Hands-on impressions with Texas Chain Saw Massacre: 4v3 horror gives the villains a fair shake
Somewhere in the last decade, game developers found a fascinating new way to transplant some of Hollywood's greatest horror villains into the gaming space. Rather than build story-driven experiences that fail to reach the heights and nostalgia audiences feel for these beloved franchises, the industry chose instead to distill the relatable "us vs. him" thrills of these movies into a fascinating competitive multiplayer experience.
Dead By Daylight. Friday the 13th. Even Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleashed. All of these games implement a unique 4v1 experience where a group of helpless players fights back against one horrifying monster. The genre has remained steadfast since its debut, almost to a fault as the games end up feeling too familiar, leaving us exhausted by each new release before we've even played them.
So leave it to Leatherface — the human skin mask-wearing and chainsaw-wielding freak at the center of the genre-defining film Texas Chain Saw Massacre — to reinvigorate the genre. The upcoming stealth-and-slashing game from Sumo Digital and Gun Interactive offers a new 4v3 approach that resets the balance of asymmetric horror gameplay.
"With such a familial connection, it just wouldn't feel right for four teens to face off against Leatherface alone. I mean, as it says above the Sawyer family mantle, the family that murders together stays together."
Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Gun Interactive
Platform(s): PC, PS4/5, Xbox Series consoles
Price: TBA (free for Xbox and PC Game Pass subscribers)
Release Date: Aug. 18, 2023
Tech test access provided by Evolve PR.
Honoring the Texas Chain Saw legacy
I recently had the opportunity to hop into a weekend-long (May 25 – 29) technical test for Sumo Digital and Gun Interactive's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to try out their new asymmetrical multiplayer horror game and get a first taste of blood with the horrifying Sawyer family.
For those unfamiliar, the Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise follows a disturbing cannibal family's senseless killing sprees of groups of teenagers who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A movie franchise about the painful emptiness and incomprehensible horror of its violence, it put people on edge for years after its release.
Across its nine films over the last 50 years, the franchise has stayed true to the Sawyer family at the heart of it and the brutal but grounded killing that made the original so garish. No fantastical monster or ghost. Just humans, common household tools, and horrifying deeds. For all that Sumo and Gun do to mix up the genre, they keep one thing that nearly all the games in the genre manage: a genuine dedication to and appreciation for the source material.
Leatherface has made several appearances in games, including stops in Mortal Kombat and Dead by Daylight, but hasn't had his own game since his appearance in the controversial 1982 Atari 2600 game named after the movie. Needless to say, Sumo's fully digitized versions of locations like the Sawyer family home, gas station, and slaughterhouse are a lot more compelling for fans of the franchise than a representation of its iconic villain that looks like this.
The entire family is here, with Leatherface, The Cook, and The Hitchhiker available as the only playable killers in the tech test and brand-new members of the family, Sissy and Johnny, coming at launch. Grandpa, who fans of the franchise will know, is pretty important to these blood-hungry boys and has a key role, although not a playable character... I'll get to that later.
I imagine the killer cast will be fairly static, but the Texas Chain Saw Massacre franchise, as all horror movies do, definitely got weird over time and has some interesting characters to draw from if the team pursues licensing for more films in the franchise in upcoming years.
While I can't imagine Matthew McConaughey's WILD bone-leg-braced and Illuminati-adjacent Vilmer from Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Next Generation will show up, I could definitely see the metal-plated Chop Top and the hook-handed Tink Sawyer being great additions.
The victimized cast of teenagers, meanwhile, are brand-new characters. It would be fascinating to see the future opportunity to play as or at least interact with one of the first "final girls" in horror history, Sally Hardesty.
Regardless, the final game promises tons of customization options, for killer and victim alike. You can see that a good deal of painstaking work has gone into the reproduction of the Sawyer family property and even the minute details of the summer in Texas, plus winks and nods to the movies in tons of ways — one favorite is the homage to the iconic window jumps that Sally makes in the 1974 film.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre — changing the game since 1974
This Texas Chain Saw Massacre game switches things up for the familiar genre. Instead of the traditional four victims vs. one killer format that's become standardized over time, Texas Chain Saw Massacre implements a more balanced four victims vs. three killers format.
It's a fitting change for a franchise centered around the Sawyer family. With such a familial connection, it just wouldn't feel right for four teens to face off against Leatherface alone. I mean, as it says above the Sawyer family mantle, the family that murders together stays together.
