“We really wanted the DNA of the series to be in the game.” – Nias Taylor, Assistant Producer
With dozens of movie licenses making their way into the video game medium, the “Saw” horror franchise seems to make the most sense. The entire setup of the films; the capture and ritualistic endangerment of seemingly random individuals in a demented “game” of a deranged psychopath; can be a sadistic allegory for the medium in itself, or at the very least provide a decent enough gameplay setup for a survival horror title. The IP, published by Konami, takes place between the first and second films of the franchise, answering some of the still unanswered questions from the first while setting up the premise for the second. We here at Elder-Geek recently got our hands on some play-time with the upcoming IP, and managed to slip in a few questions while putting in a round with Jigsaw.
Literally within the first few seconds of active participation, you immediately get a sense of where developer Zombie Studios is coming from with this title. Before even getting a movement tutorial, your character (Detective David Tapp from the films) has his head confined in the Jaw Splitter trap, the only thing saving him from miniature iron maiden-ing is your ability to rotate the analog sticks to match Tapp’s rapid unscrewing of the head piece. Similar to Quantic Dream’s upcoming film noir Heavy Rain, Saw consists largely of interactive quick time events, usually relating to actions the characters have to make in-game to complete a task. For instance, a few more minutes into the demonstration build we were given, Tapp had to shove his arm into a toilet full of hypodermic needles in order to retrieve a fuse to activate the lock on the exit door. As you control the movement of his arm with one set of controls, you must maintain a pulse (rapid pushing) of a face button to keep his arm from seizing up and succumbing to the many needle punctures.
While the mini-games appear suddenly, they rarely feel sporadic, in that most are tied with an action that you can predict requiring some extra timing: you won’t need a QTE to open a door, but you will if you’re retrieving a key from the inside of someone’s body, etc. While they still feel like an outdated mechanic in this high definition age, Saw’s far-from-arbitrary-integration of them goes a long way to making them entertaining, or at least understandable.
“Being able to create a situate for gamers is much more difficult than what you’re doing with a movie property…sometimes you have…nine buttons on a controller to use; and we want to use them all,” explained Nias Taylor, assistant producer on the project. “A lot of traps are actually dynamic, so they won’t be presented in the same way every time; they’ll start very simple but as the game progresses they’ll get more and more complex. As the player gains some experience in the world, they’ll be able to find the solutions in a very quick way.”
But, perhaps we are getting to ahead of ourselves. For those as new to the Saw world as we were, a little introduction; Jigsaw is a man with a rather evil plan. He has crafted an entire underground world of traps, puzzles, and weapons meant to eviscerate anyone unlucky enough to fall into his clutches. Communicating with malevolent omnipotence through television screens and scattered P.A. systems, the masked mad-man introduces each challenge his players stumble upon with almost flighty vagueness, leaving the player to figure out the specifics of the solution, which usually involves the life of another trapped person or his/her own. But not everyone will be as involved with Detective Tapp’s struggle as much as their own.
“You won’t be able to interact with every person in the universe,” exposits Nias, as an NPC gets his head clamped shut in an explosion of blood and steel on the other side of a double paned window, “Because every one who is placed here is placed for a very specific reason in the world. There are…just junkies and squatters who are just hanging out, there are also [people who are] trapped just like Detective Tapp is trapped, and they have to find [the way out] as much as Tapp does, so they are actually in the world trying to survive as well.”
Survival doesn’t just mean solving puzzles and opening doors, however. The time will eventually come to exchange blows with your fellow unfortunates, whether that means fisticuffs or various blunt weaponry you can pick up from the ground. If the game follows the pattern the demo set forth, battles are telegraphed by entry into a room with both entrances immediately being locked off, turning the near vacant hovel into a sort of arena with you and your opponent facing off against each other, victory only ascertained by one person falling to the ground and not getting back up.
Jigsaw’s world is a derelict and ramshackle one, with concrete floors covered in debris and walls matted in graffiti and nondescript smears. All is brought to life in an impressive visual package that utilizes a dynamic lighting system highlighting the more gruesome and gross aspects of the messy hallway and room interior. Occasional spots of cumbersome shadow detail make it difficult to navigate, but they are usually confined to room entrances and provide only a brief hindrance. The game’s audio also rings clear; screams from different rooms carry a muffled weight, various metallic scrapings and humanoid-sounding clunks maintaining an uneasy atmosphere with little effort from the player. Voice acting, from the little present in the demonstration build, feels a little rough and unpolished, but still makes most Silent Hill cutscenes look robotic in comparison.
Like many games before it, Saw looks to have the player engage in a bit of moral god-play with various other trapped players, something that will be a weighty aspect in both the single and multiplayer facets. Not only will players have the Bioshock conundrum of letting others live or die, Zombie Studios spent a good time plugging an intuitive scripting system that will expand the relationship each gamer has with the world’s characters.
“The decision-making process is very integral in the ‘Saw’ universe, so we wanted to make that very evident in the game.” Nias Taylor continues, “We use the Unreal Engine and Kismet scripting to really dictate the flow of the game by your interactions…with the residents of this world.”
For those unsure of what Kismet scripting is, Mr. Taylor came prepared with a little explanation:
“Without giving away the secrets of our developer…I’ll just give you a very light example. Let’s say you run into a person who’s just a squatter…maybe you encounter them and they’re a little bit weaker than you, maybe you have a pipe and you hit them pretty bad…and they get to a certain point and run away. They may not forget that…in the future you may just be minding your own business and they pop out, and get a surprise jump on you.”
While the demo didn’t provide enough time to see the scripting system at work, it did do enough to surprise us with its quality. More than most licensed titles, this one appears to at least have some talent to match the care and love for the source material. Both the audio and visual presentation of this dank and crud-infested world are rendered with intimate detail, and the puzzles manage to make you remember why quick-time events were once considered a good idea, if not making them fun for you again. Whether or not the films have done it for you for the past twenty Halloweens, you must admit the concept was begging for a video game adaptation by the rough draft of its first script.
To lamely answer Jigsaw’s now famous goading: Yes, I do want to play a game.
Saw is set to release this October, in conjunction with the wide-release of the series’ sixth installment in theaters, on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and as a download on the PC.
The interview present in this article has been edited for time and coherence concerns, not with intent to change information or details presented by those interviewed. Questions and concerns can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Published By: Konami
Developed By: Zombie Studios
Rating: ESRB M for Mature
Platforms: PS3, 360, PC
Release Date: 9 October 2009
Genre: Survival Horror