Saw: The Video Game was something of a surprise for me when I played it. As someone who generally finds the Saw films to be nonsensical garbage hurriedly tossed together to make that annual Halloween release date without regard for coherence or quality, I was shocked that the video game tie-in was actually a solid, enjoyable horror title with some fun gameplay ideas. Sadly, like the films themselves, the law of diminishing returns is in effect as Saw II: Flesh & Blood loses sight of everything that made the original an above average horror game.
The first game put you in the shoes of Detective Tapp (Danny Glover’s character from the first movie) as he followed the trail of Jigsaw, the tricksy, moralising serial killer with a fondness for tossing flawed individuals into deadly traps, forced to make brutal, masochistic choices to earn their freedom. Tapp quickly wound up in one of Jigsaw’s games, trapped in an abandoned asylum with a key sewn into his chest, an explosive collar locked around his neck and no choice but to follow the clues laid out by his captor, solving cryptic puzzles in hopes of leaving with skull intact. Also roaming the asylum were a group of Jigsaw’s other victims playing out their own games, all of whom needed the key in Tapp’s chest to unlock their collars and gain their freedom, and none of whom were adverse to killing Tapp to get it.
It wasn’t a benchmark of the survival horror genre, by any means, but it was a solid and engaging game. The diversity of gameplay was well-balanced, with a variety of engaging minigame puzzles and a decent combat system that was elevated by how well it managed to make use of a license that prides itself on deadly, creative traps. Some enemies had their own explosive neckwear and if they came too close for too long, the collars would detonate and both you and your enemy would quickly be a little shorter and a lot deader, meaning that running, hiding and making use of lockable doors was key to survival. Doorways were often rigged with tripwire mines and shotguns, which could be deactivated or re-rigged to lure enemies to their doom, while you could fashion various mines and traps of your own from found items to kill off those hunting you, alongside the standard assortment of weapons at your disposal.
Saw II picks up after the first game, with players assuming the role of Tapp’s son, thrown into Jigsaw’s game with the promise that he’ll learn the truth behind his father’s fate if he survives. Players might not find that enough of an incentive though, as the gameplay has been stripped bare of the relative ingenuity of the first game. Combat has been essentially removed – while the first game juggled a standard weapon-swinging, gun-toting survival horror combat system with the more creative use of constructed traps, in the sequel, fighting enemies is pared down to a tedious, simplistic quick time event minigame.
Hitting the correct button once at the right time to block and once again at the right time to kill your enemy is all that combat amounts to. It’s a tremendously dull system free from tension or entertainment; the panic of hearing distant enemies approaching, or being chased and needing desperately to get behind a door and lock it in time is gone, now replaced by the scare-free alternative of a skill-free QTE sequence erupting as a killer comes near. Likewise, the rig-your-own-trap system is gone, not just depriving the game of the more interesting ideas the original had, but yanking out half the gameplay, too.
While the game is stripped of player interactivity where it would be welcome, enjoyable and frankly quite necessary, rapid button prompts are instead included in tedious situations. Crawling through a gap in a wall, for instance, requires you to alternately press the left and right shoulder buttons to shuffle through. At times like those, it feels like Saw II is borrowing heavily (no pun intended) from Heavy Rain – a game which ironically owes at least a little to the Saw movies – but without the creative ingenuity and attention to storytelling to make it work. Instead it’s just a feeble and dull attempt to foster interactivity and player participation in all the wrong places.
With large chunks of gameplay removed, what we’re left with are a series of door-unlocking minigames lifted from the first game (albeit in often simplified form). A Pipe Mania-esque puzzle requires you to shift electrical circuits around to divert the flow of power, a gear puzzle tasks you with sorting the position of cogs to get them all moving in synchronicity, while a new addition – and an admittedly decent one – is a lock-picking minigame that sends the camera falling head-first through a rotating series of lock gears as you steer direction to slip through the moving gaps and notches. They’re diverting at first, but the over-reliance on overly familiar puzzles and lack of diversity quickly grates.
The occasional larger puzzle (like those that play with UV lights and perspective) keeps things at least vaguely engaging, but sadly are carbon copies of those found in the superior first game, while the story is all but inaccessible even to those who played the first game to completion, relying too heavily on notes and case files full of references to minor characters from the films.
The plot might be enough to propel die-hard fans of the films along, and if you can forgive the non-existent combat and repetitive puzzles, it’s a competent enough game, but it’s one so bereft of rewarding or entertaining interactivity that players would likely be better served watching the films again instead. Like the films, Saw II: Flesh & Blood is, sadly, a rushed game cobbled together in time for a Halloween with little regard to quality or genuine entertainment.
Saw II: Flesh and Blood is available to buy on PS3 and Xbox 360.
Click here to order the game from Amazon.co.uk.