Originally published over on StrategyInformer, reproduced here with permission.
Whilst the original Saw videogame was a run-of-the-mill survival horror title with fairly insipid mini-games and a turgid combat engine bolted on, bigger things were expected – and indeed promised – of this sequel. A greater variety of gameplay mechanics, a heightened sense of terror and completely overhauled combat were mooted and publicised, but what we actually end up with is disappointing in the extreme. Save from a few choice differences, Saw II is pretty much the same as last year’s version, and maybe that’s inspiration from the films taken a little too far.
The game opens with a nameless character slicing an opening below their own eye to remove a key and disarm a portable Iron Maiden head-trap, before moving into a familiar routine of corridor traversal, puzzle sequences and combat. About a half an hour in you’ll take control of a young Michael Tapp (Danny Glover’s character’s son), and – during a flashback – wander around a crime scene garnering insults from your colleagues and marvelling at the squalor of a crumbling tenement building. Any hopes for an extended look into his character or even some inspired playable back-story to puncture the inevitable house of terrors is quickly dashed though, as you’re soon mugged and placed inside a Jigsaw Mouse Trap to begin proper.
From here, you can probably guess how the game plays out. Part puzzle and part survival horror adventure, Saw II asks players to navigate dark and squalid corridors filled with hazards, in search of mundane items that allow mechanical progress (batteries, fuses for switch boxes, and so on). Occasionally the game throws a set-piece timed puzzle, a blacklight code search or a few thugs into your path, and these constitute the meat of the experience. Unfortunately that’s a shame, because – for the most part – they simply aren’t fun.
The puzzles themselves fall into one of two categories: routine mini-challenges and the more elaborate scene-based set pieces. The mini-games that pervade every corridor are the sorts of things you’ll have seen a million times elsewhere. From lighting up the wall to discover a code combination for a lock, through to the Pipe Mania-style ‘connect these two conduits in order to bypass this circuit’ layout, you’ve done this before. Whilst they aren’t offensive, they are pretty dull, and seem to exist simply to prolong the experience. Very few of them utilise the environment in an exciting manner, but when they do, glimpses of what could have been annoyingly shine through the swathe of murky adequacy above.
The set pieces on the other hand, are a little more elaborate and can on occasion be quite fun. They’re usually set against a strict time limit that promotes a decent sense of urgency, and the mechanics range from conventional to fairly inspired. Disarming bombs or frantically searching for clues in the shadows of mannequins whilst another protagonist inches towards a gruesome death is what Saw II undoubtedly does best, and no doubt you’ll want to get things wrong a couple of times first just to see what happens. Like the original, Saw II certainly isn’t shy about its portrayal of gore, but without the weight of any characters you’ll genuinely care about, the gibs and red particles becomes a freakish and titillating side-show. Just like the movies, at the end of the day.
If you boxed those set pieces up and threw them onto a disc or a download, you’d have the core experience of the Saw videogame franchise, but probably only an hour’s worth of material. It’s everything else that drags it down, including a combat system that has changed from bad to even worse this year. Gone are the tricks and traps, blocking and dodging of the original, to be replaced with QTE’s and a few open locations in which to lead charging enemies into specific environmental hazards. The combat is dull, lifeless and entirely unnecessary for the game as a whole, with even the insta-death traps telegraphed to such a degree that you can almost predict every door they will appear behind. It’s a grind, and it really shouldn’t be.
And those, for all the promises that were made, were largely the same criticisms levelled at the original. If you can find it cheap or you’re the type of fan that just wants to see animations of heads exploding and body parts smashed, then you might get a good hour or so of entertainment from Saw II. For everybody else, the grind in-between the spectacle is just too lifeless to bother with. Turn the sound up, focus on the screen, and try to stifle your yawns.