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The Slasher Genre is Back; Now What?

If you’re a gamer and a fan of the slasher film genre, then this is either a really good time to be both of those things, or it’s just the worst. After staying entirely under the radar for decades — indies are an exception to this, but barely — we’ve seen a beloved genre return to video games with a renewed vigor and sense of purpose, sort of like that scene in every horror movie where the survivors think they’ve felled the bad guy only to have their premature celebration cut short when he suddenly returns.

For developers, the purpose is to deliver slasher fans an experience that is as brutal and as unpredictable as the films they’re inspired by, so what we’re getting in games like Dead by Daylight, Friday the 13th: The Game, and the upcoming crowdfunded indie Last Year has consisted almost exclusively of variations of the same asymmetrical multiplayer formula. That’s not necessarily a criticism, more an observation — I’m not going to complain about having three options when we effectively had none only a year ago.

Dead by Daylight was an instant success when it debuted on Steam last year and that doesn’t appear to have had an impact on Friday the 13th, but saying for sure is tough without actual sales numbers for each game on each platform. I suspect there’s room for (at least) two games like that, though it remains to be seen if Last Year will prove that three really is a crowd.

I don’t think we’ll need to worry about overcrowding for a while yet, and that’s good. It means we have time to play around with other styles of gameplay to see if they might be worth exploring if, for some reason, the multiplayer angle shows signs of fizzling out.

Multiplayer pairs nicely with the basic structure of a slasher film, and it helps that it also makes a game less risky to produce and significantly easier to monetize. The problem is it’s inevitably going to lose its luster and it ignores a substantial market for solo experiences. Playing Outlast often feels like I’m watching a super intense slasher film highlight reel, and the more ambitious “choose your adventure” game Until Dawn was similarly traditional in that it too eschewed a multiplayer component for a more tailored experience. Both games managed to handily outperform expectations and each eventually turned into a series.

The point is, there’s ample room in this space for developers to explore and do their own thing without stepping on each other’s toes. And I know slasher films have done nothing but emphasize how important it is for us to stick together in order to survive, but this is a case where it’s better to take risks and go investigate that strange noise. Not doing so would be akin to gathering the remaining camp counselors in one spot and hope Jason won’t bother looking for them there. Or something like that.

I wouldn’t mind seeing what a seasoned storyteller like Telltale Games might do with an episodic format based on something like Scream, or even Halloween. I have yet to watch a single episode of the Scream TV series, but I can’t imagine it’d be anything but improved if it were trimmed down to an easily manageable five episode miniseries. And if that’s asking too much, I’m absolutely okay with an asymmetrical multiplayer game based on The Thing. Playing a game of hide and seek with a living monster is easy peasy. A deeper, more primal kind of terror comes when you toss in a general sense of paranoia that one or more of your “pals” is really a monster disguised in a human mean sack.

This is the part where you come in. Let me know what you think of the direction the slasher genre is headed, and where you’d like to see it go next.

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