Like SEGA’s deservedly successful Alien Vs Predator game that first appeared back in February of this year, Konami’s first Saw game from 2009 was given a similarly rough ride by many critics, but was nevertheless welcomed in warmly, and with open arms, by most (if not all) of the fans. Pedants who dissed that first game (developed, as is this sequel, by Zombie Studios) turned a blind eye to the fact that it was almost ridiculously faithful to the source material, and in the way that say, Enter The Matrix tried and (miserably) failed to do, it actually felt like it was an expansion of the source material’s universe, and thoroughly deserving of a place in the same timeline as the movies.
Saw 2: Flesh & Blood is cut from the very same cloth as the first game and is every bit as challenging, atmospheric and affectionate, and remains a sizeable distance away from being a mega-budget release. Appropriately though, the Saw movies were always militantly lo-fi little shockers anyway, and both of these Saw games skilfully use their stripped-down nature to create the kind of foreboding atmosphere that most horror games would kill to be able to maintain for as long as they do. And in more-or-less every department, Flesh & Blood is the superior title of the two.
For one thing the weightless and often frustrating combat of the first game has been scrapped completely, and encounters are now accompanied by a series of brisk QTEs that require you to be on the ball at all times; a design decision that provokes a constant feeling of nervy anxiety that couldn’t really be more welcome or appropriate. The headache-inducing mazes that filled the space between each puzzle in the first game are thankfully gone too, replaced by a strictly linear approach that always places paramount important on the splintered narrative. And it’s only a minor flourish, but the new lock picking mini-game – which you tackle from the first-person perspective of your lock-pick – is nothing if not fresh.
You’d be hard pressed to insist that the Saw movies are anything other than down-the-line pieces of well-made trash, but during their shrewdest moments they always resisted the urge to trade in cheap and easy scares, and even when they aimed for the gross-out they always had the decency to be inventive along with it. The games works along similar lines, and although the first thing that you’re asked to do as the sequel opens is to remove a small key from your own tear duct using only a scalpel, after that you’re more likely to encounter a mildly ingenious perspective puzzle than a repulsive splatter set-piece. Although make no mistake, it does have plenty of those too.
It also has some genuinely interesting narrative diversions stuffed up its blood-stained sleeve, and Saw 2: Flesh & Blood ensures that its plot is always inspiring the gameplay rather than the other way around. You will almost certainly get the most out of it if you’re a fan of the movies, but even if you’re not, it’s very difficult not to admire something that takes its story (and its series’ legacy) this seriously. It certainly isn’t perfect, and its grubby appearance may put some off, but this a game filled with a great deal of sadistic invention, and fans mourning the end of the big-screen franchise should be encouraged to know that there could well be some life in this old dog yet.
Watch the Saw 2: Flesh & Blood trailer here: