Jigsaw wants to play yet another game, but after the uninspired puzzles, monotonous environments and antiquated combat mechanics of last year's Saw: The Videogame, you shouldn't feel obliged to take the ageing gorenographer up on his offer. Saw II: Flesh & Blood is a slapdash sequel released to coincide with the latest film in the franchise, and though it makes some concerted efforts to improve on its precursor's failings, they're often made in vein. Then, with its new QTE combat system, it somehow manages to make things even worse.
We assume the role of Michael Tapp, son of overanxious detective David Tapp from the last console outing, a morally ambiguous journalist abducted by Jigsaw and made to earn his freedom through a series of do-or-die challenges. For the lion's share of Flesh & Blood's puzzles, perception is key: Hints are cleverly concealed in tape recordings or splattered in blood on the walls, sometimes requiring deft use of light switches or your torch. None of these tasks require too much sleuthing, though, as Michael will usually offer a helpful comment whenever the going appears to be getting tough. And while there are a wide variety of mini-games to prevent the action from growing stale, picking locks or wiring fuse boxes seldom feels as rewarding as intercepting a callous execution.
Jigsaw also pits our unwitting protagonist against criminals his father had sent down, setting up hand-to-hand combat sequences that Zombie Studios has radically upended. Rather than locking horns in outmoded slapping contests, the sequel conducts almost all of its fisticuffs through a laborious QTE format. When attacking, you're implored to frantically hammer the button as it appears on screen, and to defend simply tap the right or left trigger at the correct time. With the action taking place in excruciating slow motion, these enemies can be disposed of with utmost ease, resulting in tiresome sequences bereft of any suspense whatsoever. Michael also has to outmanoeuvre crazed inmates in clumsy chase set pieces, enticing them to charge at him in front of environmental hazards like gaping elevator shafts. Again, after surviving your first altercation, it's a far too predictable routine that fast becomes nauseating.
We lay our scene in a grubby, desolate hotel littered with Jigsaw's victims. Some are hanging from the ceiling, others sprawled inside out on tables, helping to foster an authentic horror movie atmosphere faithful to the Saw franchise. Players will certainly think twice before running around like a headless chicken, given the sinister surroundings and the numerous traps waiting for them around each corner or closed door. Though foiling these hazards also become fairly predictable, the murky setting and wraithlike soundtrack ensure the game has some genuine chills.
Unfortunately, Flesh & Blood is still a poor game. For all its creepy posturing, it's rarely challenging enough to make the player feel as though their life is on the line. And whenever Michael does snuff it, we're returned to irksome checkpoints that disturb the momentum of our quest. So, with Resident Evil having long left the survival horror genre for more generic third-person shooter fare, there's certainly a gap in the market for hair-rising thrills across all consoles: This is not it, nor is it anywhere close.