SAW - Xbox 360

You guys want to hear something messed up? Saw III was the movie my girlfriend (now fiancée) and I went to go see on our very first date. I know right? How the hell was there even a second date after that? Nothing says budding romance like seeing a guy get his limbs twisted around until they break right off. Through some miracle we survived that and now the Saw franchise kind of holds a special place in my heart. I’ve seen all of the movie installments and enjoy them on a “how much more ridiculous can this get?” kind of level (answer: pretty ridiculous).

The idea of a video game for Saw seemed strange, but also fitting. At first you’re taken aback and can’t help but wonder how they could do it. Turns out they did it pretty easily because Saw translates quite well to the world of videogames, although certainly not without some problems.

You are in control of Detective Tapp (Danny Glover’s character in the first movie), who wakes up in one of those reverse bear traps confused, disoriented, and strangely enough looking 20 years younger. The game has you running around an abandoned asylum while you solve puzzles, escape traps, and attempt to do combat with a bunch of other people put in an equally terrible situation.

I feel I should address just how much control Jigsaw has over this asylum. I’ve always questioned how they were pulling off everything in the movies since the overall plan has gotten so complex that God himself couldn’t even pull it off. The game however takes things even further. Here we’re to believe Jigsaw has everything down to such a specific science that he can control everything from doors opening and closing at the right times (often solely for dramatic effect) to groups of TVs turning on at exactly the correct moment. This guy really has his shit together, I’ll say that.

On the topic of the asylum, I have to say it’s actually a pretty impressive looking locale. It’s highly detailed and has a great atmosphere to it. The visuals do start to get repetitive as the game goes on since it’s mostly walking through one decrepit hallway after another, but I was still impressed by how good the game looks.

Music is minimal in the game but the voice acting is fantastic. Of course you got Tobin Bell doing Jigsaw, as I’m pretty sure that’s the only thing he gets to do these days. Of course he does a great job, but I was impressed at how well the supporting characters do as well. Poor voice acting could have turned this game into a complete joke of House of the Dead 2 level, so I’m glad they made sure to get actors who could really sell it.

Alright all pleasantries aside let’s get to the gameplay so I can commence bitching. The game is primarily a horror-adventure game, focusing more on solving puzzles than on fighting bad guys. I was confused about how story-wise they would work in frequent combat, but they actually do a good job setting it up. The problem is in the execution. Simply put – the combat in this game blows.

It has so much potential to reach a Condemned level of awesome. There are tons of weapons including spiked bats, scalpels, scissors, and even mannequin arms, all of which should be tons of fun to dispatch bad guys with. The problem is that the whole system is incredibly clunky and slow. At first I thought I was doing something wrong since whenever I pushed an attack button my character would instead take the passive approach and just stand there allowing himself to be murdered. Turns out it’s not user error, the combat is just really bad. It takes a few seconds to actually swing the weapon and the delay usually winds up in you getting hit before you do anything. It sucks the fun out of everything. You’re better off just using your fists since it’s much faster and your character can usually kill a bad guy out in just 2 or 3 punches – just like the real Danny Glover.

The puzzle solving fares a lot better, but it’s also not without its problems. Most of them aren’t terribly original as you put together circuit boards or line up steam pipes, but they work fine. You better enjoy them because as the game goes on, the puzzles don’t change up a whole lot. You will solve many, many versions of the same puzzle types.

How they get you though is that usually you’re doing these menial tasks while a counter is ticking down in the background. When it hits zero the result varies from bombs blowing up and killing you, to a trapped victim being bent in half backwards. It definitely increases tension, but also starts to make things so frustrating in the later stages of the game that I was finding it hard to continue playing.

Let me paint a picture for you. Let’s say you have to navigate a room full of traps. There’s poisonous gas in the air, narrow hallways with walls coming in and out that will flat out slice you in half (seriously, how did Jigsaw set all of this up!?), and bad guys who want nothing more than to cut you in half. The reason you’re traversing this room is to find Couplers that will allow you to solve three different circuit board puzzles, two of which are HUGE! Sounds tough, but probably doable right? Well guess what hotshot, you have 4 minutes to accomplish all of this.

I HATED this section of the game. It tested my limits to a scary point and it was as though the game was almost daring me to keep playing. The worst part is that this was following several other circuit board sequences that were pissing me off almost as much. I’m fine with a challenge, but the whole thing feels so trail and error and cheap that it sucks all the fun right out of the game.

It’s too bad sequences like this had to ruin a lot of the experience for me because overall this is actually a pretty solid game. It looks good, it sounds great, the story is pretty good and it’s a respectable length (although I can’t imagine much replay value here). The problem is that frustrations such as timed sequences and lousy combat keep getting in the way of the fun.

Fans of the movie, or even just fans of this genre of games, should definitely give this one a look as I would say the pros very narrowly outweigh the cons. Just get ready to die many a death at the hands of the world’s most insanely talented architect/psychopath.