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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Daytime Horror Returns with the 'Texas Chain Saw Massacre' Game

My heart races and palms drip with sweat as I mash my mechanical keyboard in an effort to escape the house. When a piercing chain saw roars nearby, minutes of thoughtful strategy and diligent stealth go out the window with me as I lunge at the pane of glass separating my character from the outside world.

Bathed in sunlight and shards of glass, I take a moment to relish in the safety of the front yard. That’s a mistake. My heart stops as the Hitchhiker spots me from across the grass and heads right in my direction. His pocketknife connects with my back and slashes through the skin. My blood dripping and adrenaline coursing, I make a last ditch effort to sprint away on the dusty country roads. A screen pops up congratulating me for surviving this match of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre game. Finally, I let out a sigh of relief.

When Gun Interactive, publisher of Friday the 13th: The Game, offered WIRED a chance to play the demo build of its upcoming game, I jumped at the opportunity to try out another horror game. Dead by Daylight remains one of my favorite games, with its endless replayability and moments of community. I was curious whether another asymmetrical horror experience could capture my fascination, and the bloodbath in Texas did not disappoint.

The initial pitch for this game might sound similar to Dead by Daylight, but the execution is quite different. To start off, instead of one murderer versus a band of four survivors, in Texas Chain Saw Massacre four victims face off against three malevolent attackers. While Dead by Daylight gives victims little recourse for fighting back, in Texas you can fight until your last breath, whether that’s attempting to stab Leatherface back or throwing your shoulder down to take a killer out with a linebacker-style tackle.

I played only three rounds of Texas, and without access to the character’s skill tree, so it’s still too early to judge the game’s overall balance or replayability. Gun Interactive has not announced a specific release date, but the game, developed by Sumo Digital, is expected to drop in 2023. After the demo, I spoke with Gun Interactive’s Ismael Vicens, an executive producer, and Matthew Szep, a brand strategy lead, to learn more about the upcoming release.

Apart from the gameplay mechanics, the focus on daytime horror differentiates this game from other popular horror titles. “One thing that great horror does really well is taking something that people should feel safe about and adding the horror to it,” says Vicens. “Because then it subverts their expectations and it gives them that unease right off the bat.” Expanding on the subversive horror of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre game, he says, “You escape into that front yard as a victim and it’s beautiful. The sun’s on the horizon, there’s these long shadows and colorful fields of flowers. And yet, you also know there’s a dude with a chainsaw that’s about to bust through the door and come at you.”

Elaborating why video games are a great medium for horror, Szep says, “It’s taking a medium that exists where, you’re a bystander in the horror when you watch a movie; you’re an active participant or victim of the horror when you’re playing the game.”

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The small publisher encountered legal hurdles with a previous title, Friday the 13th: The Game, when the screenwriter for the original movie, Victor Miller, successfully reclaimed domestic rights. The lawsuit halted the release of new content for Friday the 13th: The Game. Vicens pushed back against the idea that the Texas Chain Saw Massacre game is a shot at redemption for the publisher. “It’s not about just diving back in and iterating on a formula that we’d already done. It was that we can see a really good game with something new for us and something different for us that still falls within the wheelhouse of what we do.”

Horror enthusiasts may be cautious about getting their hopes up after everything fizzled out with Friday the 13th, but Vicens sounds confident that the current situation is different. “One of the benefits with Texas is that all the rights are held by a single entity, Kim Henkel, the original writer of the film,” he says.

Whether you play as a member of the cannibalistic family or the desperate victims, the Texas Chain Saw Massacre game appears to be a bloody, satisfying experience that shines bright within the current landscape of dark, dingy horror games.

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