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Saw (also known as Saw: The Video Game) is a third person survival horror video game with action elements. It was developed by Zombie Studios and was published by Konami. The game launched on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles, with a downloadable version being made for the Microsoft Windows platform. It is an adaption of the Saw film series, and was released on October 6, 2009 in North America, November 20 in Europe, and October 6 in Australia. The Microsoft Windows version will be released on October 31, a few weeks following the initial release for consoles.

If being tormented by a crazed killer named Jigsaw as you stumble around a dank, not-so-abandoned old insane asylum filled with freaks and shotgun traps is your idea of a good time, Saw is the game for you. On the other hand, if a highly polished, varied and interesting experience is what you’re looking for, Saw is not it.

Those two ideas are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but Saw is far more successful in conveying atmosphere than it is in delivering the intellectual and motor-response engagement of a fine game.

But does the game really qualify as “torture porn,” the moniker attached to films like “Hostel,” “Saw” and their sequels? Not really. As with more traditional pornography, live action with real actors is still far more graphic than anything whipped up by a computer. When it comes to tearing people apart and watching them writhe and howl in agony as they die in gruesome ways, Hollywood special-effects wizards are still far more advanced than digital-game technologies.

In the Saw game players rummage around in search of clues inside cadavers and toilet bowls full of used syringes. Human heads are routinely squashed, ripped off bodies and blown away by explosives. And yet the player is never treated to the sort of lush, saturated close-ups of oozing, gaping wounds that inspired critics to compare the films with sexual pornography in the first place.

Developers and publishers often lament that video games are unfairly held to a stricter standard than films when it comes to explicit content. That there is a higher standard for games is undoubtedly true. Movies routinely win commercial release with R ratings while including sexual and violent material that would be considered unacceptable in a game.

But is such a double standard unfair? Games, after all, are interactive. And with the power of interactivity come responsibilities on the part of writers, designers and developers that go beyond those thrust upon novelists and film directors. Perhaps part of that responsibility means consciously refraining from combining interactivity with the most explicit graphics possible.

With the Saw game, Zombie Studios seems to understand that. As gory as it may be, the game seems to exhibit a modicum of restraint on the part of its designers and artists.

But for all that, what makes a great game is not how it looks but how it plays. And it is quite clear that the Zombie team spent far more time on the visuals than on the play. From a game-play perspective Saw isn’t horrible, but it is not particularly interesting in more than a few spots. There are a handful of puzzle types, like lock picking and circuit rewiring, that are repeated over and over. And how many shotgun traps must one man disarm? Dozens? Hundreds?

Moreover, there may not have been a clumsier, less-responsive combat system in a major game in the last year. Every swing of a baseball bat, pipe or mannequin arm feels as if it is being forced through molasses.

The Saw mythos is about being forced to choose among competing bleak alternatives. So it is fitting that this grimmest of games includes two endings. It is also fitting that neither is at all happy.

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