theuselessgod's SAW (Xbox 360) review

Despite having a myriad of issues, Saw is actually...pretty good?

The Short


- Captures the gritty, dirty, horrifying world of the Saw movies

- A fair number of the infamous traps make an appearance

- Voice acting is decent and the game has a good atmosphere to it

- Puzzles can be very difficult and brain-teasing, which is great

- Captures the essence of the Saw movie franchise perfectly, which will please fans

- Really easy 1000/1000 G for Achievement hunters


- Combat, while not broken, is really, really poor

- While it has traps, it doesn't have nearly enough

- Puzzles are good but really repetitive

- Graphics look bland, even for an Unreal 3 engine game

- You spend 90% of the game indoors in the same gray corridors

- Endings are stupid

- While it has a strong start, it quickly burns out and runs out of ideas

"Hello, reader. I'd like to play a game..."

The LongI have a confession to make, and one that'll probably lose me a lot of respect points from my readers: I actually really like the first Saw movie. I'm a huge horror fan, and something that is often missing from the genre is (at least an attempt at) a clever story with lots of interweaving elements. Usually it's just monsters or murderers killing lots of people, and even if they try to put a story in at the beginning it degenerates. Saw managed to keep its interesting premise (two guys are locked in an unknown room together, both chained to the wall, and one is ordered to kill the other one with whatever he can find) all the way to the end, with a shocking twist that completely caught me off guard.

The movies got awful pretty quick (I saw all the way to the fifth one for some unexplainable reason) and the franchise puttered out with the final iteration, not making much money and finally dying out (after seven movies). During it's heyday, however, Konami (yes, the guys that brought us Silent Hill) thought to produce a horror game based on the movie. Set between Saw and Saw II, you play as Danny Glover's character from the first game as Jigsaw tries to convince him to overcome his obsession with finding him by forcing Danny Glover to go through a bunch of traps and kill a lot of people. So yeah, it's like the movies.

A lot of the areas in Saw remind me quite a bit of the Silent Hill games

What might amaze you, however, is that for a movie-tie in game based on progressively awful movies, Saw the game is actually...pretty good. It isn't going to blow you away or anything, but for those who like old-school style horror games (read: the ones that aren't secretly third person shooters like what Resident Evil has become and Dead Space) this is really worth looking into.The game is a linear path forward, with many obstacles put in the environment to kill you. In fact, aside from the crazed enemies, the environments themselves are your biggest chance for death. Opening doors has a random chance a shotgun trap will be attached (which means you have to quickly press a button or else your head gets blown off). You have bare feet, so if you run blindly into darkness you might step on glass and lose health. Keys are often convenient placed in toilets full of dirty syringes, and so on. Again, if you are familiar with the Saw movies this is all old-hat, but even if you are the game keeps you on your toes with the constant danger that lurks around every corner.

Let's talk about the enemies and combat first, since it's easily the worst part of the game.

Something really bad will happen to this guy if you don't solve the puzzle fast enough

The combat reminds me a good bit of old survival horror games. Unlike those games, the main character in Saw is controlled with normal third-person controls (meaning he doesn't move like a tank). Like those old games, however, combat is a horrid affair. Basically all you can do is swing whatever weapon you have and hope for the best. Enemies can easily get you stuck staggered and keep hitting you until you are dead without you having much hope for retaliation. You can often do this to them as well, but considering they like to gang up on you (and your weapons break) usually can end poorly. As a bonus, you have a shotgun collar on your neck (as do most enemies), so if you don't kill the person fast enough it'll go off and blow your head away. Awesome.

Combat is clunky and generally awful, regardless of difficulty. It honestly feels more like luck than actual skill. This sense of helplessness in the face of bad controls I guess ramps up the tension and makes you feel weak and vulnerable, but I don't think that was actually part of the plan. Luckily this game only has a moderate amount of combat, with most of your time spent exploring, dodging traps, and solving puzzles.

Hope you like puzzles that involve rotating things, because there's a lot of them

Saw only has a few different puzzle types, which is my biggest complaint against the puzzles. Most involve rotating stuff to line up other stuff...actually that might be all of the puzzles. Lockpicking is also rotating stuff to line up other stuff now that I think about it...hey! Konami, you tricked me! I was going to say that the puzzles were actually pretty good, but now I don't know if I can!

Well, they are alright, then. Wait, there's a puzzle that involves sliding stuff, so they aren't all rotating. Um, wait, where was I? Oh yes, the puzzles. They are actually difficult, which is great, and since most of them will involve somebody dying if you screw up (either yourself or a person in a rather grotesque contraption) it ramps up the tension immensely. As far as puzzles go, they are basic but brain-teasy, though one of the last ones is literally just "Memory" done on tv monitors. I guess they ran out of ideas at that point (or got tired of recycling the same ones over and over).

Point: Saw has puzzles. They are good, but lack in variety. Luckily the game is short so you only get sick of them about an hour before the end.

It does a good job staying true to the creepy aesthetics set by the movies

That's about it for how Saw works. Basically your goal is often to get into a room where Jigsaw has imprisoned an innocent person on a horrible, body-shredding trap (your guy never seems to mind the fact that he's killing a bunch of people just to get in and save one, but whatever). Then you solve a puzzle to free them, get shuffled down to the next area and repeat. It's all very liner and while there is a little variety to the areas (you go to a boiler room, a crematorium, etc.) it's all still indoors in the same place so everything starts looking identical after a while. Which again pushes the fact that Saw starts strong and then putters down quickly.

One of my favorite bits, however, is you can sometimes see rooms with the aftermath of other Saw victims after they've failed their traps, with the grisly results. It's super creepy and horrifying and helps set the mood. Again (I'm saying this a lot in this review), this game is really loyal to it's creepy and often horrific source material, and I can get behind that.

The game looks good but not great

The sound design in this game is top notch, with the original voice actor for Jigsaw coming back to record the numerous television recordings that pop up to taunt you frequently. The sound design is also excellent, using lots of silence (like the Silent Hill games) to set the mood and make it so any sudden noise is jarring and startling. During specific scenes music from the movies play, and I've always felt the Saw movies had excellent, creepy soundtracks so we'll take it.

It's a pity the graphics don't match up. All the screenshots you are seeing here are from the PC version, which has better textures and higher resolution (and it still looks just "ok"). The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions look a fair amount worse, running at lower resolutions and sporting muddy textures and bad texture popin. I think the problem really lies in the art design, which succeeds when you are in an area that's been "Jigsawed" (with the green TVs, traps, etc). But during most of the game where you are running down the same bland hallways, everything just sort of meshes together. It's uninspired, and hurts the game a lot.

It also has some really good audio logs ala Bioshock, which up the creepiness factor

As it stands, Saw is...surprisingly unoffensive. It doesn't pioneer any ground but it doesn't make any massive mistakes either. And while a lot of it is both repetitive and frustrating, I genuinely wanted to see it through til the end, and enjoyed playing it while I was at it. If you are a fan of the movies, go get some taste. But before you do that, you should probably check this game out anyway. It's short, so a weekend rent is probably your best bet, but if you can get it for under $10 you probably won't turn away unsatisfied.

So as it stands, two out of five stars. If you love the Saw movies, tack another two stars on there. If you hate them, subtract two. But if you are neutral but enjoy horror games, you might want to consider this overlooked game. At least until the next Silent Hill game comes out.

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Posted by mtmckinley

Nice review!

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