Like most people, Wes Keltner, Studio Head at Gun Interactive, spent most of 2020 working from home. But unlike most people, his job involved him tinkering with a strange little box called the Apprehension Engine. You think of it as a kind of “musical” instrument, with outgrowths of strings and knobs and warped strips of metal jutting out in all directions from its wooden frame, producing demonic twangs and echoes from hell when poked, prodded, and contorted in just the right way.
“There’s nothing melodic about any of it,” says Keltner of the devilish machine. “I spent a year at home obsessing over how to tease out the sounds I wanted. Eventually, those sounds became the sound bed for our Texas Chainsaw Massacre game.”
Like Keltner, the team at Gun went to incredible lengths to make sure their Texas Chainsaw Massacre game lived up to Tobe Hooper’s horror movie classic. They traveled to the original locations in Texas to take over 10,000 reference photos. They found the exact make, model, and year of the chainsaw that they used from the movie (three of them, actually) to ensure the chainsaw in the game looks and sounds just right. They even placed the sun at the precise point in the sky that it is during Leatherface’s iconic death dance at the end of the movie. The teams at Gun Interactive and Sumo Digital aren’t just fans of the film; they’re fanatics.
“There’s always a lot of pressure handling a big IP like this,” Keltner explains. Mind you, the studio is no stranger to adapting horror IPs. Their multiplayer survival horror hit Friday the 13th is a clear predecessor to TCM. “You can feel and see that we’re obsessed when you play the game. This is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre game, not a series of ideas that got smashed together and then got a Texas Chainsaw sticker slapped on it. That’s not how we make games”
Den of Geek was invited to play a few sessions of the game with the devs, and their love for the film was apparent from the beginning. The map I played on prominently featured the Slaughter Family’s house and the surrounding farm area. The map’s resemblance to the same location from the film is dead-on. From the animal skulls mounted on the red wall by the staircase to the overgrowths of weeds and sunflowers outside the house, those images that the original film burned into our brains years ago are all recreated in the game.
But the only way the game can truly pay homage to the film is if it captures the same type of raw terror that set Texas Chainsaw apart from so much that came before and so much that came after. Well, from what I played, the game is definitely terrifying. Perhaps not in the exact same way the movie was (it’s certainly much gorier than the surprisingly subtle 1974 movie was, for instance), but in a way that furthers what the game is trying to accomplish while still staying true to the film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre divides players into two teams: The Slaughter Family and the Victims. Leatherface heads up the Family, naturally, using his chainsaw to mow down obstacles and Victims alike. Then there’s the Cook (who’s good at locating Victims from afar) and the Hitchhiker (who’s the most nimble and adept at setting traps). The Family must protect Grandpa: an NPC who can give away the locations of the Victims as long as he’s fed a steady diet of the Victims’ blood.
The way the Family is portrayed and utilized in the game feels so right (albeit in a somewhat “wrong” way). Functionally, they work as video game villains, but they also feel as scary and mysterious as they did in the original film. Gun Interactive and Sumo Digital know what made those villains work in that movie, and their dedication to capturing and repurposing those qualities shines as bright as the sun reflecting off Leatherface’s whirling weapon.
Unlike the original film, though, all of the Victims in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre game have a fighting chance to make it out alive. The catch is that they all need to work together and sneak their way out of the Family compound. Players can choose from five different Victims: Ana, Connie, Sonny Julie, and Leland, each with their own perks, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s crucial to think strategy and stealth when playing on the Victim team because…well, the Family has the teens at a serious disadvantage if they get their grimy hands on them.
Hearing Leatherface rev up his chainsaw in the next room is truly frightening, as is emerging from a dusty crawlspace in the basement only to come face-to-face with the Hitchhiker just waiting for the chance to put his knife to your throat. The game makes it abundantly clear that the Family is not only genuinely scary but is in full control of this space you’ve entered. You’re made to feel as if you’ve entered an inescapable scenario, which is, again, true to the film the game is based on.
Despite the tension of playing as the Victims (and the way those characters’ collective names imply their fate), the game doesn’t make you feel like you’re being “punished” whenever you’re cast in those roles. The asymmetrical, cat-and-mouse gameplay is enjoyable no matter what side you’re playing on, and a lot of that has to do with the developers’ emphasis on giving the Victims several ways to elude their attackers.
Unlike other games in this title’s arena, TCM grants the Victims a significant advantage in the stealth department. Using occlusion on the character models, TCM allows victims to be completely hidden from Family members’ view when in shadowed areas or other obscured spots (like in the sunflower fields). The Family may have certain skills and advantages, but they’re not superhuman. Players who know what they’re doing can take advantage of the Family’s natural shortcomings, even when they’re in the most terrifying scenario imaginable.
“In the basement, you can literally hide in a shadow and the family can’t see you at all,” explains game designer Robert Fox II. “It’s all about breaking line of sight.”
Using your environment to your advantage is the only way to survive as a Victim. You need to be cognizant of where the Family members are by using your eyes, ears, and communication with your teammates, and you need to be aware of all hiding spots and exit routes. This may be the family’s home, but you can eventually become familiar with those surroundings.
That is easier said than done, though. The game’s presentation is so moody and panic-inducing (particularly in the sound department) that it’s hard to keep your composure most of the time. Like Sally in the original film, there are times when you’ll feel like simply sitting there and screaming just because the whole thing feels like too much to deal with. While that kind of feeling can chase some away from horror titles, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre team wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Playing as a Victim can feel overwhelming,” says Keltner. “But that’s in the spirit of the film.”
It’s unlikely that any new rendition of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will completely live up to, let alone surpass, the greatness of Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece. But when it comes to respecting what makes the original film so legendary, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre game goes above and beyond. It’s not a parody of the original film, it’s not a spiritual sequel, and it’s certainly not whatever Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation was. It’s both a glowing tribute to the original movie and a fascinating examination of the many ways that the movie lends itself to this type of game.
In 1983, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre game for the Atari 2600 served as one of the earliest licensed horror games and one of the earliest pure horror games, in general. The game was quite bad, but even at that time, the potential for a great Texas Chainsaw Massacre game was clear. Nearly 40 years later, Gun Interactive looks to realize that potential.
“To talk about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is to talk about horror as a whole,” says Keltner of the film. “It was a watershed moment for the genre. We’re honored that we get to bring it to a whole new generation of players.”
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is scheduled to be released in 2023 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.