Spared the cancellation axe by Konami, who secured the rights after the game's original publisher shuttered its doors, Saw lives on as a survival horror title with a twist--you must save others in order to save yourself. Like the movie series it's based on, the game involves overcoming a series of twisted traps created by the Jigsaw Killer. Is Saw's gameplay a cut above Konami's own Silent Hill series, or does it amount to pure torture?
With a storyline set in between the first two movies, the game casts you in the role of Detective Tapp, who was shot in the first film and presumed dead. You begin the game very much alive, courtesy of the Jigsaw Killer, who plans on educating you on the consequences of your obsession with pursuing him. You begin the game with a reverse bear trap placed over your head, in the abandoned Whitehurst Asylum for the Insane.
Your first tasks are to quickly disarm the trap before it cracks your skull like a walnut, and to figure out the combination to a locked door. From that point on, you learn more about your predicament by finding patient files, asylum records, audio tapes, and closed-circuit televisions airing Jigsaw's macabre messages. The story is one of the game's strengths, as each potential victim sheds new light on Detective Tapp's troubled past, and moves you one step closer to discovering Jigsaw's true identity.
As with most titles in the genre, Saw is a linear game with barricaded hallways and similar confining elements designed to funnel you toward your objective. This actually makes some sense in the context of the game, as you're part of a carefully crafted experiment engineered by the Jigsaw Killer. Items needed to progress, such as nails to pick locks or fuses to power-up electrical boxes, are typically found within the adjacent area and flash so they are easier to spot. Thus, you won't be spending hours looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, which makes for decent pacing.
There's only one play mode and two difficulty settings. Also included is concept art for the game's environment, characters, props, and traps; an E3 trailer of the game; and the ability to revisit completed chapters with the flashback option. Oddly enough, there's no option that lets you play just the timed puzzle sequences outside of the main game. And Saw absolutely shrieks for a multiplayer component. It's not hard to imagine a mode where people try to hunt down protagonists as they frantically create makeshift traps to slow their progress. As it stands, the game's content is divided into seven chapters, with each spanning around an hour in length.
Detective Tapp is a rather straightforward protagonist without many moves in his repertoire. He can't jump, crouch, crawl, or use cover. He doesn't even wear shoes. The latter is important since simply walking gradually diminishes Tapp's health if you Detective Tapp is a rather straightforward protagonist without many moves in his repertoire. He can't jump, crouch, crawl, or use cover. He doesn't even wear shoes. The latter is important since simply walking gradually diminishes Tapp's health if you aren't paying attention to where you're going.
As you progress, you'll periodically encounter an uneven mix of puzzles that involve either timing button presses, rotating the analog stick, or a combination of both. You'll pick locks, disarm booby-trapped doors or tripwires, and try to stop Jigsaw's traps before a timer reaches zero. There's even a strange grabbing mini-game that has you searching through toilets, dead bodies, and other delightful places for keys and other objects. You also have to worry about being hunted by other players in Jigsaw's game, as the killer was kind enough to sew a key to their survival inside your stitched up body.
Saw's combat, which is a rather important part of the game, is awkward and tedious. You first have to hold down a shoulder button to enter a combat stance, which zooms the camera in a little bit behind your character. Then you can perform either a strong or light punch, both of which feel like you're swinging underwater. Enemies don't seem to have this slow-motion problem, so you'll be pummeled quite frequently while tapping a single punch button until either you or they collapse on the ground. Blocking doesn't seem to work, and the weapons (outside of the gun) are so clumsy to use as to actually be less effective than your fists.
As you'd expect from an abandoned insane asylum, the rooms are in various stages of filth and disrepair. Tiled floors are in desperate need of some Pine Sol, and you'll weave your way through rusted pipes, broken glass, concrete rubble, dented lockers, soiled mattresses, rat-infested hallways, pools of water, As you'd expect from an abandoned insane asylum, the rooms are in various stages of filth and disrepair. Tiled floors are in desperate need of some Pine Sol, and you'll weave your way through rusted pipes, broken glass, concrete rubble, dented lockers, soiled mattresses, rat-infested hallways, pools of water, and flickering lights. Expect plenty of sick details.
Each area is dark, which means you'll constantly use a lighter or flashlight to reveal potential clues as well as health-restoring items like medical bandages or hypodermic needles. Adding to the tense atmosphere are sound effects of running footsteps, cries of help, and anguished screams. The character models lack detail, however, and the animation is stiff. The voice acting from the victims and other people you encounter is not convincing in the slightest, but actor Tobin Bell, who plays the Jigsaw Killer in the movies, lends some creepy credibility to the game with his musings and observations in the character's low, hushed voice.
What originally looked like another throwaway movie to video game tie-in is a surprisingly well conceived horror story. The combat is Saw's biggest weakness, with the replay value a close second. A single-player only game that can be finished within seven hours is hard to justify paying full price for, but fans will appreciate how the developers captured the atmosphere, style, and urgency of the movies through the game's combination of devious traps, interactive puzzles, and engaging story.
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3.