Review: Saw II: Flesh & Blood
The road of licensed games is, and has always been, a bumpy one. Sure recent times have proven that some of them can be good, and even exceptional, but these are few stand-outs thus far in a long line of disappointments and failures. Now I’ll be honest here and admit that I’m no Saw fan, and neither do I have deep knowledge or experience with the franchise, but hell, I don’t hold James Bond in high regard either and I still enjoyed 007: Blood Stone and found it to be worth my time. With Saw II: Flesh & Blood, the sequel to 2009’s Saw: The Video Game, I found myself just becoming annoyed and overly bored all too soon after getting into the game. It was as though I had gotten trapped inside a game that was seemingly designed to bore me to death, which is perhaps what the Jigsaw Killer’s master plan was for this title. It really just felt like a chore that I didn’t have the time or patience to deal with.
Saw II: Flesh & Blood takes place right after the events of the first game, and is set between the second and third movies. In the game you take on the role of Michael, the son of Detective David Tapp from the films, who is a journalist searching for the answers behind his father’s death. His investigation inevitably leads him to get captured and find his way trapped in one of the infamous Jigsaw Killer’s dangerous games, due to him getting up to things in his life that Jigsaw thought of as wrong – and now Jigsaw wishes to put him through a series of trials to atone for his sins. It’s a decent setup for the game, and is more or less the type of concept featured in the movies that fans will be familiar with and will welcome.
However, despite my lack of knowledge of the Saw series, it’s not all that hard to see the flaws in the game’s storytelling methods. While this may be a game for fans, Saw II seems to assume that players of it are utterly devoted and well-versed in all things relating to Saw, because the game introduces and makes references to characters at a constant rate as though you know the entire cast and plot-line by memory, and the story is convoluted, making it hard to follow. Fortunately, there are collectable logs to read through and understand more of what’s going on, but it’s apparent that if you wish to be on the same page as the game you’ll need to do some external research.
Throwing the story aside, the gameplay in no way redeems Saw II: Flesh & Blood, and is immensely dry and repetitive. Similarly to the original, the gist of the game consists of surviving, making your way through dark and constricted areas filled with traps and nasty hazards, light puzzle solving and fighting off any crazed thugs. It’s all pretty standard, and the repetition of boring puzzles that require you to search for a hidden answer or item to progress, fiddle with electrical wires to open a door or work with a clue provided by Jigsaw to solve a mini mystery soon make the experience become redundant, which is eyebrow-raising seeing as how these puzzles make up the entirety of the experience. It’s actually a puzzle in itself that somehow, this sequel has managed to make certain aspects of gameplay even worse than the first game, which just ends up plummeting the already buried anchor of the original even further down into the ground.
It starts off with combat, which has been reduced from the rather clunky system featured in the previous game to merely a boring quick-time event that completely removes any tension or urgency in fights, and also destroys the element of surprise entirely, because no enemy can jump out and attack you when a quick time event is immediately triggered by their assault. Aside from the quick-time combat system, there is another enemy type that wears spiked helmets and charges stupidly at you, but if you need three guesses to figure out that moving out of the way, so that said enemy crashes into an environmental hazard, is the way to beat them, then you probably are the right candidate for this game. At least in the original game, as weak as the combat was, you were able to use the environment to your advantage by setting up traps, but in this sequel quick-time events will be the only thing you’ll have to deal with.
Now admittedly in the early moments of the game you’ll be drawn into the experience and be intrigued, and you’ll definitely be on your guard and freaked out while exploring the maze set by Jigsaw. The starting atmosphere and visual design of the levels will first set the stage for what would be an interesting and creepy game. However, it hardly takes long for that great atmosphere at the beginning to completely dissolve once you realise that there are absolutely no surprises. The quick-time events that destroy combat also feature for things like traps behind doors, which means there is no need to tread cautiously. No angry lunatic is going to jump out from the shadows and assault you, and no door will have something with death written all over it to surprise you, because the simple tap of a button or two will ruin the scare. In addition to this, the repetitive design of the game just means that it’s easy to predict where hazards are going to be.
Saw II does not realise that it entirely defeats the purpose of a horror-filled surprise if the player is warned before every single scare or assault, and even given a quick-time event to overcome them before these dangers can even get the jump on you. The only things to watch out for really are perhaps glass littering the ground, as your character is barefoot and this injures him, but this can hardly be called a reason for caution or fear. Honestly speaking, there are rare moments in the game that are done well and provide tension and urgency, and an example would be getting a time limit to solve a puzzle while another character is busy heading towards an ugly death. It’s a shame then that these don’t make up the core of the experience, but rather the boring puzzles and pathetic combat hog most of the game time.
Saw II, graphically, does not look all that bad, and the level design is initially eerie and sets the atmosphere well enough. However, once you realise that nothing can scare you, the environments and visuals then fail to impress or catch your attention anymore, and ultimately they will just become bland. Character models are worth a mention by virtue of the fact that animation is quite often terrible and jerky to an extreme degree, especially during combat. On the plus side the game does feature the Saw soundtracks, which is great, but some of the voice acting is just bad. Overall though, the sound is perhaps the only area of the game that isn’t flawed beyond repair, which is somewhat welcome.
Saw II: Flesh & Blood is simply another worthless cash-in that tries unsuccessfully to attract those still loyal to the franchise. However, in the end this sequel is just worse than its predecessor, which was already a shaky game at best, but at least it was one that had room for improvement. Now, perhaps the best way forward for this franchise from here would be in the direction of a grave, where it can be buried and put to rest eternally.