The SAW movie series seems to be one of those franchises which has been around forever. This is no doubt thanks in no small part to the yearly movie releases which have been taking place for the past seven years. Nonetheless, the gruesome franchise looks to give its fans one last grizzly farewell this year with SAW 3D. To coincide with the swan song of Jigsaw’s terrifying puzzles, Konami has released a second title in the SAW video game series. Unfortunately, SAW II: Flesh and Blood is a game which is too repetitive to be fun and will likely not provide an enjoyable experience for any but the most ardent fans of the series.
Now, before I get into the numerous problems that Flesh And Blood has, let me give credit where credit is due. The developers have done a tremendous job of capturing the feeling of the SAW movies. Gameplay takes place in dingy environments which give the same feeling of hopelessness that that the films do. The environments and characters are pretty well rendered although the former does get somewhat repetitive after a while.
Similarly, some of the traps communicate the gory feel of the SAW franchise exquisitely. As we noted in our preview, the opening sequence of SAW II actually forces you to cut out your own eye in order to retrieve a key found behind it. Although this is definitely the most gruesome of all of the traps, the others scattered throughout the game do an excellent job of giving players that same queasy feeling that the movies inspire. Some of these traps are relatively well designed and require a good amount of thinking to solve, however, others are just tedious.
This tedium is where the wheels sort of start to fall off for the second game in the series. Gameplay effectively revolves around completing a simple minigame, gaining access to some item, using that item to get to a new area, being posed a new challenge, completing another minigame, and opening another door. This design poses a couple of problems. First, it makes the game feel like just one big fetch quest as it always feels like your current objective revolves around finding an object or unbolting a door in order to finish a larger task such as getting an elevator working.
This might actually be enjoyable if it weren’t for the fact that the minigames, of which there are about six or seven, completely lack variety. In an even more egregious error, obstacles to your progress range from boring, in the case of the two electric circuit puzzles (lets get a little more unimaginative here) to downright frustrating to the point of controller throwing rage, as happened on multiple occasions with the overly touchy balance beam sections.
Somehow the mundane minigames aren’t even the worst part of the whole SAW II: Flesh and Blood experience. That honor has to go to the occasional “detective work” which goes into proceeding through some sections of the game. I put detective work in quotes because in reality what it actually amounts to is searching around for random information and doing a whole lot of trial and error in order to figure out exactly how a certain puzzle is solved.
This results in you spending a substantial amount of time just wandering around a specific room in order to find a series of numbers which are in the form of a blood splatter. Then, once you’ve found the series need to scramble around in the dark for another 5-10 minutes to find some other, equally arbitrarily placed clue as to how they are arranged.
This type of system would almost be acceptable if your reward for finding these numbers was something more than the solution to a combination lock. The lack of a valuable reward is only magnified when you discover that the door you just unlocked leads to more of the same. In a large part because of this lack of proportional award, the constant searching just breeds anger and irritation rather than the sense of accomplishment which should go along with completing a puzzle.
The tedium of repetitive puzzle solving is occasionally broken up by quicktime button press sequences. These trigger upon either entering or peeking into a room or at random points in the game during scripted sequences. Players must match their actions to the on-screen prompts in order to avoid a grizzly death at the point of an axe, getting shot by a revolver, or falling through the floor. Although these initially provide for a shot of adrenaline, they quickly lose the surprise factor and become more routine than intense.
Combat is handled in a similar quicktime manner. Once you find an adversary, you will be required to first defend against your attacker by pressing the x button in time with a “defend” mechanic similar to the accuracy meter seen in the kicking portion of many football games. Then, once you’ve successfully defended the attack, you then have to wait as two buttons come together one screen and press the corresponding one on your controller once they overlap. Even the addition of weapons can’t save this from being incredibly shallow and unenjoyable.
Last but not least, there is the irritating audio. SAW II: Flesh and Blood was a new experience for me in this department, as I have never had to turn off the sound in a game because it was so irritating. Your health tracked by an ekg-esque machine which beeps in order to provide a constant reminder of your health. The grating of this is only surpassed by the pleas for help which emanate from Jigsaw’s victims as you attempt to free them from their captivity. I can understand that the goal was to convey some of the desperation of the victims but they just come off whiny and irritating, especially when puzzles take a long time to solve.
Fortunately, there are a couple of aural bright spots. For one, the voiceovers are high quality. The Jigsaw voiceover in particular is spot on and adds nicely to the atmosphere created by some other aspects of the game. Additionally, the music swells nicely during some of the trap sequences, thereby increasing the tension as someone’s life balances on your actions.
However, even these moments which accurately convey the feeling of the films can’t save SAW II: Flesh and Blood. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this failure is that it isn’t because anything in the game is explicitly broken. Instead, it seems as if the developers couldn’t make up their mind as to what direction to take the game. What results is a title which just ends up being boring in spite of the fact that it captures some of the elements which made the films so successful.