Sumo Digital explains why there’s more to its upcoming multiplayer horror, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, than just Leatherface…
We’re well familiar with the ingredients needed to achieve an asymmetrical multiplayer horror hit by this point. Take a fan-favourite slasher series (usually from the 1970s or 1980s), pit four friends together against its iconic killer within a singular location, and have them try to survive or escape the grisly scenario while completing rudimentary objectives before the time runs out. Simple, right? Except in Sumo Digital’s faithful interpretation of 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre movie, it’s anything but. The Nottingham-based studio is instead taking special care to ensure that its twist on the tried and tested genre is made up of more than just Leatherface. Now it’s a family matter.
“If you’ve seen the original film, he’s all about family,” explains lead designer Kelvin Moore. “Fair enough, he’s got a chainsaw, but he’s still this human character underneath. He can’t survive on his own. He needs his family.” While it might initially seem strange to have a figure as recognisable as Leatherface share the spotlight with peripheral characters from the film, this was the angle Sumo Digital used as an in. It was a unique opportunity to use an established horror franchise for a more terrifying four-versus-three setup as opposed to the conventional four-versus-one. No longer will people playing as survivors have numbers on their side.
Of course, this more balanced arrangement requires two extra playable villains, and the biggest challenge comes from making each just as interesting as Leatherface. “They all need each other to stop these victims from going away,” Moore continues. Emphasising this is each family member’s unique abilities and skills that help prevent survivors from escaping the house. “Leatherface obviously has his chainsaw… he can destroy things. Then you’ve got The Cook who’s better at hearing things. He can help track where the victims are and guide his brothers where to go. And then you’ve got The Hitchhiker, who’s more nimble and agile. He can [slip] through cracks in the walls like the victims can. So they have to work together.”
As much as Sumo Digital sees the game as a good opportunity to expand on the movie’s lore, by fleshing out aforementioned characters like The Cook and The Hitchhiker, equally as essential is staying authentic to the original film. True, TheTexas Chain Saw Massacre is a horror series that’s seen more prequels, reboots, and reimaginings than most, and although asymmetrical horror games of this style have sought to pay respect to all the incarnations of its franchise, that’s not the case here. Rather than running before they can walk, the team at Sumo Nottingham views director Tobe Hooper’s movie as its sole inspiration and the game’s foundation. Sorry, Jessica Biel fans…
“This game is 100 percent authentically driven from the first film,” says senior executive producer Darren Campion. “It’s set in that period of a couple of months or years just before, and the exposition gives all these [victims] a story. Why are they here? What are they trying to escape? They’ve gone to that house for a reason. This gives both ourselves as a dev team, and also players, more purpose and it makes those characters more real. They aren’t just random – they’ve been written with a backstory in mind.”
It doesn’t matter how successful or popular your licensed game becomes; time has regularly proven that such projects are always at the mercy of the IP holder. This is something Texas Chainsaw publisher Gun Interactive knows all too well. Having helped to kick-start the asymmetrical horror trend back in 2017 when working with developer IllFonic on Friday the 13th: The Game, confusion over who owned the rights led to the game losing further support after just three years, despite continued player interest. But lessons have apparently been learnt, and no such issues are expected to affect Sumo Digital’s genre take.
“We don’t see any IP issues at all,” says Campion. “It was actually the IP holder that went to Gun [Interactive]. Because of that, it’s going to be a continued game for the foreseeable future with none of those problems that they had before.” Better yet, these negotiations were all agreed on before Sumo Digital was selected as developer. “They came to us and we started talking to them because they wanted experience in the triple-A market. They wanted to see how they could really step up their games and take the experience from a developer like us.”
Kim Henkel, the film’s screenwriter, is even acting as a producer on the game, reinforcing each party’s intent to not only co-operate, but also create something special that Texas Chain Saw fans new and old can appreciate.
So far, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has all the makings of a decent multiplayer platform that can keep slasher enthusiasts engaged. The four-versus-three setup helps separate it from other asymmetrical offerings based on a horror IP, and the licence-holder being so deeply involved bodes well for the experience’s ability to adapt and evolve, should it prove as popular as Sumo Digital hope. Most notably, though, for the first time ever in this franchise, the inclusion of Leatherface’s extended family ensures there’s more than just a chainsaw to fear.