by Dan Lenois
reviewed on PC
A Bad Beginning
Many people would probably dispute how best to start one's day, but finding yourself being tortured almost to death by a chainsaw-wielding psychopath probably won't end up on anyone's list. And yet, that's exactly how Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduces players to its world during the short obligatory pre-match cutscene. If you're exceptionally lucky, that's a sound you won't have to hear too often throughout the remainder of the match. Sound, of course, being a fundamental gameplay mechanic you'll have to consider at all times, as you plan and enact your escape, before you find yourself on tomorrow's lunch menu.
Your first task will be to free yourself from the meat hooks you're dangling from at the beginning of the match. However, the faster that you attempt to free yourself, the more noise you'll generate. Noise is something you'll have to be exceptionally careful of at all times. Everything you do creates noise, something that almost immediately becomes clear to anyone listening to the audio throughout the game.
The game doesn't particularly have anything resembling normal music or sound effect audio levels. Instead of some intense slasher music, you get this eerie, discordant amalgamation of what sounds like shrieks, random industrial noises, and other less-easily-identifiable sounds, all clashing together to create a unique cascading waterfall of hellish nightmares, always present, but rarely ever taking the fore. Its ominous presence, underlining every loud step you take, is more than enough to make even hardened horror game veterans deeply uneasy.
The auditory immersion doesn't end there. Killers will respond dynamically in specific in-game situations. In one such match, while playing as Cook, the homestyle chief who predictably specializes in cultivating fresh entrees of locally-sourced, all-organic human meat, I had just brutally killed one survivor, and several minutes later, spotted another and trotted off in hot pursuit. As my selected killer chased after the survivor, he called out "don't you want to know how your friend died?" Many other similar contextual voice lines exist, and they collectively do much to cement those interactions between players as meaningful and substantial.
A Sight to Slaughter For…
Visually, Texas Chain Saw Massacre doesn't attempt to push the upper limits of next-gen graphical fidelity. In fact, its visual quality, while more than acceptable, comes across as somewhat dated. Had one not known that the game released in 2023, it wouldn't be difficult to imagine this as pertaining to the mid 2010s. The maps are all well-detailed, with an excellent lighting system that truly makes both the day and night variants of each map more than stand out from one another, but many of the textures and assets, even when presented at their maximum graphical quality, will not blow players’ minds, not by any stretch of the imagination.
Graphical fidelity isn't something that developers necessarily need to treat like gospel. Many successful games from mainstream, AA, and indie developers have made due with a minimalistic approach. However, if your goal is to create a horror game with some veneer of grounded realism, it's not a bad idea to squeeze every ounce of graphical quality you can, where your budget allows.
Families that Kill Together, Stay Together
Each playable character in the game's roster, on both the killer's side, is unlocked from the start, and each one has their own intended role and playstyle. Leatherface acts as effectively a tank character, cutting a path straight through obstructions and barriers, allowing him and his teammates to more effectively navigate certain parts of the map. Cook focuses on placing locks on various doors, gates, and other interactable objects, creating new barriers for the survivors to overcome or avoid. And so the list goes on.
Likewise, on the survivor's team, each survivor has certain unique passive stats that reinforce a recommended playstyle. Certain survivors are more naturally attuned to stealth, while others are runners, and yet others are more brash and combative. However you prefer to engage the killers, you'll likely be able to find at least one survivor that matches up with what you’re looking for.
Tutorials without a Tutor
Texas Chain Saw Massacre does technically have a tutorial system, to accommodate the new player tutorial. It is, after all, reasonably unfair to expect more experienced players to babysit newcomers who are still struggling to learn the fundamental basics. No one wants to be on a team where the rest of you are on the same page, but one person is slowing everyone else up. This is why most other similar games, like Dead by Daylight or Friday the 13th: The Game, allow for Player Vs AI practice modes and other in-game tutorial systems, through which the player can practice at their own speed without hampering the gameplay experience of others.
However here, all players get, when they click on the game's tutorial button, located on the main menu, is a vertical list of clickable pop-up short 16:9 videos, almost as if the developers had outsourced their tutorial system to a series of YouTube videos.
The even more unfortunate thing is that, aside from reinforcing the barest fundamentals, these videos do little to bring the player up to speed on the more sophisticated elements and common strategies, which can only be learned instinctively through personal practice. Learning by watching someone else do something can be effective for vague concepts, but there’s an elemental value in putting theory to the test and engaging in some meaningful direct, personal practice.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre cuts its way to the top of the modern asymmetrical multiplayer horror market. While its darker tone and more sophisticated mechanics, compared to some of its competitors, may alienate some more casual players, diehard horror enthusiasts will find much to enjoy here.
While it's uncertain what longevity this game has in store, something that is largely dependent on the developers, and the assumption of post-launch free content updates, here's hoping that Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues to raise the hairs and bring forth screams from its playerbase for many years to come…
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Immersive atmosphere, outstanding audio quality, clearly-defined gameplay mechanics
Lack of proper tutorials or offline player vs AI practice mode, limited map pool