Despite the Saw franchise growing quite rapidly, until now, there had never been a fully-fledged video game tie-in. Saw: The Video Game, arrives just in time to boost the arrival of the latest film, Saw VI, but they do have completely independent storylines - so aside from the name and a few recurring characters, it's a completely new experience for fans. Since there has never been a game for the franchise, questions surely have to be asked about how successfully the formula that's made it a big screen success can adapt to the world of video games. Is this another game that goes down the same road as so many in the past?
Being written by original creators of Saw, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, expectations were high. Players take control of Detective David Tapp, who fans might recognise from the original film and he finds himself in Whitehurst asylum. After being shot during the original film, Jigsaw decides to heal Tapp, but while doing so, he sews in the key to escape the asylum. Jigsaw hopes to teach Tapp about his lack of appreciate for his own life, as well as others. Throughout the game, Tapp has various encounters with other members from the Saw universe, such as Amanda Young and Melissa Sing. The majority of them have some kind of grudge against Tapp, but he has to save them from Jigsaw's twisted traps.
It's actually a really good story in theory, but unfortunately there isn't really that much dialogue. The majority of it comes from Jigsaw's recorded messages or tannoy announcements, as Tapp rarely has any vocal engagement with anyone. There is plenty of back story available as well, through case files and audio messages that Jigsaw leaves lying around - it helps to involve players into the world of Saw and even helps the game become engaging for those who might not have had much immersion into the world of Saw before.
Unfortunately, this is where the positives start to fade. The gameplay is essentially split into two sections, puzzles and third-person action, but neither of them are overly good. Puzzles are the better of the two, but there are a finite amount of puzzles, and even the climactic (end of section) puzzles are sometimes simply reused, but regurgitated in a slightly more complicated form. It would have been nice to see much more variety with the main puzzles, because after a while they really start to get tedious. The only saving grace is the addition of timers, which help to add a bit of pressure to some situations. The less common puzzles in most situations aren't really puzzles at all, as some of them literally involve searching a table, or looking in a mirror. They won't really challenge anyone and essentially serve as an excuse to make the player go off on a tangent of some kind.The combat is so broken that it actually becomes laughable. There are various weapons that Tapp can use, such as a hatchet, or a table leg. However, any normal person would think that having a weapon would give the player an advantage - not true in Saw apparently. Tapp swings the weapons so slowly that unless he gets the first strike, it's pretty much impossible to win. The only reason that a player would ever want to use a weapon is to unlock achievement points or trophies, because aside from that it's completely redundant. Conversely, using bare hands is ridiculously over-powered. One scenario involves fighting against a vastly overpowered enemy, and he could simply be beaten by hitting the weak punch continuously - not exactly challenging. molotov cocktails are also present, but using them is like taking part in the national lottery. It's completely hit or miss whether they will actually work, and more often than not, they simply disappear after they're thrown. Perhaps Jigsaw has managed to create a trap which creates a black hole for them to sink into.
The exploration element is decent at best, with the controls not overly tight. As the asylum is often quite dark, Tapp also needs to have some kind of illumination, but again this seeks rather unbalanced. Tapp has three tools to choose from: a lighter with infinite fuel, a torch or a camera with a flash. The last two in the list are fairly useless though, as the torch only offers illumination in one small section, and the camera offers delayed illumination. The lighter however, offers 360 degrees of light and means molotovs can be used. Even with the correct lighting, running around at full speed with extreme confidence isn't really advised either as there are numerous tripwires around which result in instant-death. If they are found, they can actually be turned against Jigsaw's minions, resulting in a gruesome death for them. Tapp can also create his own traps, which can make combat slightly more interesting, but generally just using fists is the quickest way to overcome any opponent, so traps are generally quite redundant.
Saw is probably one of the more interesting uses of the Unreal Engine, as it's so gory. There have probably never been so many graphic deaths in a video game, as the majority of minions end up with their heads being exploded, or their eyes gouged out. When wandering around, Tapp can also see what's happened to people who failed their tests - not a pretty sight. Failing some of the more severe challenges also results in some gruesome death sequences. The sound is also pretty good, although some of the dialogue is terrible. For example, after being skewed by a huge spike, Tapp asks the victim if they are bleeding. There are some noticeable deficiencies with the graphics engine though, as shadows don't form properly. It's disappointing, because the game relies so heavily on light; it really helps to ruin the mood and remind people they are just playing a video game. For a game that's supposed to be about survival horror, this is a serious issue, and throughout the entire game there weren't really any uncomfortable moments.
There are two endings for players to experience, but aside from that, there is basically no reason to replay the game. Some of the puzzles change each time they are experienced, but everything else is identical. It's a shame, because the game isn't exactly lengthy and while the addition of featurette videos is nice for the fans, it isn't really going to keep people coming back to the game long after they've completed it.
The highlight of Saw is the story. The original team of James Wan and Leigh Whannell were brought on board, and it shows as they detail the journey that Detective Tapp has to go through. It's one of the few highlights though, as the game has un-immersive exploration, puzzles which start off as interesting, but are severely over-used and an extremely broken combat system that just becomes comical. Fans of the Saw franchise might be interested to see a continuation of the original story, but most other people may struggle to find reasons to play through this game.