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While playing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre one evening this week, sneaking through a dingy basement littered with human bones on the floor and peeled faces on the walls, I wondered if it was a game that would suit my partner too. Aside from The Elder Scrolls Online and State of Decay 2, she doesn’t tend to play games, so I considered her experience with a variety of games and mechanics while pondering the matter, before unknowingly summarizing my entire perception of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre into one thought: “it’s simple to play yet scarily unpredictable.”

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre review: It’s the thrill of the kill

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s premise really is simple: the three Slaughter Family players try to murder the four helpless Victim players before they can escape. We’ve seen the asymmetrical multiplayer angle work for many games now, most notably with the extremely successful Dead by Daylight, but also in other games based on iconic franchises, such as Friday the 13th: The Game, Ghostbusters: Spirits Unleased, and Evil Dead: The Game, to name but a few. While each of those games utilizes a one-versus-four system, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre ups the stakes by throwing in three players as the killers, and the unpredictability that comes with that can make playing as a victim an extremely intense experience.

Set just before the events of the original 1974 movie of the same name, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre offers us five Victims and five Family (killers) characters to play as, each sporting various stats that determine their overall health, stamina, proficiency, and the like. Each also comes with a unique ability to help them get out of a tough spot or make tough spots — my main Victim has been Julie, a Californian who can reduce her sprinting stamina costs and throw a few of the killers off her trail for a short time. Over on the Family side, the poison-loving and cut throat razor-wielding Sissy has been my murderer of choice. While the stats and abilities help out a ton when playing, this game thrives on offering you risk-versus-reward scenarios at every opportunity, and more often than not, it’s solely down to a bad decision I’ve made that has turned me into a human pincushion.

the texas chain saw massacre xbox review

Without any single-player or offline modes, you’ll need to hop into a public lobby or create a private one with a minimum party size of four — due to matches only starting once all seven players have joined, my time actually playing matches during the review period was limited, which is why I decided to hold off on my review until now. Additionally, there isn’t a tutorial to play through either, only a short video-based overview of each part of the game. I spent quite some time watching through everything before starting my first game, but there was no hope for me to remember everything, and as such, I met my grisly end. To be honest, though, I think it worked better because my beginning matches were among the most intense times I’ve had with the game. Having no idea what you’re doing just makes you feel like one of the Victims, and it was great… yet terrifying.

Playing as a Victim really is a tense experience right from the start. You begin each match tied up in a large basement that spans the majority of the map’s size, featuring a web of connected corridors and rooms. Your mission is to escape the basement via any one of the many exits, which will take you to the surface level, where you’ll then need to find a way out of one of those many exits to escape properly. There isn’t a slow start in this game at all, however, because one prerequisite of starting a match is that one of the Family members has to play as Leatherface — you know, the chainsaw-wielding, other-person’s-face-wearing, hulk of a man — and he starts… you guessed it: in the basement with you all. I’ve played 53 matches across my 11 hours of actual in-match playtime, with the vast majority of those matches having been spent as a Victim, and the sound of that chainsaw as he is charging down the halls still gets my blood pumping.

the texas chain saw massacre xbox review

As a victim, you need to find a tool for unlocking one of the exit doors, which presents you with a small mini-game. Once unlocked you have to open it, which creates noise, temporarily alerting every player on the map to your location. Noise is one of the biggest killers in the game, as being too hasty, scaring chickens, knocking into windchimes made of bone, and the like all give away your location. Slow and steady wins the race in this game, taking opportunities when they present themselves. When one of the Family is near you, your screen gains a yellow border, and if you’re spotted your only options are to run and hope you can lose them. Carrying a scavenged piece of bone can help you fight back via an A-button-tapping mini-game, but winning that only temporarily stuns the murderer trying to get you, so you’re back to running and hiding if you hope to survive. Using various crawl spaces and such can give you the upper hand, although some Family members can follow you through them, so as a last resort, one of the numerous wells that see you drop back into the basement always work as a decent enough escape route.

