Written by Jason Trent Thursday, 04 November 2010 18:58
Games based on movies are not typically very good, they're often rushed to be released alongside their big movie counterpart, and they frequently only receive a fraction of the development time and budget that AAA titles see. Saw II: Flesh & Blood suffers from all these things and more. After last year's Saw game, I had very little hope that a sequel would be entertaining, but as a self proclaimed Saw super fan, curiosity got the better of me, and against my better judgment I still gave this year's iteration a shot. Conceptually, the original game wasn't as bad as some people made it out to be. The story, tone, and even some of the puzzles worked perfectly with the Saw universe and just a few tweaks and more time could have made it exceptional, but instead of fixing what was broken, Zombie studios made the game even more busted.
You must be wondering where everything went wrong. The original game suffered from a couple of main issues that marred the experience. First, combat was a complete joke. Hitting the fast attack button over and over, even with no weapon, resulted in an assault that nearly no enemy in the game could ever counter. That's probably for the best though, because that aside, combat was not fun. Weapons used were distinguishable only by look, and in use, one didn't behave differently from another. Hit detection was all over the place with sure hits being nothing but whiffs and obvious misses somehow hitting the enemy. It's hard to describe in any other way than awful or one of its many synonyms. Zombie assured fans that these concerns would be addressed in Saw II, but for whatever reason, combat was fixed by sweeping it under a rug. That's correct, combat was completely yanked and replaced with quick time events. See an enemy running at you? Don't you fret, just get ready to successfully hit a couple of button prompts and you win. All potential tension is lost in translation.
With combat taking a step into the shadows, more focus is placed on puzzles, which is where Saw II: Flesh & Blood shines it's brightest, but also has the most problems. There really are some interesting traps and puzzles where you'll need to apply yourself. An example that comes to mind deals with perspective, making you have to stand in the perfect place and at the right angle to get a series of numbers for a puzzle. Another stand out puzzle involved charging glow in the dark paint with a flashlight while trying to find out how each victim in the room was killed. These things actually felt like scenarios that you might see in the Saw universe. Too often though, the game forces you to endure games of memory, lights out, and my personal favorite: connect the wires from one point to the other by rotating panels. You know the crazy you're dealing with is a sick puppy when he's making you play lights out to save a person's life.
The story of Saw II: Flesh & Blood follows that of the original game. You take on the roll of Detective Tapp's son as he learns about the events leading up to his father's suicide. The story is convoluted as most Saw stories are at this point, but there was something missing from the experience that the original had: choice. At the end of the first game, you had an opportunity to choose one of two ways to end the story, and that changed the way the game ended. Saw has always been about choices and how our choices impact our selves and those around us. At the end of Saw II, you're again given a choice, except you never actually get to make that choice. Rather, the scene fades to black, and you're left to theorize as to what just happened. It may be a small problem to some, but this design choice undermined the entire point to Saw. Choice in other parts of the game is missing as well. You have what the game calls a choice to save a victim, though you rarely really have a choice. Failure simply leads to a game over screen and you're required to retry. To me, a better take on this would have been something along the lines of Dead Rising, where people you're trying to save can and do die, and from there, you need to deal with the outcome.
Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. It succeeds in overall tone and environments for the most part look acceptably moody, but character models are some of the worst I've seen in recent memory. As a game running on the Unreal Engine 3, Saw II: Flesh & Blood does not tread new ground in the visuals department, but I suppose it could be worse. Color me unimpressed.
Audio is a similar story. Tobin Bell who, in my opinion at least, is one of the few consistently great actors from the Saw series, reprises his role as Jigsaw and does so quite well. He's the one standout performance in the entire game. Everyone else is just kind of there, flatly delivering lines. Music and sound effects are fitting enough, and I was absolutely thrilled to hear the Hello Zepp track that Saw fans have come to know and love over the years. How was that missing from the first game?
Saw II: Flesh & Blood is in no way worth your time or money. Even for a seasoned Saw fan like myself, there's little redeeming value to be found. Stay away; stay far away. You know what Jigsaw? I don't want to play a game.