Saw: The Videogame PS3 Review

I was expecting a shocking experience from Saw. Shocking in two ways. First of all, as part of the Saw franchise, I was expecting the familiar experience of gore and torture-porn that shocks the senses and can be difficult to watch. Secondly, as a game, I was expecting it to be shockingly poor. I’m sure everyone is aware of the pedigree of movie-to-game crossover franchises and the usual standard they adhere to. I was expecting a similar level of production from Saw.

You start the game by gaining consciousness in a grimy bathroom, reminiscent of the first Saw film. You are Detective Tapp and you are caught in one of The Jigsaw Killer’s traps: you have a suitably evil-looking contraption clamped around your head. You don’t need Jigsaw to tell you that if you don’t remove it bloody soon, you’ll quickly have to learn how to reconstruct a human head – without having one yourself. But he kindly finds the time in his busy schedule to tell you anyway. And he has been busy. More on that later.

You escape from the trap by twizzling the left stick and pressing the correct face buttons when they appear on the contraption. My first thoughts were “oh no, not a QTE-heavy game”. But once out of the trap you have to escape from the bathroom with a more challenging and typical Saw mirror puzzle.

And here is where the first shock comes. The key is buried in a toilet full of syringes. To get the key and escape you need to plunge your hand in to the bowl and fish out the key. As well executed as this set piece is in the game, the shock is somewhat lessened because you’ve seen it before in the films… and better presented (despite the advancement of computer game technology over the last few years, the cinema still has better graphics).

You leave the bathroom and find yourself in the halls of a long-abandoned insane asylum. A locale that has been much used in the horror genre, so much so that it is something of a cliché. But Saw does it very well. It is dirty and dark – and with only a zippo lighter as a light source, the atmosphere is extremely oppressive. Scattered around the asylum are case files that can be read and devices to inspect which give you some insight in to the atrocities that were conducted when the asylum was a fully functioning hell hole for the psychologically challenged.

And so as you progress, Jigsaw tells you just how busy he has been. He has a number of other people in traps – people who know Tapp – and it is up to you to save them. By doing so, you will gain your own freedom. Adding to your woes, the asylum is littered with other unfortunate saps who are also trying to escape. Their challenge is to kill you.

So you roam the halls of the asylum, being led by Jigsaw to the people you need to save. And it becomes clear that you are playing something of a “3rd person puzzle-em-up”. Making your way through the asylum involves finding keys to locked doors and solving puzzles. The majority of the puzzles are minigames. These include creating sequences of cogs to connect two fixed gears, lining up pipes to redirect a flow of gas or aligning similar coloured blocks to pick a lock. The minigames are well thought out and fun, but, as there are only about 5 or 6 variations, become extremely repetitive after an hour or so into the game. Punctuating the exploring and minigames are more creative and challenging puzzles, which often involve piecing together clues to disarm bombs or find a lock combination.

The climax of each chapter is a set piece where the person you need to save is in an extravagant trap that will kill the unfortunate person (and usually you too) in an extremely gruesome way. Your challenge is to free them before they are ripped open/poisoned/electrocuted. These puzzles are without doubt the highlights of the game. Often difficult but always challenging, the time limit restrictions add an extra element of panic to each encounter. The only negative is that some of these set pieces use the same minigame puzzles that you have encountered throughout the game. There are only six of these “boss puzzles”, and the fact that the developers weren’t creative enough or didn’t have enough time to think of six different challenges is something of a letdown.

Using the term “Exploration” is actually being rather generous to Saw. Doors will often automatically close and lock once you’ve gone through them and any exploration you do get to do is usually confined to two to three rooms, as everything else is cut off. So it is fortunate that the items you require at a certain point just happen to be found right next to where you need to use them. Although there is a map in the pause menu, it is rarely, if ever, needed. You are led everywhere by Saw’s clues and anything of interest or that can be searched flashes, just to let you know you should take a look.

There is minimal combat in the game and confrontations can often be avoided altogether. And thank god that this is the case, because the combat system is one of the most cumbersome I have ever encountered. Littered around the asylum are baseball bats, mannequin limbs, desk lamps, mop handles, pipes, nail bats and many other items that can used as a weapon. Occasionally you’ll even get a pistol or Molotov cocktail to play with. This all sounds quite interesting, but combat is slow and defeating an enemy often feels like luck rather than skill. Although this does make every encounter tense and exciting, it is also extremely frustrating. However, you are also able to collect items that are scattered around the asylum and create your own traps to deal out death to your pursuers. Pulling off a well executed trap is particularly rewarding and leaves a grim smile on your face.

On the technical side of things, although the graphics aren’t bad, they are somewhat underwhelming, reminiscent of late PS2 games. The animation is clunky, particularly in combat. Punching a bathroom door and seeing my hand disappear in to it and then magically reappear again was somewhat disconcerting. The environment certainly isn’t destructible in Saw, in fact it doesn’t’t even move. You can run in to a chair at full speed and it won’t budge an inch.

The lack of a tutorial was rather worrying at first, until I realised that you only need about four buttons to play the game. You punch or swing your weapon with just two buttons (light and heavy attacks) and block with a third. All other interaction with the world is performed with the X button and you are prompted onscreen whenever you are able to do so.

But not everything is bad, there are some very nice touches in Saw. As you walk over broken glass with your bare feet, you leave bloody footprints on the ground. A nice little touch when you first realise that they are your footprints. As I mentioned earlier the atmosphere created by the game is extremely tense and oppressive. This is partly due to the well created location, but it is also due to the ambient sounds and music in the game. The voice acting of Tobin Bell as Jigsaw adds some extra credibility to the game and his gravely tones certainly help to up the tension. Every weapon in the game has “ammo”. So even a baseball bat or mop handle has a number of blows it can dish out before it breaks. This adds another level of tension to combat and requires some tactical awareness.

But the nice touches are far outweighed by the sloppy and poorly executed elements of the game. Fans of the movies will be able to suspend disbelief and ignore many of the games flaws, but for most it will be a struggle. My experience with the game certainly wasn’t all negative and I did feel compelled to keep progressing.

So upon reflection, I wasn’t shocked by Saw. The game is tense, but most of the shocking experiences in the game – vats of syringes, exploding heads and so on – have been seen before in the films. But it also isn’t shockingly poor. The fact that the game hasn’t been released to coincide with the release of a film has undoubtedly given the developers some extra time. The concept of the game is very good and there are so many “nearly there” elements. But a little more variety and an improved combat system would have raised this to another level. Fans of the films or genre should certainly give it a go, but I don’t think anyone would find it a particularly good investment.