On the Family side, your job is to simply slaughter the Victims before they can escape. Naturally, it’s a little less tense on this side of the food chain, as is the way when you’re the predator and not the prey. It’s far busier, however, as the maps are pretty large, offering multiple levels and numerous exits. With just three of you having to cover it all, you’ve got to keep your wits about you. Each character comes with various ways to hunt down or stop the victims, such as Cook’s ability to add extra padlocks to doors or enhanced hearing to locate Victims, while Johnny has a tracking ability, and Hitchhiker can lay down traps. Utilizing their unique skills can give you a huge amount of help. You’re also able to feed blood to Grandpa, who uses a sonar sweep to highlight moving Victims for a time — the more blood he gets, the better his sonar ability becomes, while also unlocking the special Family Bond perks for your team. Watch out, though, because the Victims can incapacitate him. This practically adds a timer to the Victim’s lifespan, as Grandpa will begin highlighting them even when they’re not moving once he is strong enough.

the texas chain saw massacre xbox review

The skills and abilities used by the Victims and Family all depend on what you’ve unlocked in the Skill Tree and set as your loadout. Depending on the actions you perform during a match, you’re rewarded with XP at the end, and upon gaining a Player level you earn skill points (SP). I like and dislike this system in equal measure. The bonus is that character levels are tied to the number of skill points you’ve spent in their skill tree, with the maximum level being ten per character after spending 50 SP. If you can’t use the character you like during a match, it’s not so bad, because the progress is tied to your account and not the character. On the flip side, though, leveling your characters becomes a grind post player level 15, leaving you with one or two fully leveled characters or a selection of in-betweens.

Before I talk about some of the technical issues I’ve come into contact with, I want to touch on just how good this game is to play. There are only three levels, each with day and night variants, but the level of detail you can find is nothing short of superb. It’s gorgeous in every way, all the way down to the mutilated corpses — if you’re weird like me — and the love Sumo has for the IP is evident anywhere you look. With only the three locations on offer, which are settings from the movie, the more players become familiar with each environment the more intense each match becomes. Even now, the matches I’ve been playing in have become a game of skill as each player is aware of the easier exits, or popular routes. For me, this has increased the level of unpredictability of the game. AI enemies have patterns, but three human players with knowledge of the map and the characters they’re using complicate everything, while also offering some incredibly memorable moments.

the texas chain saw massacre xbox review

Just some of the situations I’ve come across include one time I was attempting to unlock a door and saw the latch twist as one of the killers unlocked it from the other side. After stopping what I was doing and just crouching against the wall, I thought I was a goner, but they somehow stepped out, relocked the door, and walked right past me without noticing a thing. Another highlight was found when creeping through the garden of the Family’s house. I had just stepped out and could hear Leatherface lumbering around on the second floor, revving his chainsaw as he chased a screaming Victim. Then, to my absolute surprise, I heard a window smash and the Victim landed right in front of me on the floor, slowly attempting to get back up after being stunned. It was hilarious, and to top it off, we both escaped the match together! It’s in those moments where The Texas Chain Saw Massacre truly shines.

For all of its amazing moments, there are odd times when technical hiccups let it down, however. Disconnected players or escaped characters can sometimes run on the spot, or your character decides it can’t use any escape routes for a match. When backing out of a lobby there seems to be a delay before you can rejoin another game, so you need to head back to the main menu before returning. There’s very little in the way of accessibility options, as well, with only subtitles, and slight control presets to play around with. My biggest gripe, though, is to do with XP, which seems to have a mind of its own. Escaping as a Victim seems to reward you with very few points, and the end-of-match screen regularly shows you leveling up after receiving a large amount of experience, only to then show that you’ve earned the tiniest amount when you head back to the lobby, and that you’re still at your previous level.

As for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre achievements, though, as far as I can tell, they’re all working as they should and align with the list we pulled in last year. I believe I’ve unlocked 22 of the 50 potential achievements. The skill system will make getting every character to level ten a little bit of a grind, but it looks like we’ll be playing for a minimum of 1974 matches, anyway!

the texas chain saw massacre xbox review

Summary

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is as gorgeous as it is brutal, terrifyingly unpredictable, and offers intense moments of dread as you attempt to escape the blood-stained clutches of the Slaughter Family. It’s an exciting game to play on either side, and the love for the IP is apparent everywhere you look. While there are a few technical issues that can sully the experience, this is a game that any horror fan should play.

8 / 10

* Tom played around 11 hours of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on Xbox Series X, unlocking 22 achievements in the process. A key for the game was provided by Gun Interactive for this review.

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