Saw II: Flesh & Blood Review
Game: Saw II: Flesh & Blood
Developer: Zombie Studios
Available on: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
The Saw franchise was never something that really interested me. I saw the first film and really enjoyed the different take on a standard serial killer movie. When the second film came out and it started to look like they were turning it into the typical teen horror movie, I checked out and never really looked back. With my lack of interest in the films, I had no interest in the game either. I’d just assumed that it was a typical horror game, walking through the same corridors, succumbing to the same predictable attempts at scares. I was glad to see I was at least half wrong.
While the scares (what few there are) are predictable, the environments are different enough to keep it interesting throughout, but the puzzles were what really made me keep playing and wanting more, I’m a sucker for a decent puzzle…always have been. While playing Saw II: Flesh and Blood I was constantly thinking “this is what would happen if Professor Layton cracked and turned into a serial killer” and after playing for a good while now I don’t think I’m far wrong.
“I want to play a game”
STORY: The story primarily revolves around Michael Tapp, the son of David Tapp (the protagonist of the first film). In an effort to find out what happened to his father, Michael is forced to confront the Jigsaw Killer, eventually getting caught up in one of his games. As I expected from this type of game, there’s nothing really new here. The story is basically the plot from the films, the Jigsaw Killer captures somebody and forces them to make a choice about life or death – repeat until end.
That’s not to say that the story isn’t entertaining though. Tobin Bell reprises his role as the Jigsaw Killer, providing both his voice and his likeness to keep the fans of the film happy. Speaking of the films, the conveniently placed ‘Case Files’ should also keep fans happy as they add a liberal sprinkling of callbacks throughout the game. I thought these were a good touch and provided a way to link the movies and the games together as well as informing the players that might not have seen any of the gruesme flicks about a little bit of the back story. The main point of the game though is to rescue the people who are being held captive by the Jigsaw Killer. This is done by working your way through a series of puzzles, eventually making your way to the man himself in order to find the answer to the question you’re here to answer. What exactly happened to your father?
GRAPHICS: Saw II: Flesh and Blood uses the good old Unreal Engine 3, because of this the game was never really going to look that bad. As it stands though, while it doesn’t look bad there’s nothing outstanding about the graphics. I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed as to how the engine was used. The full potential has most definitely not been harnessed and there are quite a few niggles, one of those being the lighting. Lighting is something I’ve seen used really well in other games that use the same engine, but here it just seems like an afterthought. As if the developers had decided that they were going to set the majority of the game inside a building and didn’t really put much care/attention into the lighting at all. There were a lot of times when I had no idea if I was even walking in the right direction. Even with the torch on, the light didn’t penetrate far enough into the distance for me to see what I was doing. I actually spent most of the game in the dark! I understand that the darkness is another tool used to create tension in the game, but when you can’t see the clue that will help you solve a puzzle all because the lighting is messed up, it just becomes frustrating.
SOUND: The sound does exactly what it’s supposed to do in a game like this. It creates tension where it’s supposed to and backs off a little when there’s nothing to be worried about. Sound and music are naturally very important tools in a horror game. Everything needs to create just the right amount of tension in the player without totally freaking them out. I think Saw II: Flesh and Blood kept the balance just about right, but it didn’t really push the envelope. There were a few instances where something was about to happen that could have benefited with more obvious audio cues, but all the most important parts were covered well. Billy the Puppet’s laugh will haunt my dreams for a good few weeks!
GAMEPLAY: As you’ve probably gathered by now the main point of Saw II: Flesh and Blood is to solve puzzles. There are plenty of them out there, each of them varying in degrees of difficulty, ranging from the simple “Which box should I open” (the answer of which is usually somewhere on the walls) to puzzles reminiscent of the ‘Lights Out’ game, the nemesis of my childhood. Most of the puzzles are just about the right difficulty, hard enough to be constantly entertaining and easy enough to stop you banging your head against a wall. Then there’s the ‘Lights Out’ game which keeps popping up. It’s been almost 15 years since the first version of ‘Lights Out’ came out and I’ve never been able to do it. I know technically what’s required of me, but for some reason it takes me less than 2 minutes to resort to simple trial and error. Needless to say I was horrified when I saw the game appear in Saw II: Flesh and Blood, attached to a device that would kill someone if I got it wrong. I’m sorry, but if I was ever put in that situation in real life you may as well get a dog to paw at the controls. You’d probably get a better outcome. This was the only puzzle I didn’t like, all the other teasers were well developed, well executed and fun – the most important thing in any game and Zombie Studios managed to pull it off. The bits between the puzzles get a little bit repetitive at times and almost always end up with you running between them, but they pop up regularly enough that this constant travelling becomes little more than an inconvenience. It never gets to the point of frustration.
There are parts of the gameplay that I wish there was more of though. At some points when you’re going through a door you’re greeted with a quick time event (QTE). While these events are commonplace nowadays in games I found it refreshing to see the button I was required to press integrated into the environment instead of just flashing onto the screen. However, I was disappointed to see that the QTE integration into the environment only occurs during certain scenarios. All the other QTEs that occur throughout the game follow the same method as most other games. The button pops up on screen and you press it as fast as you can, simple. It’s a slight shame as every other bit of information you need to play the game is integrated into the scene in some way. For instance, you can tell how much health you’ve got left by how bloodied your body is or by how blurry the screen is. The overall experience would have been much more immersive if all the QTEs were integrated into enviroment somehow.
LONGEVITY: Exactly how long you play Saw II: Flesh and Blood will be decided, for the majority of people, by the puzzles. The first game had no DLC or after market additions of any kind so I’d be surprised to see them here. If you’re a fan of puzzle games or the Saw films then I can see you playing through the game again, even if it is only to get the one alternative ending.
The puzzles are entertaining enough in their own right that they’re worth playing more than once. On top of that, however, there are also collectables which are always a good way to ensure definite replays for the collectors in the audience – myself included. The case files and audio tapes were all quite interesting and added a sense of connection between the films and the game. They’re all worth collecting, even if they’re placed in some seriously strange places.
VERDICT: Overall I enjoyed Saw II: Flesh and Blood, there were definite problems with the lighting and with some of the puzzles elements repeating themselves, but I thought the game itself was solid. I played it for 5 hours straight, turning it off only resulted in me turning it straight back on for “just one more puzzle”. The puzzles were entertaining and the game did quite well to keep the tension on when it was required. A little more variation on the set pieces would have been nice and maybe a few more scares (it is supposed to be a horror game after all) and it would have gotten a better score. It’s not a perfect horror game at all, but it’s about as good as the films and that’s about all you can ask from it really.