Saw: The Video Game PreviewBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Aug 07, 2009
All the cards are stacked against Konami's upcoming Saw: The Video Game. The Saw movie franchise sucks butt. Saw: The Video Game was originally developed by Brash Entertainment, before being taken over by Zombie Studios, and games from Brash suck butt. Movie-tie in games always suck butt. Our own Brian Leahy played an early demo of Saw: The Video Game at E3, and Brian said it sucks butt. So when I was tasked with playing the game for this preview, I was steeled for an evening of all-out, epic suck-butt. Surprisingly, though, Saw: the Video Game doesn’t suck butt*. It doesn’t suck anything… it’s actually kind of great.
The hook of the Saw films is that an evil maniac puts victims into complicated traps that they must escape or die. They are bad movies, but, surprisingly, the very thing that sinks the movie franchise is what makes Saw: The Game good. The movies are more like puzzles than stories, and figuring out a puzzle is boring in a theater, but it's the point of most video games.
Saw: The Video Game takes place between the first and second Saw movies. Gamers play as Detective David Tapp, the protagonist of the first Saw movie. Tapp is imprisoned in an abandoned, Silent Hill-like, insane asylum stocked with villain Jigsaw’s killer traps. Tapp must progress through the spooky asylum, solving puzzles and escaping from intricate machinery in order to not die. Meanwhile, other victims of Jigsaw have been tasked with killing Tapp to get at a key sewn in his body. It's pretty silly as a movie concept, but it works as the framework for a video game.
The demo level I played starts with Tapp locked in the famous reverse bear trap from the movie. A series of quick-time button pushes frees you from the deadly device. Then, you must plunge your hand into a toilet full of dirty syringes for a key, look at a mirror at a certain angle to get a combination and escape the room. A walk down some dirty, decayed hallways leads to the next puzzle, and a combat encounter with a scary maniac. Then another couple of deadly puzzles, wash, rinse repeat. It’s grisly, but horror fans will dig the atmospherics and gore.
Spooky graphics and blood don’t make a good game, though. The non-butt-suckitude of Saw comes from the puzzles themselves. For the first level of a game, they are ingenious enough to be interesting, easy enough to be solvable, but still challenging enough to give you a sense of accomplishment when you figure it out. Even the quick-time events are handled well: Open some doors and you’ll be shot in the face with a shotgun unless you press the correct controller button quickly. Rather than just flash a neon “A” button at ya, Saw incorporates the design into the game by etching an “A” onto a falling weight attached to the shotgun.
The demo I played is of an early level, so the puzzles were relatively easily. I can only hope they build in complexity as the game goes on. Dialing in the difficulties of the puzzles will be the key to whether Saw works over the long haul or not.
Of course it’s not all rosy in Saw. The character animation is a little blocky/jerky and the controls aren't vice-tight, but this isn’t an action game. Judging from the demo, the main character basically functions as a conduit to get you from trap to trap. Not sure whether this changes later one, but I hope not. In any case, the controls don't matter that much.
The combat, though, does matter. It’s not that the fighting is badly done. It’s actually okay--a variety of different attacks and a block button-- but there’s really no reason that I could see for combat to be included in Saw at all. If anything, your character killing other victims of Jigsaw is morally questionable and, gameplay wise, it’s not really necessary. Being a bad-ass with a lead pipe (and later in the game a gun, I assume) takes the horror-tension away by eliminating danger from the proceedings. Horror is about helpless victims trying to survive, not about tough-guys kicking ass.
Overall, there’s nothing particularly earth-shattering in Saw. It’s pretty standard horror-fair, from the setting to the writing and plot, but it’s a solid puzzle-based horror game in a world with too few solid puzzle-based horror games. I can't wait so see how the completed game fairs.
*If you landed on this page because you were google searching the phrase “suck butt,” I apologize for the lack of butt-sucking action in this preview.