The addition of two extra threats creates an interesting shift in priority for both teams. For the victims, there's a bigger stealth focus as they try to reach their goal — simply put, to survive, hide, and get the hell out of there, either together or alone.
And although you'd think having two extra pairs of hands would make things a breeze for the killers, it actually adds some challenges by spreading out the objective and priorities and requiring strategizing and communication across the team. With a larger and more layered map, the shift goes a long way toward making this feel like a brand-new take on such a familiar genre.
Matches start with the team of four — a new batch of Sawyer family victims — tied up in pairs in the basement. As the one killer who NEEDS to be in every match, Leatherface starts down in the basement, too, while two of his siblings start elsewhere on the map, ready to set traps and get to work tracking down anyone trying to escape.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre manages to instill a certain amount of helplessness in even the killers, helping to personify the constant frustration the Sawyers feel across the films. To keep an eye out for victims, the group of three must wander the immense map full of twists and turns; and even with the duty split across the team, it leaves lots of opportunities for the victims to evade you.
Leatherface is famous for the frustrated tantrums he throws that end each film, and players will be doing that a few times over in any given round as you hear characters unlock doors, break generators, and get closer to escape at every moment.
To push the killers' agenda forward, the most important system is to feed grandpa. Grandpa is an unplayable, silent fourth member of the killer team, the most important cog of the family both narratively and mechanically. From his random spawn point on the map, he serves as the killer's radar. As you accumulate blood by slashing at victims and from the blood pools the Sawyers have littered across the map, you'll want to stop in to feed grandpa blood and increase his sonar-like detection abilities, making it easier to spot the teenagers crawling around your farm.
It's a unique system that gives killers an interesting nagging priority that feels like the make-or-break for a successful round. Acknowledging that my experience with this genre is limited, it also feels like something different for the genre, pulling your attention from the victims skittering around.
Embrace your inner final girl
As for the victims, it's stealth above all else. No overcomplicated skill checks here. It's all about playing an intense game of hide-and-seek while gathering resources from the map and ultimately finding your way to escape.
With multiple escape points on each map, it feels like the game encourages you to split off from your companions to divide the menacing trio as far as possible. Even with that, the experience of getting away is a constant "out of the frying pan and into the fire." Escape the basement and Leatherface? Find yourself in the Sawyer Family House with the Hitchhiker. Get out of the house? Find yourself dodging frantically through the outdoors with the Cook.
You never feel like you've got your footing, and while you're working to keep your noise levels down and finding a way to unlock the nearest exit, a killer is rarely far away. Not unlike Sally from the original flick, it might be more about luck than actual skill that gets you out, and I think it's pretty great that Sumo Digital found a way to nail that feeling in a video game, even if it doesn't feel the most balanced.
With the tech test, where you've got the most limited knowledge possible, the scales definitely seemed stacked against the victims. But, while the tech test auto-assigned characters, the full game promises customizable skills, perks, and the ability to pick characters that match your skill set, so it's likely the balance will eventually get there.
I'm intrigued by the unique abilities that each character holds, though the tech test barely defined those. On the victim side, you've got stuff like being able to shove killers to the ground or being able to sprint away completely undetectable, while the killers may have things like being able to place unique traps and hear and pinpoint victims without grandpa's help.
These skills can be modified as you level up and clearly completely change the way the game is played. You worry about what the experience of a newbie playing with a veteran might look like, but again, the game's innate structure seems suited to provide a decent balance.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre still scares me. It's a movie I've taken in through clips on YouTube and story summaries rather than actually sitting down to watch it. And that's what I want to highlight the most as I finish this write-up. Sumo Digital and Gun Interactive's 4v3 competitive multiplayer approach doesn't remove that fear, where some of its contemporaries do tend to lose it.
Starting your escape, disoriented and afraid, poking through piles of bones for knives or strange toolboxes in the middle of a slaughterhouse for keys... only to hear the revving of a chainsaw and the muttering of a deranged individual somewhere nearby. It sends chills down your spine.
Finally making your way toward an exit, running into a killer, deftly escaping him... just to run into his brother around the corner. Horrifying.
In recent years, the genre has been defined by 4v1 clips of players goofing around with the one killer, dancing over their body when they knock 'em down or disorienting them with flashlights over and over while kiting them into a hole in the ground for the giggles. Texas Chain Saw Massacre feels like it has the opportunity to reintroduce genuine scares and worries back into the team of four, a needed and exciting disruption for the genre.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre will launch on August 18, 2023, for PC, PS4/5, and the Xbox Series consoles. It will launch on Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass as well.