Friday, September 24, 2010

'Saw' - Review

Why yes... I would like to play a game.  'Saw' began life as a short film by Australian director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell as a pitch for a full length feature film.  Since 2004 a movie bearing the 'Saw' name has graced theaters every October.  In the movies the Jigsaw Killer attempts to make people appreciate life by trapping them in various devices.  The devices are meant to offer the victims a choice; a horribly gruesome death or, should they be willing to make a sacrifice, life.  Naturally, the dark atmosphere and shock horror nature of the movies would translate perfectly into a video game, right?

'Saw' the video game was developed by Zombie Studios and published by Konami.  The game is meant to take place between the first two films.  You control Detective David Tapp, who was (spoiler alert) shot at the end of the first film and left for dead.  The Jigsaw Killer has treated Detective Tapp's wounds and trapped him within an abandoned insane asylum filled with other victims.  Tapp's first test is to escape the franchise's most famous device, the reverse bear trap.  You then have to escape what is essentially a tutorial room by figuring out a combination to a lock.  Shortly after escaping, you encounter a man who lures you into an ambush.  It is then revealed that there are multitudes of victims, all of whom are attempting to kill Tapp in order to retrieve a key that has been implanted in his chest that can secure their freedom.

This is where many say the game takes a turn for the worse.  The combat is fairly reminiscent of 'Condemned: Criminal Origins' by Monolith Productions and Sega.  It is almost completely melee with weapons such as pipes, bats, and mop handles.  There are a few long range weapons, such as Molotov cocktails and guns, but they are fairly uncommon and a bit hard to control.  Later in the game you can learn to make/activate traps, which act as proximity mines, from components you find lying around the asylum.  Attacking isn't instantaneous, there is a sizable delay, the length of which is dependent on the weapon you're using, between when you hit the attack button and when Tapp swings his weapon.  Because of this it takes some time to adjust your play style to be able to handle combat successfully.  Initially I agreed with the crowd, but once I saw what they were attempting to do with the combat, make it more deliberate and realistic, I grew to like it.

Aside from the general population of the asylum, at the end of each level there is a supporting character which you must help escape their trap.  A few are actual characters from the movies, but most are new for the game.  All have some connection with Tapp, from the widow of Tapp's former partner, to the man Tapp nearly drove to suicide by constantly questioning him about Jigsaw in the first movie.  You're forced to save people who hate and distrust you, blame you for the loss of their loved ones, and don't even want your help.  Each person is saved by solving a "boss puzzle."  Unfortunately, only half are unique to the "boss", most are simply more involved version of puzzles you encounter throughout the asylum, so they're fairly easy.  The unique ones can be a bit tricky and could take a while to learn how things work, but you have some room for error during the trails, so it's entirely possible to get them on the first try.

While exploring the asylum you'll encounter numerous puzzles, most of which are fairly simple once you learn the trick.  The first you're exposed to involves standing in a certain place in a room to get the perspective needed to piece together fragments of numbers written on the wall.  A gear puzzle is often used as a way to lock valuables, high powered weapons and trap components.  Health vials are typically locked behind very simple timing based puzzles.  There are also two 'Pipe Mania/Dream' type puzzles, one involving rotating electrical circuit blocks in order to route power.  The other, rotating segments of pipe within concentric circles in order to connect two end segments.  Finally there are the "boss puzzles" at the end of each level.  I won't spoil them completely, but like I said earlier, only half are actually unique.  Also, there are two types of deadly traps that litter doorways and halls, one requiring quick button pressing, the other keen eyes to avoid.

A key factor to detecting traps in time is lighting.  The majority of the game is extremely dark and you must chose between three types of light sources to illuminate the halls.  What would seem most obvious, the flashlight, is actually fairly useless.  It shines a long distance, but most of the time the beam is facing at an angle instead of directly in front of you.  The camera flash is as pointless as it sounds.  It makes the whole screen as bright as daylight, but only for a split second and it causes an after image to stay on the screen for a few seconds before fading plus there's a recharge time.  You almost have to stand completely still for it to be of any use.  You start the game with the lighter and if you're like me, you'll use it almost exclusively.  It provides a faint, but constant glow around Tapp so there's no need to worry about it not facing the right direction.

The atmosphere, story, and music are all very true to the movies.  The creators of the series were actually brought in to consult on and help write the game... unfortunately it doesn't show very well.  Don't get me wrong, the story isn't bad, I'm just not a fan of the way it was delivered.  It felt like the largest portion is in the form of patient files and newspaper clippings.  This makes it feel somewhat... disconnected from the game.  They also focus too much on the origins of Jigsaw, which doesn't sound like a bad thing, after all I'm a detective trying to capture Jigsaw, but it feels like I'm just being handed the info.  I felt no sense of discovery when things were revealed.  There's exposition in the standard fashion as well, it just felt a little rushed.  The game also has the trademark "twist" at the end if you chose the correct ending, but it doesn't have the same impact as the first movie, although, none of the other movies had the same impact as the first either.  The atmosphere is probably my favorite part of the game, it's dark, dirty, and spooky.  Play it at night with the lights turned out and you'll almost feel like you're in the worlds greatest spook house.  Creeping around the dark hallways with just my lighter, looking for traps and enemies, straining my eyes trying to see if there's any broken glass on the floor, it's almost as good as wandering around in 'Demon's Souls'... almost.

Just about all the trophies are fairly easy, you can get most of them on one playthrough without even trying.  There are the standard "Complete Chapter" trophies, one for each of the two endings, and one for each of most of the weapons.  There are collectibles in the game, but you're not required to find all of them for trophies, just one of each kind.  The only ones I had issues with were some of the weapon ones and the one for curbstomping 5 enemies.  Some weapons are extremely rare, I think some only show up two or three times the entire game, and it's harder than it sounds to curbstomp someone.  You have to knock an enemy down before you can curbstomp them, but most of the time they end up dying before they fall down.

Overall, if you are a fan of the movies, this game is almost a no brainer as it feels exactly how it should feel to play a game based on 'Saw'.  Even if you don't like the movies you could have fun with it.  The 'Condemned' style melee combat, the 'Demon's Souls' comparable atmosphere, and the sometimes tricky puzzles combine into a surprisingly fun game.  The presentation of the story is the main downfall, however, it's based on a series of films that have been labeled "torture porn" by some, so the presentation doesn't matter much.  I'd give this a 7/10.

This review is based off a complete playthrough of the PS3 version of the game on the normal difficulty level.
100% of the trophies were collected.

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