Written : Monday, October 12, 2009
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
The Saw franchise has always been amazing to me. An independent film made with little over a million dollars (a price that would barely fund a single scene in a film like Iron Man), the original Saw took the world by storm and ballooned its revenue more than 100 times over back in 2004. With sequels being released every single Halloween season since, now going onto its sixth film later this month, it has firmly cemented itself in the horror genre. So it is only natural that such a success would attempt to branch out and reach other markets. Enter, Saw the Video Game.
I don't suppose I can just pry this off...
Presented in the survival/horror/puzzle genres, Saw focuses on Detective David Tapp, originally played by Danny Glover in the first Saw film. Unfortunately Glover does not return for voice acting or likeness, but it is still nice to have that tie to the franchise roots. Tapp has been abducted by the Jigsaw Killer, faithfully voiced by actor Tobin Bell, and locked in an abandoned insane asylum. Dozens of other people are locked in with him, most notably six people tied to his obsession over the Jigsaw case, which ultimately got him kicked off the police force and killed by another participant of Jigsaw's games. The game obviously ignores that last tidbit, instead showing that Jigsaw healed Tapp to participate in his next game.
Progressing through the game is controlled by test after game after puzzle, though unfortunately the variety in these is a bit lacking. There are multiple instances where the game will do an "X-ray" feature while Tapp thrusts his hand into needle-packed toilets, barrels of acid or human cadavers. These are the easiest of the puzzles, simply requiring you to move the hand and press a button to retrieve a key or similar object required to progress. Other more interesting puzzles include fuse boxes in which you will manoeuvre various pieces until all sections of the grid have power, pipe puzzles which have four distinct rings that need to be turned until the two sides are connected by one continuous pipe, and gear puzzles that task you with placing gears of three sizes into holes until a moving gear can be connected to a non-moving gear on the opposite side.
The "boss" encounters at the end of each case are unfortunately again just rehashes of the small traps you find throughout the game, but instead of completing them to save yourself and progress, you are completing them to save one of the aforementioned six people tied to yourself, many of whom do not wish to be saved. Three of the six however are unique and quite interesting to complete, using elements not found anywhere else in the game. If there was only one thing the game did well, I'd say the puzzles that are put before you are excellently constructed, well thought out and best of all, difficult enough that you may not get it on your first attempt. Better yet, they are completely randomized, so you will need skill and planning to complete them, not just blind memorization or a guide of some sorts, but then again, the lack of variety is disconcerting when you complete the fuse puzzle for the tenth time.
Surprisingly slick environments from the Unreal Engine.
Aside from the specific puzzle traps, there are multiple environmental traps to watch out for as you play. Various doors are equipped with shotguns that will go off and take your head with them if you don't quickly hit an on-screen button to deactivate them. There are also random tripwires that if you don't go slow and watch your feet, you could end up with the same loss of head. On top of that, there are those dozens of other "players" to contend with, all of whom are playing a fun game of "dig the key out of Tapp's chest that Jigsaw surgically implanted there." You will have to face these various enemies either in combat or by tricking them into traps that you have setup yourself, either by re-activating the shotgun traps or by turning on some electricity as they run through a puddle.
The combat system was one of the weakest experiences in the game for me. It works much like the original Condemned, having a variety of weapons that can be found throughout the levels, each of which will have degrading integrity and ultimately be rendered useless after so many attacks. Some are even one-shot uses, such as scissors which stay embedded in your enemy's face or needles which lose their serum after a single injection. Also like Condemned though, the system is somewhat slow and clunky, especially when going for stronger attacks which can take a few seconds to wind up, leaving you open for a quick attack from an enemy. Plus, there is an exploit wherein you can simply spam uppercuts with your fists and kill an enemy without him ever dodging or blocking, rendering the entire system moot if you wish to simply bowl through.
While the environments in the game are fairly redundant (the game is confined to a single abandoned asylum after all), the construction and presentation are actually pretty excellent. The lighting is scarce enough to keep things spooky and intense, while the light cast from your lighter or flashlight only illuminates enough to give you a small picture of what may be going on. In fact, often the darkness is required to solve certain puzzles with glow-in-the-dark writing on many walls for clues. On top of all that, victims of familiar Jigsaw traps can be seen in locked rooms or even out in the open for you to search the person's pockets for items. Nothing creepier than turning a corner and finding a man chained to a wall, slumped in a pool of his own blood.
Oh, aren't you cute!
One thing I can't praise enough is Tobin Bell's voice acting in this game. Much of his work in the films themselves is simply through the audio tapes he leaves for his victims and that holds true here as well. His sickly, gravel crunched voice is the icing on top of an already suspenseful soundtrack, guiding you along and taunting you with your own obsession over catching the man who put you in this situation. The music in the background is just that, in the background. Rarely does it make itself prevalent, instead using distant screams or taunts from the game's other "players" and the normal environmental sound effects to set the mood. During the mini-games and puzzles it racks up a notch to get your heart racing and re-enforce the time constraint you are no doubt under to complete said puzzle.
The achievements are another thing done fairly well. Most of the 1000 gamerscore can be accomplished by simply playing through the main story and using the things found in the environments. There are specific achievements for a single kill with each weapon, rather than one achievement for using them all or achievements for getting X number of kills with each. There are achievements for finding a single collectible of each type rather than finding them all. There are also achievements for finishing each section of the game without any special requirements. The only hitch is the two achievements for earning each of the game's two endings, but luckily this is simply a choice at the end of the game and both can be earned by simply reloading a previous save file, rather than a forced second play of the entire game.
Now, as much praise as I've given this game, I don't want to mislead you into running right out and buying a copy. I really liked it, but at a scant 10 hours of gameplay and, aside from the randomized puzzles, a very linear progression, there isn't a whole lot of replay value to it. However, if you're a fan of the Saw franchise or of horror/survival/puzzle type games, this is a must-rent. With a little more variety in the traps, a redesigned combat system and maybe more incentives to really take in all the game has to offer, this could have been one of the better games of the year. As it is though, Saw is simply a very fun game to pass the time until the big hitters come out later this holiday season.
Tobin Bell is fantastic as Jigsaw and the ambient noise, distant screams and environmental reactions all set a perfect mood for this genre.
A bit redundant at times, but overall well executed. Like the soundtrack, the environments set the mood well.
Very easy to control and a linear progression that rarely leaves you lost. The puzzles are somewhat difficult, but only in execution and not actually in figuring out what the objective is.
A bit too much repetition and lack of overall variety, though with a bigger budget, better development team (no offense Zombie, Inc!) I could really see this franchise being a hit on home consoles like it has been in movie theaters.
I like that you aren't forced to go out of your way all that much when playing the game for these, but ultimately that is also one of the downfalls since they are a bit too easy and don't offer any incentive to really explore the game.
I actually really enjoyed this game, but I can't say it really wowed me though. It was short, repetitive and overall didn't add anything new to the genre, but somehow just like its movie counterpart, it had charm and didn't aim to do anything but provide enjoyment; something it succeeded in very well.