So I finally got around to playing Saw (yes, I’m aware of when it released but other titles took priority at the time) and while it has its fair share of issues, it’s actually a pretty decent horror title. It’ll freak you out on a routine basis and many of the puzzles are nicely implemented and even ingenious. Not surprisingly, there’s a healthy amount of gore and impossibly grotesque situations but then again, we’re talking about one of the most diabolical movie franchises in existence. The psychotic nutjob Jigsaw is still on the loose inside an old asylum, which he has rigged with all means of satanic devices, many of which could end your life instantly. He likes to play “games” with the unfortunate inhabitants of that broken-down asylum and it’s your job to escape, and perhaps even save a few of the innocents you run across. As you might guess, this game is largely puzzle-based although they did toss in some minor melee combat and an average story to keep the action moving right along. It’s not bad, really.
The graphics aren’t too great for a PlayStation 3 title but they’re appropriately dark and creepy throughout. It’s a good idea to have your lighter out frequently, just in case you’re missing something important in the frightening shadows. In general, the environment is well designed – the areas will remind you of any Silent Hill installment – but the character detail is lacking and unworthy of comparisons to some of the top-notch depictions we’ve seen to date. The special effects also aren’t too spectacular although the imagery is certainly disturbing. Usually, everything is just too dark for you to pick out graphical glitches and inconsistencies but there’s really nothing to get in a twist about. The visual palette is just a bit underwhelming and could’ve used another few coats of polish, that’s all. Animations do remain somewhat fluid, though, and nobody will expecting vibrant splashes of color, anyway.
The sound is always crucial in any survival/horror adventure, primarily because it’s the sounds that emanate from the mysterious darkness that make the skin crawl. Honestly, Zombie really missed an opportunity here: you rarely hear much of anything when wandering the halls, and any number of freakish sounds could’ve been included. You know, just something that every once in a while forces you to stop, look around and go, “what the hell was that…?” However, what does exist is decent, as other prisoners always sound horrifically distressed (as one should sound when on the verge of death), the gory effects are gut-wrenchingingly disgusting, and there’s some good voice acting from Jigsaw, even though the main character isn’t great. The soundtrack could’ve been more prominent but perhaps it’s better to have eerie silence more often than not. I just wish they had taken the next step and worked to feature a variety of ambient effects; this would’ve pushed the experience to another level.
As I just said, it’s not so much about running around and beating on people; it’s more about avoiding the traps and solving the insane puzzles that lurk behind seemingly every door. Jigsaw’s funhouse is chock full of dozens of harrowing situations, all of which could end your life in the blink of an eye. You play as a detective who has apparently worked very hard to track down Jigsaw and according to the storyline, you may have gone a step too far in your searching mania. So before Jigsaw kills you, he wants you to relive the ways in which the case blinded you to certain things. If you follow the rules, you’ll survive…at least for a while. Jigsaw has made things doubly difficult by telling all his other prisoners that he has sewn a key into your body (he did some surgical work on you to remove a bullet from the chest) and if they want to escape, they need that key. This is how the developers found a way to manufacture enemies and it’s not too hackneyed; it actually kinda works.
Some of the game feels like the retrieve-and-use style often found in the Resident Evil games, as you will wander about searching for keys, fuses, and other objects that will allow you to move forward through your dank surroundings. Then there’s the combat mechanic, which is fairly straightforward. You can use many different objects as weapons; everything from scalpels to baseball bats to even mannequin arms can be used to fend off crazed attackers. Basically, you just hold the L2 button to prepare your weapon (even if they’re only your fists) and strike with the X button. Once your foe is down, you can finish them off with a power move easily executed by the Square button. All of this works fine but the camera can sometimes get in the way, and your enemies aren’t very bright. There was also one major glitch where we backed into a corner and then watched as our opponent got stuck and just kept punching at nothing for a about a minute. So yeah, it’s functional but it’s also a little clunky.
Obviously, though, the prime focus and appeal centers on the puzzles. You start the game with that now-infamous bear trap attached to your head. You need to use a combination of the analogs and face buttons to free yourself and other puzzles require both timing and observation. For instance, there will be rooms wired with explosives and a time limit; you need to locate the escape solution before time runs out. You always have to keep your eyes open, examine your immediate surroundings closely, pick up items that may seem useless at the time, and utilize your fast reactions. Opening doors with traps behind them will require you to press the corresponding button quickly, lest a shotgun blast remove part of your head, and certain cabinets are locked with a tricky mechanism. Then there are other circumstances that force you to adapt; for instance, the proximity bomb attached to your head will detonate when you get too close to someone else in the same predicament.
Besides the door traps and the tripwires, the puzzles really don’t repeat and you’ll have to keep wracking your brain for solutions to new conundrums. Now, this does require a lot of trial-and-error so if you’re adverse to that kind of gameplay, you might get bored (or frustrated) with this game. On the other hand, due to each puzzle’s unique feel and dire urgency attached to each, one does experience a good deal of prickly nervousness. Also, the game isn’t as short as you might think; it might take 6-8 hours to complete and for a mostly puzzle-based adventure, that’s a good length. Saw does have a lot going for it and if you liked the movies and are interested in participating in the most sadistic problems ever, you should give it a rent. It’s tough to recommend a purchase, though, as one play-through will be more than sufficient and there are a few issues with the mechanics. All in all, the graphics are okay, the sound is fairly good, some of the voices are solid, and the puzzles are well done. It just isn’t quite enough, you know?
1/25/2010 Ben Dutka