Saw: The Video Game Deserves A Second Look

Before I get to Saw: The Video Game, I need to lay a bit of groundwork, so please bare with me.  When the first Saw movie was released I was blown away. It was a fresh and disturbing take on the survival horror genre. Even more to my liking was the story of how it was made by two aspiring film makers from Australia who wrote a script that had minimal characters and could take place in a single room.

James Wan and Leigh Whannell - Creators of the Saw Franchise.

They built some of the props and created a short film of a victim with the famous reverse bear trap locked onto their head. The style and feel of the Saw franchise began in that short film. The boys got their movie deal, made saw for a bare-bones budget of $1.2 million and generated worldwide box office revenues of over $100 Million (before merchandising and DVD sales!)

Contrary to its financial success, the reviews, possibly writing the game off erroneously as a movie tie-in game, read as follows:

“There are a few cheap thrills, but not enough to make sitting through the senseless plot even remotely worthwhile.”
– New York Post

“Saw has art-house ambitions, but it’s nothing but a glorified snuff film. I despised this movie.”
– Ebert & Roeper

“So over the top that even the recruited audience of non-critics at my screening began to howl.”
– USA Today

“The Internet film geeks are salivating over this one. But humans who live above ground, including horror fans, will find themselves only fitfully entertained and more consistently appalled.”
– Washington Post

“A strenuously morbid assembly of deranged-genius- serial-killer movie conventions cribbed from just about every popular post-Hannibal Lecter movie imaginable.”
– Toronto star

The list of bad reviews goes on and on, yet Saw II, made for $4 million, took in nearly $150 million worldwide. The TOTAL budget for the first six Saw films was $47 million and they took in $738 million worldwide. Someone sure as hell likes these movies. Saw VII will be released this October (2010) on the Friday before Halloween, just as it has every year for the past six years.

So what does this have to do with the video game?

Let’s just say I, of all people,  should have known better. Being a fan of the films (and the sories behind making them) I found out very early that a Saw video game was being made. I immediately put it on my “must buy” list. All was well and good until I began reading critical reviews published just before it’s release.

“Do you want to play a game?” Yes, a better one

“Saw fails to deliver the suspenseful crescendos, surprising twists, and apprehensive atmosphere of the films. Instead, it’s padded with unremarkable gore, poor pacing, and uninspired level design. This game suffers from the same chronic affliction as the milked film franchise – it wears out its welcome quickly and asks too much for the price of admission.”
6 / 10 – Game Informer Magazine

“When you aren’t collecting case files that contain virtually no new information or getting your head vaporized by shotgun tripwires, you’ll work to save the lives of six dipsticks who hate your guts.”
4.5 / 10 – Official Xbox Magazine

So I paid tribute to the issue of the month paper gods and heeded their advise. I put off the purchase and placed it at the bottom of my GameFly rental queue wondering if it would even be worth the rental. I didn’t want to get the game and have it taint my affection for the films.  I even looked past the fact that Zombie Studios brought in the original Saw creators to write the script for the game.

Months pass and I put the Saw video game out of my mind completely. As my GameFly queue shifted, getting more and more pre-release titles added to it, I finally got to the point, as fate would have it, that the only game in my queue that was available to ship was Saw. At first, when I got the email that it had shipped, I was disappointed that I had forgotten to remove it from the queue. That was how powerful the reviews of the game had been.

The game arrived and I placed it on the TV stand where it would sit for weeks before I would even put it in and give it a chance.

Late one evening after the family was in bed, I donned my headphones and began to play Saw. I owed it a glancing look before shipping it back.

Almost immediately I was drawn into Jigsaw’s world. The sound design, the way the rooms looked, the broken glass strewn on the floor, all of it pulls you into Jigsaw’s world.  I played for hours, slowly and carefully making my way from clue to clue, avoiding traps, saving some victims, unable to save others. Just when you are used to this slow and careful pace, a door slams behind you, bomb light up all over the room and a bright red LED timer begins to count down. You must hurry and solve the puzzle to get out before the bombs go off. After pushing through this puzzle, it’s back to exploring slowly or be victim to a trip wire or a door wired to a shotgun.

It’s a stressful game to play – cleverly designed to build tension, release it, then build it again. The combat does need a little work, just as many reviews mention, but it is certainly not un-playable. Not by a long shot.

I have made it through Jigsaws labyrinth of challenges and completed both endings (yes – there are two endings) to the game.  I continue to go back and reply various chapters chasing the lest few achievements to 100% the game.  The game is truly fun and, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief, terrifying.  Just as it should be.

I let a few critical reviews of this game keep me from enjoying it sooner.  In researching this article I found a stark contrast between Commercial Reviews and User Reviews.  Gamers consistently rate this game higher than critics do.

There are no real “critics” at Platform Nation.  None of us are required to write about anything we don’t have an interest in.  We are gamers and our reviews are far more like user reviews because the we chose the games we want to play and write about.  Perhaps this is why many of our reviews contradict “critical” reviews of the same game.

If you enjoy the Saw films and considered getting this game, but let a few magazine or TV show reviews turn you away- then go rent this game this weekend.  And once you see just how it feels to be put into Jigsaws puzzles, you may find yourself buying this game just to spread the tension filled experience out over time.

On October 19th, 2010 Saw II: Flesh and Blood – the second Saw video game from Zombie Studios and Konami will be released.  It looks to be very similar in game-play and visual style as the first game but with improvements in the combat system.  It’s on my “must-buy” list and no mainstream review will sway me from that.  “I want to play a game.”

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  • Brian Heitzenrater (FrehleyzComet)

    Nice article. I have this as well and planned on playing it in the near future. It’s funny that you would post this story around the same time I did my Batman vs. Jigsaw story. Be sure to read it! 🙂