SummaryThe Saw video game is a fascinating experiment, but it has many flaws that keep it from being truly great.
The GoodWhen it comes to the Saw movies, I have a bittersweet relationship. The first movie, which stands alone IMO, is a creepy tense and unique horror. The sequels were... well, ehhhhhhhhhh.... The first sequel was passable. By #3, they were overdoing it, one trap made me vomit. I see horror movies to be scared, not get stomach ailments. #4 made me suicidal, one of the worst movies ever. #5 wasn't much better, but it kept my attention because a character did something SMART. Haven't seen 6 yet, but people say it redeems the series... But enough about the movies, we're here to talk about the video game! Yah, I know what you are thinking. "How the hell does Saw work as a video game?" Well, you may be shocked: It actually kinda works. The operator being "Kinda." But let's start the review proper. Two notes: When I refer to "The movies," I mean the sequels more than I do the first film. The other note, there's a small spoiler. I won't spoil major plot points or the endings, but it was hard to leave one particular bit out. Kay, enough talking, let's get this review started.
Seeing as the game is based on a horror franchise, it wouldn't be proper as anything but.. what else? A survival horror game! Yet the first interesting thing of note is that puzzles are not just used as MacGuffin's or disguised key hunts like in most survival horror games, they are the main game mechanic. Which is suitable considering the premise. If you are not familiar with said premise, let me lay it down: There is a man known as The Jigsaw Killer. He is dying and believes that others do not value their lives, and sets up elaborate and sickening "games" to make people value their lives by relying on their most base instinct: Survival. These games often use traps or painful obstacles. One Detective Tapp has been hunting down Jigsaw, and his longtime partner Sing was killed by Jigsaw, but Tapp blames himself. In the game, you play as Tapp; finally captured by Jigsaw after being injured by a bullet wound.
The rest of the plot is surprisingly coherent, and for fans of the series or people like me who are picking up the table scraps that the movies have been laying down will enjoy it. It takes place between the first and second film, but ties up many plotholes for the entire series, although most of it pertains to #1 & #2, retaining several characters from those films.
The puzzles, although sometimes too easy or repetitive (more on that later) are inventive and will wrack your brain as they should. The best of them are what I like to call "Boss Traps," these traps only appear at the end of a level and are the most elaborate and you cannot afford to lose them as they hold the fate of key characters. Some boss traps even hold your fate in the balance as well. These are intense and the suspense is palpable, the crushing pressure of having to save someone and yourself on a deadly timer is scary and easily the highlight of the games atmosphere. There are one or two boss traps that can be "lost" without the game stopping, but they may affect events later on.
Tobin Bell plays Jigsaw just like he did in the films, and his voice is easily the highlight of the games acting talents. Hearing him say "Want to play a game?" is still a chilling experience. The other voices are okay, but they feel out of place. More on that later.
There are a few other interesting mechanics brought to the table that work and help improve the intense atmosphere. These mechanics revolve in the environment, there is combat and while its busted for reasons stated below, interactions with your enemies ARE genuinely interesting in some ways when avoiding direct combat. Not only can traps be used against your enemies, such as restringing a tripwire shotgun trap or activating faulty circuitry over water so that they will be electrocuted when stepping in the water. Another interesting mechanic is barring doors and blocking them, it adds to the tension and not only is it preferable over combat, sometimes its required. One level in particular, you have a shotgun collar on your neck. When an enemy with another collar comes close, lights start to blink. The closer they get, the faster the blinking, and if you get too close... *Boom* Your head is no longer there. However, they have a weakness: Their traps are timed. The further you step away from them, the less likely your collar is going to go off, however their collar will still go off if they do not kill you. Naturally, they know this and will be very hasty, so you will often have to use the barring mechanic or traps because getting too close means instant death.
The environment really helps set up the atmosphere. The sets look great, decrepit and dirty just like something from a Saw movie. The traps look great and there are many inventive ones that are sure to please fans of the traps in the movies. Obviously there's also the fact that the environment can be your worst enemy. Jigsaw left you with bare feet, and there's plenty of broken glass. There are shotgun doors that require a reaction or else you will lose your head. There are tripwires that set off various traps, and other hazards unique to specific areas and levels. Like any good survival horror game, you really feel the need to survive, and there's plenty out there that will kill you and not just the bad guys.
