Saw the video game is really unnerving at times. Trying to escape a hideous torture device before time runs out and your head is ripped apart is incredibly unpleasant. More than any other horror game I've played this year, Saw gets under your skin. That's clearly something the development team at Zombie Studios should be proud of, but they most definitely shouldn't be congratulated for a shockingly poor combat system and a clear lack of ideas beyond the clever opening scenes.
Konami's game follows the plight of lead character Detective Tapp (Danny Glover's character in the first movie). He's been kidnapped by series villain Jigsaw, placed in a run-down asylum with loads of other people, and made to play a series of "games". Far from being Snakes and Ladders and the like, these devilish contraptions are designed to test what Tapp will do to save people linked to his past. Jigsaw, voiced superbly by the movie series' star Tobin Bell, is always on hand to relay some vital info and give moral-laden speeches via the many TVs scattered about, making the experience feel all the more authentic.
As you move from one trap to the next you'll frequently have to find keys and other items that are needed to progress. These are never just sat around on a desk, but hidden inside a vat of acid or in a toilet bowl filled with used needles. While unpleasant at first, these situations are used too often and lose their impact. Frequent electrical puzzles, in which you have to link up wires, are also used too often, which is especially annoying as they aren't entertaining the first time you have to solve one.
The same is true of the visual puzzles that crop up all over the place. Right at the start of the game there are some mirrored numbers scrawled on a wall in blood. By lining up what's written on the mirror on the other side of the room with what's visible in the reflection, you're given the combination for the lock that's keeping you inside the room. This looking in a mirror technique and slight variations on that are used throughout the game, making what was a seemingly clever idea rather predictable.
When you get to the grander traps, which usually involve Tapp and another character, the level of originality increases, but by the end of the six chapters it's still all rather samey. Many of the inventions you'll see will be familiar to fans of the movies, and they're suitably sick and twisted to fit in with the tone of the films. I won't spoil them, as fans will likely find these to be one of the game's only saving graces. It's refreshing to play a game that does challenge you from time to time with its puzzles and creates a genuine sense of impending doom as the ticking clock counts down to death.
When you're not solving puzzles, Saw is a fairly unimpressive third-person action game with a terrible melee combat system. Enemies come at you like psychopaths, attempting to smash your head in with whatever grisly-looking tool they have in their hand. It's strange to be fighting so often in a video game based on a movie that featured very little combat, but it is explained in a way that makes sense. Inside Tapp Jigsaw has hidden the only way for the other trapped people to escape: a key. With a violent death being the other option, these now deranged thugs will do anything to kill you and get their bloody hands on that key.
Nothing about the combat feels right, to the extent that at one point I switched controllers to make sure it wasn't a hardware fault. Your attacks are so laboured and unresponsive that it's possible to get trapped by one of these goons, with Tapp completely helpless against the flurry of blows - at times I found my character forced into an object and immobilised as a result. You get you use some pretty nasty melee weapons, and when you connect with an enemy's face it's suitably unpleasant, but it matters for nothing when the mechanics are almost broken.
There's some depth to the enemy encounters, introduced once you're fitted with a shotgun collar after the game's opening chapter, also worn by your enemies. This is as nasty as it sounds, and will blow your head off if activated. Come into contact with one of the loons for long enough and both collars will beep. You've got to keep your distance, making their collar go off if they are out of range for too long, while they want to stay close and kill you. You need to leg it, get to safety somewhere and hope they can't get to you. Doors can be shut, bolted and blocked with objects. In a panic trying to get to safety is truly terrifying, but this mechanic is repeated over and over again.
Saw isn't a pretty game, with its dingy corridors, smashed glass, blood stained walls and a whole lot of torture, but I didn't really expect it to be bright and colourful. That doesn't mean the developer can get away with dated character models and generic environment design. There's also loads of clipping, with enemies frequently appearing through doors, which adds to the feeling that tight visual presentation wasn't a priority. The quality of the audio work, though, couldn't be more different. The voice acting is top quality and the disturbing asylum ambient noise does its job to creep you out whenever possible.
Fans of the hugely successful and seemingly never-ending film series will likely get some thrills out of this hit and miss horror game, but if you're after a game on a par with the likes of Resident Evil and Silent Hill, you'll find Saw severely lacking. The combat and repetition are the biggest offenders, and considering the game offers little else, Saw is yet another movie licensed title that misses the mark by some way.