free.
The Details Are In The Meat
Where TCM shines among its competitors, and truly separates itself is its dedication to the franchise in its game design. If you have watched Tobe Hooper’s original film, this game was crafted with surgical care in its character design, environment, and audio. Down to the flowers in the grass on the maps, and the trinkets in the family’s home. Everything has a purpose in immersion, and I don’t think I have seen such care before in an asymmetrical multiplayer game.
Sound is also an essential factor in TCM. If you have a good headset, the ambience is immersive and unsettling. You can hear the slightest brush of movement as a victim crouch walks in tall grass, or you can hear them rummaging through a toolbox. It brings rural Texas to life in a way I didn’t think possible.
What also stands out is the cinematography of the executions, and clear reflection of Tobe Hooper’s style used in the first film. In the beginning of every match you see Leather Face place a victim on a meat hook, rev his chainsaw and you see the camera cut to the victims legs and when the camera returns you see a nice bloody cut across the victim’s torso. In the original film a lot of the violence happens off camera and the context of the horrific things happening was left up to the viewer to imagine. Comparing the style of the original film and how Gun Media set out to emulate how Hooper structured his film, it is very impressionable that they wanted to pay the upmost respect to the original.
Gunnar Hansen played the notorious Leather Face in the original film and filling that role for now is none other than Kane Hodder; since Hansen passed away. If you don’t now Kane Hodder, he is the actor who played Jason in Gun Media’s other title Friday the 13th: The game and has brought to life many different horror icons including Jason Voorhees (Part eight, nine, X) and Victor Crowley (Hatchet) to name a few. His performance as Leather Face emulates what the original actor brought to the role masterfully. In fact, I’d say its accurate that the entire cast that filled the roles of the family did an amazing job in bringing the unhinged cannibalistic hillbillies to life as well as the college students trying to survive. For every minute movement, each character from the original film is emulated with masterful discretion.
Welcome To The Family Johnny And Sissy
The best part of what is new since the tech test is the inclusion of Johnny and Sissy as family members. Both of these characters are newly minted from the minds of the team at Gun Media, with freshly crafted lore that connects to the original film, and unique abilities; these characters bring a breathe of fresh air to the roster of playable characters.
Johnny brings a tracking ability to the table. He can investigate foot prints of survivors and track them much like the detective vision from the Arkham games. This made the hide and seek aspect of Family matches very busy and fun. I spent most of my time when queuing as Family utilizing Johnny and found him to be especially useful. I always found myself chasing somebody or tracking and it made his identity in the family really stand out.
Sissy is a Manson-girl inspired addition to our serial cannibals. She utilizes poison and has the agility of Hitch-Hiker. She is capable of poisoning different items on the map such as health bottles, valve handles, and fuses. She can craft more of her poison traps and this gives her some room for use. One example I found myself using her ability was by putting a cloud near a door a survivor could choose to go too, and effectively zoning them into a corner where I could slash them to bits.
There is the inclusion of another survivor too. Julie, her ability allows her to reduce her stamina drain, as well as make herself harder to track. Think of her as the anti-Johnny. To briefly explain all of the victim skills, Connie gets an instant lock pick, Leland can tackle a family member, Ana gets a short buff that increases damage resistance, and Sonny gains the ability to track sounds. The way these skills play into matches fit nicely within the loop of Victim matches because skills have a hefty cooldown that limits abuse.
Not All BBQ Tastes Good Going Down
I’ve talked about what I love about TCM, lets break down some criticism. I have some issues with the game as I have reviewed it. It starts with the party system which is actually kind of confusing. It should be simple, but I found trying to set up groups very difficult until through trial and error my group figured out the issue.
The only way I found the system consistently would work is from the main menu, and after you hit start on your controller or “c” on the keyboard. The game creates a code that you can share with the people you’re trying to play with. This system is identical to trying to create a match further in the UI after you click “Play” and the second section would almost always end with individuals getting an invalid message and even when using the party system from the main menu, you couldn’t click it from any other part of the UI or it would not work and would give the invalid selection when your friends input the code.
My second bout of criticism comes down to servers that host games. Unlike the tech test where I only encountered a couple of bugs, I ran into a few plaguing the matches. I’m sure most of these will be fixed in the coming weeks, but it’s important to know about them regardless. If you don’t start a private match, the minimum number of players is 4, if you are playing via match-making the lobby needs to be full. Once going into a match, I found my frames would drastically drop at times around asset heavy establishments or around multiple victims as family or vice versa. This would only be a random kind of effect, but it would make some scenarios difficult.
This point of criticism I feel only needs to be mentioned, because it can effectively ruin an entire game. If someone disconnects on the family side, their character model stays where they disconnected. This means if a Leather Face disconnects in the doorway to the main house, you won’t be able to go past him. Gun Media has also expressed there will be no disconnect penalty; this can become a natural occurrence I feel. Without bots to fill those shoes it can make playing Victim significantly easier for example, if a Leather Face is gone, you can abuse the obstructions that only his character can destroy. I hope this changes in the future to make matches more seamless, even if someone disconnects.
Another thought worth pointing out is at the moment the game has no anti-cheat and I can imagine this will grow to be a problem as the player base expands and more people take interest.
My last bit of criticism falls on the objective layout on the newest map, the gas station. I found the map had an obscene amount of Leather Face required obstructions that hindered my progress as family. This got to a point that made navigating the map exceptionally difficult, as well as this map also has an exit that is supremely simple to escape from or at least bypass one of the mechanics of exits without turning off the generator or car battery. If a Victim/s have a multitude of lock-picks they can simply go through the main gas station building.
This is important because on the other maps, the sound of the generator and being able to see a red light by an exit gate or a green one can influence what a family member does next. You can determine if you have to turn back on an objective. Yet on the gas station I found multiple instances of survivors getting through the front door figuratively without much of a way to tell unless you check to ensure you can still lock them.
Fun, Fun, Fun, Til’ The Family Takes The Exit Away
At the heart of Gun Media’s latest venture into Asymmetrical Horror lies an immensely fun and faithful dive into a legendary franchise. In the masterfully crafted maps and characters, lie details that make the experience immersive and worth playing. At this time, the game is on the lighter side of content, but given Gun’s track record, I’m sure we can expect plenty of more content in the coming months.
What really makes TCM so magnificent is it’s sense of community while playing. Each match is an experience ripped straight from a grainy film real, making a permanent cut in the genre’s space. I look forward to playing this title with friends, and making more along the way. Texas Chain Saw Massacre the Game revs its way to PlayStation, Xbox, PC on August 18th with immediate day one access on Xbox Game Pass for PC and console.
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