Do you like gore? Well, if you are a Saw fan, you obviously must at least be able to stomach it. Saw is a pretty gory game, while it isn't as disturbing or overdone as the movies (Thankfully, if I saw a guy being fed into a shredder and a pool of ground pig guts I would have to grab a barf bag again) it still has plenty of grisly scenes that will please fans of gore and some traps really make you feel the pain even when its not your trap. The worst the gore gets is a sequence where Tapp has to open his stomach and fish for a key in his own ribcage. That was painful enough that I winced in pain. By the way, that was the brief spoiler.
The BadAlthough I had a lot of good to say, I have a lot of bad things to say too. One of the biggest problems with the game are the controls. The puzzle controls are easy enough, but when you enter combat or have to use more complex interactions outside of a puzzle orientation, the controls go completely bonkers. Most of the time they don't respond, and others they respond too late. One time I was being chased by an enemy with a reverse bear trap on their head, and I told Tapp to hit the dude with a crutch, a long melee weapon that means they don't get close enough to you that their trap will hurt you, and he just started fidgeting with the crutch and then after 45- Count them, 45 seconds, he finally hit the guy. Switching between combat mode and standard mode is ridiculously frustrating and sometimes the controls get confused and will waste precious items. One time I had only one health needle left in a very dangerous area, and since the attack button is the same as the needle button, because the game didn't decide to read my wish to switch to combat mode I wasted the needle. Saw has one of the worst combat systems ever, and that's saying A LOT when you look at the fact that Resident Evil has tank controls and Silent Hill 0-4's combat sucks a rusty railroad spike.
The graphics, save for the environments, are horrible. It is hard to believe it uses the Unreal 3 engine. The animations are THE worst I have EVER seen in a video game. Action figures have more motion and flexibility, hell, when Tapp lights his lighter it looks like they just removed his arm and replaced it with a new one with the lighter in it, and when he turned it off they replaced the standard arm again. This game is ugly, really, REALLY ugly. Also, detective Tapp seems to have lost 30 years, his beard, and that scar on his neck. He doesn't look like Danny Glover at all.
Speaking of the lighter, while it does its job fine, some light sources are ridiculous. The worst is the camera, while it was an interesting concept to use a camera as a light source (Even though that, coincidentally enough, was used in the first film) it only lasts a few seconds and it appears in the darkest areas of the game. This makes it more frustrating than scary, and the game FORCES you to use it. I traded it in for my lighter, but got to a point where I had to run all the way back to get the camera because the game folded its arms and said I needed the camera to continue on.
While there are several puzzles that do boggle the mind and come off as clever, others are way too easy. It is also disappointing that shotgun doors and the reverse bear trap at the beginning, as well as a couple other traps in the game, are nothing more than quick time events. Sometimes the puzzles solve themselves, requiring no thought to solve them.
The voice acting is "OK," I can't say its bad as there is a lot of talent here, but they REALLY don't fit. Their voices are just too radical than those of the movies. The girl that played Cortana in the Halo games plays Amanda, and she gives a good performance, but sounds nothing like Amanda. I swear she even called Jigsaw "Chief" a couple of times. Whoever played Tapp also gave a good performance, but he sounds NOTHING like Danny Glover. He sounds more like Samuel L. Jackson. He also talks pretty clearly and loudly for someone with a scar on his neck from a slit throat that nearly resulted in death.
On the topic of sound... where in the name of god is Hello Zepp? Isn't that the Saw theme song?
The puzzles can also get a little repetitive at times, a few levels can incite boredom with the only motivation to get to the boss trap and due to the frustrating controls, sometimes you'll snap the controller in frustration because you've died trying to cross that one beam for about 80 hours.
The AI is crap too, while they DO react differently based on their unique traps and this adds strategy, they often get trapped in walls and sometimes kill themselves by clipping out of existence, only leaving their trap and a blood pool floating in the air. When the AI works, it does an Ok job, but it feels unfinished.
Also, did I mention, WHERE THE HELL IS HELLO ZEPP!?!
Weapons are confusingly balanced. The game orders you to get a pipe early on, but its the worst weapon in the game. The games logic of weapons also suggests that scalpels are one use tools that turn into cardboard after hitting human flesh just once. Also, since when the hell was a machete weaker than a mop stick?
The Bottom LineAll in all, "Saw" the game is an interesting experiment. Many new things are brought in, and its a unique take on the survival horror genre. Yet for every pro it has, it has a massive con. It has loads of potential, and if Zombie Studios is listening, tweaking the game could truly make it a great survival horror game. Fans of Saw might want to give this a rental, and others curious about it might want to give it a rent too. I wouldn't say its worth buying, but for people who want a tense, albeit flawed survival horror game should give Saw a rental.