Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


Saw (Xbox 360, 2009): Expect Nothing, Get Something
August 10, 2010, 9:43 pm
Filed under: Saw (Xbox 360, 2009, US)

I’m a huge horror movie fan, but I never cared to see the torture-porn flick “Saw” (or its fourteen iterations). This is mostly because I don’t really consider them horror films—at least not in any classic sense—but more like exploitation films (which also have their place, just not in my collection).  Nevertheless, I gladly jumped into playing “Saw” (the game) on the Xbox 360 only because it looked creepy, and I hadn’t played anything creepy in a while (and I considered not having any real familiarity with the films a plus, since I went in expecting nothing at all).

As it turns out, it’s a puzzler, with some basic brawling (which is damn near broken), set in the basement guts, corridors, and ventilation systems of a long-abandoned, terribly unsanitary mental hospital. (My most immediate comparison is to the older, and much-better, “Condemned: Criminal Origins” game.)  And since what I was searching for primarily were spine-chilling, icky environments infected with decay and staphylococcus, I got exactly what I wanted. The atmosphere of the dank, poorly lit, dried-blood hallways strewn with medical waste and tape recordings of insane patients and their equally insane doctors (who leaves these things lying around?) is exceedingly well done. (Actually, the recordings help to flesh out the hundred-year-or-so history of the asylum and the evolution of its questionable practices to cure mental illness, as well as how bad financial times through the decades helped to corrupt the once honorable intentions of the healthcare providers. I was surprised by, and appreciated, this kind of narrative depth from what might be considered a silly horror game.) The creepy rooms with burnt and torn wallpaper, disabused iron lungs, and the requisite flickering, buzzing fluorescent lights is indeed the star of the show. You play as Detective David Tapp from the first film (I am obviously a bit fuzzy on plot specifics not having seen the films) who has been rescued from death by Jigsaw (that serial killer guy with the red and white puppet face thingey from the movie commercials I’ve seen). But while he has plucked a bullet from your chest, he has implanted a key there instead—a key being searched for by every other crazy-ass criminal who has also been trapped by Jigsaw in the abandoned facility along with you. So, since your equally unpleasant and trapped foes need the very key you have under your ribcage in order to escape, they all give chase and are willing to dig it out of you. Oh why can’t we all just get along? I actually like the idea of why everyone in the place is after you—it fits tidily into what I call “videogame logic.”

Though most net reviews kind of shrug their shoulders at the game in typical “meh” fashion, to me there’s a lot to like about the game. One notable: It has no loading screens; it runs seamlessly the entire length. Check. Textures and colors in the dank environment are damn fine. Check. It is a Gamerscore whore’s delight: 20g for dying? Hah! Love it. 5g for being idle for 5 minutes? Check. You play in your barefeet! Stepping on crushed glass on the floor steals health away and leaves bloody footprints for your enemies to follow—clever! Check. The puzzles are not so difficult that gameplay stalls. Check.

Or, at least that’s what I thought early on. Truth be told, as the game wore on, it lost points with me. Repetitive gameplay; the same puzzles repeated too often but just at higher difficulties or with less time allotted; pacing problems and a crazy steep learning curve halfway through when the life-threatening puzzles tripled in difficulty as bombs ticked away at your feet or poison gas filled the room. Sure, this made for tense times (which you want in a game like this), but it also made for unhappy players (one of whom in the room sort of threw his controller in exasperation—it wasn’t me, scout’s honor). The combat mechanic (close-up brawling mostly) was nearly broken, as I mentioned. Finishing moves requiring context-sensitive button presses were ridiculously difficult to time, so it often felt like it came down to sheer luck instead of learning and using the game’s mechanics skillfully. The ending was way mediocre, although there was more than one (and both are relatively easy to see with a little rewinding and extra play, and each have their own gamerscore attached—Yay!). Still, the setting was gritty, the atmosphere thick and creepy. Putting the game on my “completed” shelf, I have one thought: Damn, I wish I could lift the filthy, darkened corridors strewn with mutilated mannequins and drop them into the middle of a Silent Hill game—now that would be hot.