As a license, Saw might not seem like the perfect fit for a videogame. The films rely on the audience's lack of participation, unable to intervene and rescue Jigsaw's hapless victims from yet another death-trap, instead forced to watch actions unfold in gruesome detail. 'Torture-porn', however, is a genre with untapped potential on videogames, a medium obsessed with blood, guts and viscera.
But what can you expect from Saw II: Flesh and Blood? Is it a worthy successor to the films, capable of picking up the mantle when the series ends this year with the final 3D iteration? Or is it, like Jigsaw himself, twisted and doomed to die?
Saw II: Flesh and Blood begins with a bang. Well, actually, more like a slice. Michael Tapp, son of the first game's David, wakes up on Jigsaw's operating table, what looks like a bear-trap attached to his neck and primed to snap. Jigsaw, via his usual method of communication, an old TV, informs Michael that the key to unlocking the trap is nearby. Did I say nearby? Sorry. I meant near his eye. In as underneath it. Flesh and blood, indeed.
Now I'm not squeamish. But drawing a scalpel to Michael's swollen eye, and dragging it along the stitched-up wound to pry the key loose from its fleshy tomb, was an unsettling experience. Unsettling, but true to the series, and ripe with potential. I was impressed, and suitably rattled. Forcing the audience to become the participant in a trademark Saw scenario was executed with aplomb.
Do You Want To Play A Game?
Escaping from Jigsaw's first test, drug-addicted Michael must then survive a series of twisted locales, from abandoned hotels to grimy sewers. Each location is infested with traps, most hidden behind and activated via a door. You'll encounter fellow victims, burdened with their own traps, who you can save, and Jigsaw often drops a few other detainees, driven mad by his treatment, to make things difficult for you.
It's here where Saw II falters. It's simply a substandard game. It's difficult to control, and the camera, while obviously so close to provide a sense of claustrophobia, is just annoying. The action either boils down to clunky combat or cliched QTEs. Open a door, and for some reason a button-prompt glows on a scythe's pole as it swings back. Click the right button in time, and you'll narrowly avoid it. Don't, and Michael stands still for a moment as the blade swings down and embeds itself in the soft region of his bowels.
Saw II also relies heavily on puzzles. Now I may be an action-junky, but I'm by no means averse to a little intellectual stimulation. I've been known to watch QI. But the puzzles in Saw II are bad. Either they're ridiculously vague, relying on you surmising details from an esoteric piece of environmental information, or they're so simple they're insulting.
Flesh, Blood and Dirty Walls
Saw II does have a definite sense of atmosphere, nonetheless. It's not particularly pretty, but it at least nails the 'look' of the series. Grimy walls with flaking paint, rusty wire mesh, bloody torture utensils. It's grim and foreboding, at least in the beginning. The camera, which I criticised earlier, is effective when navigating the tight corridors, as you're always expecting some spike-headed lunatic to leap out. A pity the developer's didn't capitalize on this, then.
However, the whole 'look' of the game soon ebbs from eerie to eh. It's the same, over and over again, despite the change in locales. Seriously, if I were investigating Jigsaw, I'd simply canvas every rusty, grimy, probably abandoned location in town, then find him holed up in an old factory, sharpening a guillotine-blade or something.
And while I commend the environments, I can't say the same for the rest. The lighting is nice enough, but the awful character models fuzz under it, their outline reduced to a serrated profile of jaggies. The animation is sub-par, and the voice-work is what you'd expect in terms of writing, but not in performance. It's all cliched Jigsaw philosophy and profane victim screaming.
Die, Die, Die!
It's time for Saw II to end. I very much doubt we'll see a third, and the films have been squeezed for every drip of profit it's like Jigsaw himself strung them up to a pressing-machine. I was impressed in the beginning, and when the game relies on Saw's torture-porn, body-shock strengths, it can verge on fun and visceral. But too often it throws boring puzzles or stupid encounters your way. I'm talking duals with inmates wearing spiked headgear, trying to lure them down an elevator shaft as you both run in aimless, clumsy circles.
But if you were ever a fan of the old Resident Evil games or Silent Hill, you can clearly see what the developers were trying to do here. There's even a little Bioshock dripped in, too. It's well-intentioned and has some interesting concepts, but it's the execution that lets it down. A little less correcting circuit-boards and a little more slicing out keys from underneath your eyelids, please.
- Gruesome torture-scenes not for the weak of stomach
- A nice pastiche of Saw's trademark locales
- Erm, it's like Saw?
- Boring combat and puzzling
- Too much of the same
- It's just not fun
The Short Version: Saw II is an admirable attempt at replicating Jigsaw's adventures on the interactive scene, but it falls short of the mark with clumsy combat and poor puzzles. It's great if you're a 'torture-porn' fan and like a little Silent Hill thrown in to boot, but it'll likely annoy you more than anything.