Two and 1/2 Cookies
Saw II: Flesh and Blood is made for a particular audience. Exit everyone who doesn’t like the Saw franchise, or thought it was stupid, or who thought that maybe it was okay, but as far as spending another 8 hours in it, no thanks. Okay, now for the rest of you that are left: Exit, anyone who doesn’t like brain teasers, crossword puzzles, sodoku, matching puzzles, mensa tests, math and the like.
The Saw franchise believe it or not, fits perfectly into video game conventions. As you may recall, in the films Jigsaw presents his victims with elaborate and always ironic traps from which they have to free themselves or die. In video game form, this means that the player has to solve these “traps”, which are really just brain-teasing puzzles. The puzzles range from easy, to downright frustrating – the most frustrating of them having the extra bonus of being timed so you end up frantically hunting for the solution even as you watch the clock wind down. In the movies you get to watch the poor saps fail their tests and spring the bear traps attached to their heads, splitting their noggins in two. In the game you get this same gorific enjoyment, with the added bonus of actually wanting to save them so that you can move on.
It’s been a while, but I remember being impressed with the original Saw film as a piece of independent horror goodness. Even the title was pretty darn cool back in those days when it was yet to be ground into pop consciousness like so much hamburger. I recall even thinking that Saw 2 was really good considering that Saw pretty much stood on its own and didn’t necessarily beg for a sequel. By the time Saw 3 came around and Mr. Jigsaw was getting apprentices and plots were continually twisting and turning in this surprise place and to that surprise place, I was bored. In fact, I streamed the most recent Saw on Netflix after I finished this game – I think it was Saw 7? – not having seen any of the other more recent ones, and promptly fell asleep wondering if that was Rick Springfield who had managed to finagle himself the starring role in it. Note: It wasn’t Rick Springfield, but Sean Patrick Flanery. But they kinda look alike.
Rick Springfield was not in Saw, but he was in The Walking Dead
Plotwise, the Saw II video game pretty much plays like the movies. The player controls a character named Michael. Michael is investigating his father’s death, the protagonist from the first game, when he’s abducted by Jigsaw and the game begins in earnest. The narrative feels a lot like a simpler version of the movies with Michael moving from area to area and puzzle to puzzle.
The art direction, sound and graphics, capture the Saw vibe of dank basements and abandoned buildings. The graphics are below par, but anybody who came for the graphics is not going to stay anyway, as those types aren’t going to have the patience for the puzzles.
Considering that the game plays exactly like the first one, it’s surprising that it sold enough copies to demand a sequel. As I tried to say in my introduction, my guess is that those coming for the terror and gore are not going to be into the puzzles, and those coming for the puzzles are going to be turned off by the horror aspects of the game. But I’ve obviously underestimated the audience for “horror-puzzlers.”
That said, accolades must be given to the producers and debugging team for making their game an almost glitch-free experience. Considering the sheer amount of puzzles and brain teasers in the game, I didn’t come across a single one that didn’t work. (Although there was one that I did solve which lead into a cut-scene which glitched and forced me to reload the checkpoint and do the puzzle again.) But when comparing Saw II: Flesh and Blood to the other leader in the “horror-puzzler” field – ahem – Silent Hill, Saw is a relatively painless experience glitch-wise. Silent Hill Homecoming had me setting a clock through every minute of the day before allowing me to proceed, as the proper solution was glitched. (Note: Silent Hill games are superior in every other way to these Saw games and if you haven’t played Homecoming and Downpour you need to spend your time with those first before even considering these Saw games.)
In closing, I want to mention the save system. Throughout the game are old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorders you walk up to and save with. Sometimes these tape recorders are separated by more than an hour and a half of game time, which more than once caused me some problems as I had pretty much had my fill of the game but couldn’t stop playing until I came to one of these save points. Mind you, there are check points throughout the game, after every puzzle, so if you die (which you will – often) it loads up to the last check point. But the implication is, that the checkpoints only save to the ram, not to your hard drive like the tape recorder, so you can’t actually turn your game off until you come to one of the reel-to-reels. There were two times in particular that I played far later into the night than I really wanted to due to this save-system design flaw and it really pissed me off – like cursing the publisher and picturing their heads in the bear traps.
After I finished the game I loaded up some previous levels to try for a few extra achievements, and guess what I discovered? The checkpoints ARE save points. Basically, the tape recorders are bullshit. They save all right, but so does every single check point, every ten minutes or so. This is never written in the instructions, or said in the game. In fact, the game makes quite a big deal of explaining the tape recorders when you come upon the first one.
At first, upon this discovery I was even more enraged, thinking back on the two nights I stayed up past midnight. But after consideration of the Saw franchise and Jigsaw’s modus operandi, I actually think it’s pretty funny in a diabolical, assholish kind of way. One of those meta-moments in gaming. Touche’ publishers and designers. You got me. Now come over here and put your heads in this bear trap.