Developer: Zombie Studios
Genre: Survival Horror
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw. At least, that’s how the movie taglines have gone over the last few years as each successive Trick r’ Treat season found a new installment in the popular torture yarn slicing its way through the multiplex. Having received a copy of Saw II for review just before Thanksgiving, I fired up the game with hopes that it would teach me a few new ways to carve my turkey. At the very least, I’d find some innovative methods to extract that carefully implanted stuffing. We already know there will be blood, so the question is, will there be compelling gameplay too?
Saw II: Flesh & Blood is the follow-up to last year’s hit Saw, which aimed to resurrect the fading survival horror genre. After all, the king of these beasties, Resident Evil, has moved into the action-adventure realm leaving very few titles out there that look to goose a few screams from the clawing masses. Like the movie series that peddles in as much intricate back story as disemboweled deviants, the game assumes players have a strong command of the labyrinthine plots kicked in motion by Jigsaw. He’s that creepy old codger who’s always looking to instill some morality into his fellow creatures – even if it means implanting a key into an eye socket. The player assumes the role of Michael Tapp, the son of Danny Glover’s detective from the first movie, who awakens in one of Jigsaw’s death traps. From there, he follows a series of clues throughout a dilapidated apartment block, as he works to free himself from his predicament.
The game follows a linear journey where Mike is tasked with solving a number of environmental puzzles interspersed with some brutal bouts of mortal combat. These bursts of action often involve scanning the environment to find a means in which to beat your foe. An early example tasks players with avoiding a charging foe covered in spikes while trying to find a way to send him hurtling to his death. Careful examination of the environment will often yield clues to best some of Jigsaw’s puzzles. In addition, the game will place you in situations where you need to feverishly work a minigame to extract another unfortunate soul from a terrible predicament.
Like the movies, there is a depressing sense of rot and decay that coats this entire enterprise. I’m a huge horror fan but I like my scares to be a bit more psychological. It’s what the brain imagines that is most scary. The Saw series likes to revel in the viscera; and it’s this grimy aesthetic that the developer latches onto – forcing players into numerous sequences where you must resist or impart a stomach-churning level of torture and pain. In the first sequence alone, the player is given a scalpel and must slice below their eye to remove a key. This intimate connection with the onscreen assault is relentless and while some of the puzzles are clever, they always feel like brief respites of brain games meant to tether the interactive torture sessions. A little goes a long way and unfortunately Saw II goes way too far.
Visually, Saw II borrows a great deal from Konami’s recent Silent Hill outings. Michael is fitted with a flashlight early on; and it’s in these early moments, where you cautiously scour each room looking for your next clue, that game bests its cinematic counterpart. There’s real tension and fear built up in these early moments. Unfortunately, the title suffers from the rinse and repeat methodology of game design and the player soon realizes that not much will burst forth from the inky darkness to scare them; so you end up just rushing to the next puzzle or annoying Quick Time event.
Following the massive success of the Resident Evil series, consoles were plagued with a number of cash-in survival horror titles such as The Suffering and Clock Tower. As Resident Evil evolved, these copy cats faded. While Saw II admirably tries to resurrect this creepy form, it doesn’t do anything to innovate and is merely content with stringing a number of puzzles that soon overstay their welcome with Quick Time events that ought to stay dead and buried. To that end, this feels like a shuffling zombie long past its born on date. Fans of the horror series may groove to the game’s atmosphere – which features many shout-outs to the various characters that dot the Saw mythology but newcomers are not likely to find much that slays them here.