If you grew up in the aughts, you remember Saw. You remember the grim advertisements, the grisly kills, and the umpteen clones of its torture porn formula. You also probably remember the duo of iffy Konami games that came out. While the first installment at least had some ambition, the second was an unmitigated disaster that completely failed to understand the source material.
But while those games failed for myriad reasons, that doesn’t mean Saw itself couldn’t translate well to gaming. However, I’m not sure a traditional console game is the route to go. The Lionsgate franchise trades in visceral, claustrophobic setpieces – a budget-savvy approach that allows for maximum thrills with minimal need for filming locations. That inventiveness is what makes the movies work so well, as audiences feel trapped right along with Jigsaw’s latest victims.
However, that approach flies in the face of most traditional game design. The closest genre approximation I can think of are escape room games, and even then, very few of those match the terror, the urgency, and the stomach-churning gore of the Saw films.
How, then, could this prolific horror franchise work in gaming? Easy: virtual reality.
VR horror has progressed at an alarming rate, with the medium being constantly reinvented by talented developers hellbent on making your worst nightmares come to life. Even with this rapid growth, however, the very best horror experiences are often the most claustrophobic ones. We’re not quite at the point where a fully explorable world, like something out of Silent Hill or The Evil Within, would feasibly work. That’s why experiences like Resident Evil 7 or Last Labyrinth pan out so well: they’re dead-set on constraining players to tight quarters and scaring the piss out of them.
Which is precisely why Saw would be a perfect fit for the medium. The films’ stifling, close-quarters sets, full of obtuse brainteasers and devious death traps, would translate perfectly to the medium. There are numerous VR games with Saw-like conceits at this point – that basic idea of being bound to a location and forced to solve your way out of it. It’s not much of a logical leap, then, to add in brutal torture and timed escape sequences for some extra-gruesome fun.
Plus, that torture could make for a great VR experience. Imagine facing towards a mirror and being forced to cut an audiotape out of your own stomach, or using your Oculus controller to saw off one of your own limbs. Watching somebody die would be even more heartbreaking if you failed to solve a puzzle in time, and being forced to choose who lives or dies (a la Saw VI) would have an unnerving tangibility to it. All of this would be compounded by the medium itself – tricking the player into feeling like they’re really trapped under Jigsaw’s thumb.
The timing couldn’t be better, either. After 2017’s pitiful joke of a soft reboot, Jigsaw, the franchise is set to come roaring back to life with next year’s Spiral (no relation.) Saw’s poised for the comeback it deserves, and there’s never been a better time to give the franchise another crack at gaming. And with VR only getting more popular with each passing year, this is the perfect time to try and make Jigsaw’s twisted sense of violent justice to nightmarish (virtual) reality.
With Lionsgate’s first major foray into VR horror coming this month with Blair Witch: Oculus Quest Edition, it’s high time that the company turn its attempt to their other major horror franchise – and finally give it the gaming experience fans deserve.
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Bella Blondeau is a lovable miscreant with a heart of gold… or so she says.
She likes long walks in dingy arcades, loves horror good and bad, and has a passion for anime girls of any and all varieties. Her favorite game is Nier: Automata, because she loves both robots and being sad.
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