Sneaking around a Nazi-occupied France in a Sin City-esque art style was an instant attention grabber when details of The Saboteur were first revealed; but has it lived up to its somewhat lofty expectations? In The Saboteur you take control of Sean Devlin, a regular on the racing circuits who cares nothing about the Nazis’ ever-increasing numbers – that is until his good friend is killed by a particularly sadistic member of the German Military. After this incident, Sean’s persona switches from fun loving to one hell-bent on vengeance; and with his focus now firmly fixed on the Nazis, Sean aids the French Resistance and British Intelligence in weakening the oppressive force.
Paris is an unusual setting for a game, let alone a 1940’s Nazi-occupied Paris (that isn’t a first person shooter) and with the black & white colour scheme the city really does present you with a hostile environment. I mention the colour scheme first due to it being the game’s best feature – the dark clouds in the sky coupled with the striking contrast of the bright-red Nazi flags and armbands certainly give you the feeling of a depressed city filled with misery and doom. But these shades of grey ultimately give way to rich, vivid colour as Sean ‘inspires’ each area of Paris. The graphics of the city are good, by no means amazing, but enough to make your surroundings believable and besides, it’s these multi-storey buildings that line the streets that soon become Sean’s best friends.
Like all current third person lead roles, Sean’s climbing skills, if not a little basic (kind of like a poor-man’s Spider-Man) are certainly not to be sniffed at, and once on the rooftops you can access ‘hiding places’ if you need to escape an alarm, or vantage points for carrying out assassinations and demolition work. But like his climbing, Sean’s movements in general, not just vertically, are very rough and clumsy. Sean can sprint, sneak, walk and run but the actions don’t flow from one to the other terribly well and sometimes this can be offputting and distracting. The controls don’t get much better once you enter something on four wheels either.
Due to Sean’s racing past, cars feature heavily in the game, but whether ordinary street cars or classic racers, the various motors of the game leave a lot to be desired. Handling is poor and unpredictable and your on-screen vehicle appears to take up far too much of the screen in the game’s default view and too little zoomed out. And whilst the general AI is consistently poor the Nazis seem to have attending some elite driving school, making escape near on impossible sometimes. Sadly, this is the only situation in which the Nazis excel; otherwise they are about as dangerous as a tortoise on Valium.
For an all-powerful and normally rather terrifying force, the Nazis don’t exactly provide you with a formidable foe in The Saboteur. When everything is calm or you are in disguise then you can go about your business without any hassle and even when the alarm is raised, it takes a while for them to take you down. They are easily escaped by sprinting to safety or by climbing to a hiding place and although both of which leave you wide open for an attack incoming bullets do little more than turn the screen slightly red. Enemy guards do have their good points however: suspicion zones appear after taking out a watch tower or upon a dead guard’s body being discovered and, even in disguise, it’s advisable to stay away from these due to the Nazis very strict clearance policy. They don’t take a lot to defeat with either fist or bullet; both options are available to Sean.
The weapons within the game are great fun – with a very wide arsenal at your disposal, once you have earned the right to them, the various ballistics are a definite plus. From silenced pistols to scoped rifles, double shotguns to rocket launchers, Sean has the ability to down his goose-stepping enemies with ease. Whilst the guns themselves may not be very original or different, Sean’s skill at wielding them does help boost the game’s appeal: taking down a blimp or aircraft with a rocket launcher is high on the to-do list within The Saboteur. But there other weapons available to Sean in the form of Anti-Aircraft gun posts, successfully manage to take over one of these without being detected and you have at least a few shots before you’ll be discovered. Use them wisely as some gun posts are positioned near high-level Nazi targets, which will gain you valuable ‘morale’ points and contraband upon destroying.
Sean’s hand-to-hand combat is a let down however; like many things within the game, it feels sluggish and weak. But, if you master the art of disguise, this becomes less of a problem. Disguises are another of the game’s positives. With the ability to take the apparel from any downed Nazi, whether it be a standard soldier or a general, Sean can go about his mission in different ways. The stealth aspect of the game is well executed for the most part and it not only makes life easier and conserves ammo, it also adds another dimension to the game play. It helps in creating a few tense moments, too. With so many missions and free-play events to take on, you won’t be short of opportunities to break a Nazi’s neck whilst stood in front of him in plain site.
The missions, normally a third person sandbox game’s saving grace, aren’t very inspiring. The danger of this particular genre is that games, regardless of setting, will always get compared to Grand Theft Auto – the true innovator of the genre. Whilst I really don’t want to do this, it’s unavoidable: the generic format of ‘drive here’, ‘collect this’, ‘follow him’, ‘steal this’ and ‘escape alert level’ has been done so many times before and, in most cases, a lot better. There is no real originality in The Saboteur when it comes to mission types, it’s just that things are branded with a Swastika this time around. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t fun as that would be unfair – there are several missions that raise a smile and challenge you.
Something else that will get you smiling will be Sean’s responses in conversations. His dry humour and witty one-liners will be re-used by many, without a doubt. I think everyone will agree that “Grinning like a cat with a cream-flavoured arsehole” will remain in your head for a long time to come. But Sean himself suffers from a transatlantic accent and poor acting. He starts off Irish, then appears Cockney and then becomes American before returning to his Emerald Isle roots to finish the sentence. His German and British friends and foes suffer from heavy stereotyping and it just distracts you from some of the conversations and plot twists. This is in turn leads to you struggling to care for the characters on occasion, which is a shame because they had the potential to be quite interesting.
So, finally, the story. Wartime events and the Nazi organisation should provide for some dramatic and compelling moments as most sane people have a heartfelt hatred for everything they stood for and carried out. But with that said the game never really seems to draw you in and you won’t find yourself thinking “I must continue playing” much with The Saboteur. It’s the age-old standard videogame plot of revenge and uprising, not necessarily a bad thing but Pandemic’s parting shot should have been given it a little more respect and thought.
- Lengthy campaign with lots of side missions
- Solid, enjoyable gun elements
- Superb art style and atmosphere
- A rough around the edges unfinished feel
- Clumsy controls
- Lack of originality in missions
Verdict: The Saboteur feels a little rushed and incomplete but has an unexplainably fun side to it. Frustrating and boring at times, it does give way to some great moments and conversation pieces. It’s hard to know whether Pandemic’s unfortunate closure became The Saboteur’s downfall as I can’t help but think that with a few more months of tidying up could have made this game a must-have. As it stands, it’s a nice diversion but a sadly one dimensional one.