SAW is a happy game with bunnies and flowers and cakes. Arch villain Jigsaw’s had a change of heart and is dishing out presents because… no, not really. It’s bloody miserable. It’s also hugely dark, crudely animated, has ropey combat, and the scenarios – despite getting more and more gruesome as the game goes on – start to drag after a few hours. Not much to like then? Well…
Despite all these fundamental flaws, SAW isn’t such a terrible game. Anyone taken by the film’s distinctive, grim style of torture porn will certainly love the game Zombie Studios have cooked up. In terms of being true to its source material, SAW is one of the best tie-ins we’ve played. Tobin Bell (the chap who plays lead antagonist Jigsaw in the movies) lends his distinctive vocal talents to the Jigsaw character in-game, instantly giving the whole thing a massive boost in authenticity.
Crudely, it plays like a funnelled version of Silent Hill: you solve basic puzzles, whack a few foes and shuffle onto a ‘boss’ puzzle, before repeating the process. The traps and scenarios are also similarly well implemented, although not entirely original. One puzzle near the middle of the game sees you trying to save a partner (you play as a cop with a troubled past called Tapp) from a giant scythe trap, which slowly descends on the victim strapped to the table below it. Fail to clock the three rather tricky puzzles in time and the scythe chops your partner clean in half – just like in the classic short story, The Pit and the Pendulum. And you see it happen too. No squeamish camera pans away from the gore, or blacked out screens with a bit of screaming in the darkness – just mildly realistic gore in HD. Charming.
However, the game quickly becomes a victim of its own shock value. Once you’ve wrestled a helmet made out of a bear trap off your head in the opening scene, stuck your hand into a toilet filled with hypodermic needles, watched a man have his brains blown out by a rigged-shotgun door, and beaten another human to death with a length of pipe, even the most extreme kills in the game tend to blend into one another.
What’s that, Jigsaw? We have to watch a man getting his body twisted into a bloody pulp if we don’t complete a few electricity puzzles? Hang on – let us finish our sandwich and we’ll be right there. Can’t be worse than that time you made us fish that key out of a barrel of acid (by the way, the arm has healed miraculously), you old rascal. And once the executions lose their initial sting, there’s little else to push you through the painfully dreary levels that make up the rest.
And if the environments are shabby, then the combat is utterly loathsome. Like old-school Silent Hill (and this being a Konami game, we suspect Zombie Studios were allowed to root around in Silent Hill’s cookie jar for some of their now stale ideas) you hold a button to enter combat stance and wildly flail. Too simple, and annoyingly unresponsive. We wish we could avoid fighting altogether and just solve the puzzles and set up the odd trap for an unsuspecting victim to wander through.
Yes, the puzzles are definitely SAW’s stand-out feature. There are all kinds of fiddly mind and finger teasers, and most aren’t insultingly easy. In fact, when you’re puzzling against the clock in later stages the game can get quite tense. ‘Boss’ battles are a highlight. You fight to either free an acquaintance or save your own life by solving puzzles, which can range from block-sliding to tests of observation where you gain the combination to locks by looking at text in a mirror. Clever, but the real head-scratcher is this: do you pay full price for a dark puzzle game? Unless you really love horror porn, the answer is ‘no’.
Oct 28, 2009