Joystiq hands-on: Saw


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Based on the brief teaser trailer released at the beginning of the month, our initial expectations of Konami and Zombie Studios' Saw video game were ... well, they didn't really go beyond visions of one gory minigame after another. Having now played it, we realize that, while those minigames are definitely there, there's a third-person game that shows hints of Silent Hill and Condemned: Criminal Origins in-between.

Due out on Halloween, the game is about as far from Zombie's America's Army franchise as the developer can get in the action genre -- unless this is considered a training game for the event you're ever locked inside an asylum by a lunatic who wants you to solve twisted puzzles or die. The as-of-yet unnamed player character must not only pass the maniacal Jigsaw's tests; there are also others roaming the run-down facility's halls -- some who have already failed their tests and others who believe killing the player will set them free.
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The scene that followed saw us reaching our character's hand into a filthy toilet bowl filled with hypodermic syringes.

The short demo we played was purposefully pieced together from various parts of the game, in order to provide a feel for its multiple styles of gameplay and no doubt quell fears this will be a string of escapes from cleverly designed implements of torture. Of course, we started out trying frantically to escape from just such a device.

Having appeared in the films -- the Saw video game is set between the first and second movie -- it's called the "reverse bear claw," and essentially snaps open when its timer reaches zero. Since it's firmly attached to the player's head when -- and if -- this happens, you can imagine the results. (We saw them a couple of times as we worked to figure it out.) By paying attention to visual cues given off by the trap itself, we were finally able to complete the part puzzle / part timing game and escape. Well, that trap, at least.

The scene that followed saw us reaching our character's hand into a filthy toilet bowl filled with hypodermic syringes in order to find a key that would let us out of the room. We got an almost X-Ray style view of his arm as it moved around among the needles, a pain meter quickly filling up. If we didn't find the key before it filled up, we failed the test. Luckily it was a pretty easy -- though grizzly -- one to pass.

We learned that foreshadowing will be used to get players used to some of the game's conventions early on. In one example, a cut-away is used to show another character open a door that's rigged with a shotgun pointing downward on the other side. They didn't act quickly enough. When we came to a similar door, we had a split-second to tap a randomized face button and avoid buckshot to the skull.

Yet another area was inaccessible due to an electrified fence. To get past this, we had to solve a puzzle based on rotating circuits until they were all connected. We were told these puzzles will randomize on each try and become progressively difficult, with more pieces, later in the game.

We're going to handle Saw with cautious optimism.

Before we hit the "coming soon" screen, we got a brief taste of weapons and some exploration aspects. We were able to grab a pipe, for instance, and use it to smash through a wall. After that, we had to balance while walking across a beam that spanned a fatal drop. We never actually got to fight other characters, though; we saw one, but he kept running away into the shadows, presumably where he'd leap out from in a later version.

Looks-wise, Saw is probably the most non-Unreal Engine looking game we've seen built on the technology. The asylum is all the spookier for the nice lighting effects and there's a subtle film grain to the visuals. It's definitely not the most unique looking horror game we've seen, but it's certainly not as ugly as its subject matter.

Being generally leery of movie-licensed games, we're going to handle Saw with cautious optimism. If the action's competent and the puzzles diverse are enough, it just might cut it.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.