The Saboteur is a open-world, sandbox game brought to us by the newly-dissolved Pandemic Studio, creators of the Mercenaries and Star Wars Battlefront successes. It’s their last hoorah on the video-game market, making this game their best by far. It’s true that the game is a bit rough and unfinished around the edges, but it makes up through beautiful environments and creativity.
To be honest, the game didn’t attract me at the beginning, but after the first hour or so it hooked me and never let me go until the very end. I started to enjoy blasting Nazi fuel depots and sniper towers and why not, the ladies in the changing booth back at the Belle de Nuit, not forgetting to mention the huge amount of contraband that you can win!
Story and background
The story is set during WW II, in Nazi occupied France, but that doesn’t mean it’s like the other shooters/action-adventure games set in that period. You are gifted the opportunity to change the outcome of the war, one explosion at a time. As for the main charecter and your avatar in the game, the role comes back to Sean Devlin aka The Irishman, a full-time womanizer and smokeaholic! He is offered at the start of the game the opportunity to climb up the hierarchy and so be able to become a race driver. His ambitions are destroyed by Kurt Dierker, a rival racing-champion and future arch-enemy. After a defeat in front of Dierker and a missed chance of revenge, Sean is considered by him to be a British undercover agent, therefore he kills you’re mate, Jules, and tries to do the same thing to you.
The story is forwarded and you end up in the beautiful Paris where the leader of the Resistance convinces you to join the cause. Sean is going to be surrounded by members of the Resistance, struggling to liberate Paris on one hand, and searching for forgiveness from Jules’ sister Veronique on the other. As the story goes on, it captures the attention and drags you in an epic battle against the War Machine that devoured the whole continent.
The game has a retro touch, colors coming back to the areas you free. The Nazi occupied zones are presented in black and white, the only colors visible being the swastikas on their uniforms and the search lights. As you complete the missions, the deeds will bring courage to the population and determine them to fight against the overlords and when that happens, a wave of bright colors floods the entire area, revealing more places to hide and less enemy patrols.
The game presents a similar wanted level as the GTA series, composed of 5 wanted levels: Level 1 are your usual soldier fodder, easy to dispatch. Level 2 brings in slightly more of them, level 3 a troop transport (or several if you take them out), level 4 starts getting nasty with zeppelins and armored APCs then level 5 will see you chased by everything the enemy has from tanks to flame-throwing Nazi terror squads.
The first method of going from one place to another is by foot, being recommended for those who seek the side missions. In fact like most of the large array of play options, it isn’t anything fantastic but it does the job well enough. When you are bored of walking or just want a faster way to get around, just stop and jack one of the cars in traffic or one that’s parked next to the sidewalk. Doing so provides you with the opportunity to take it to a garage and stock it for later use. A variety of vehicles are available varying from prototype tanks and armored personnel carriers to sports and working-class cars which you can choose to spread mayhem on the streets of Paris.
Driving mechanics are very similar to those in the GTA, the handling not being the A-point of the games. All cars present a 5 speed gearbox that’s compressed in a mumble-jumble of sound that seems to stop after you achieve the top speed. A good thing in this game is the amount of beating a civilian car can take before it can blow up, rivaling the armored military trucks.
At many points in the game you will get into combat and the cover system enters the scene. That would be good if the system would work at all. At many occasions I found myself trying to get cover behind a wall or a bunch of boxes, but it turned out to be a bad idea because the character always got out of the safe zone by himself, and by that I mean AI! When fighting on a rooftop with a guard hand-to-hand, you will be pushed of the roof resulting in a failed mission and a lot of frustration. But despite my accidental suicide attempts, I used a scoped rifle and a MP44 automatic rifle, those two offering really good protection. If I needed more firepower I just called in my Resistance friends and solved all the misunderstandings with the Nazis. I recommend the close-combat system just for stealth parts because it’s pretty bad and because it’s a lot more fun to spray and pray!
The sneaky system did not work as hoped; you’re abilities being very restricted whilst you wear a Wermacht uniform. To become incognito it is necessary to kill a soldier using you’re fists and steal his uniform. The drawbacks are that when walking down the street you normally wouldn’t attract any attention in normal clothes but if in uniform you still have to keep distance from Nazi patrols otherwise they wll rat you out. This can become quite irritating when trying to go for the sub-targets as you’ll invariably be half way up a building, get spotted and end up in a firefight. There’s an indicator to let players know when they’ve been sighted, or are engaging in suspicious activities. But it fills up so quickly, that the system is almost binary. You’re either completely hidden from your enemy, or alarms are blaring and guns are blazing. It’s a total waste of time! The game is more fun if you just ignore the alarms and blast you’re way towards the objective.
Climbing is very much like Assassin’s Creed but nowhere near as fluid. Almost every move requires a button press and getting from ledge to ledge can prove tough even for the most seemingly simple maneuvers. My tip would be to use the power/phone lines and the drainpipes whenever possible. I really didn’t enjoy a lot of the climbing in The Saboteur.
After you make dome real progress in the game, shops and garages will open in which you can change your load out and store rides. The progress can be saved in the pause menu (very original!) and if you die (by accident I mean), you will respawn at the closest hideout, which can be a nightmare sometimes! The currency used in the game is “Contraband” and it can be obtained by progressing through the story, destroying free play objectives and destroying supply crates. You can make really easy contraband when approaching the end of the game. I reckon I obtained about 50.00 contraband with all the expenses included. Piece of cake!
In addition to shooting things you are equipped with explosives. Two types: dynamite and RDX. The first one is timed so once you lit the fuse just run! With RDX is a lot simpler: you plant it and after you left the danger zone you just press the button and everything blows up in a million of tiny pieces.
As mentioned earlier the game has two specific color schemes, depending on what neighborhood you are in. There are lots of details put in the buildings, landmarks, cars and why not, even people. The view offered by the rooftops and the Eiffel Tower are mind-blowing, therefore increasing the joy and excitement.
Once you remove the contrasting color palettes then the graphics style is pretty generic, certainly not striking in a new direction like Borderlands did. That said I couldn’t really fault them, sometimes traditional is best and it definitely suited this game. It captures the imagination and tries to show us what the atmosphere in France was during WW II.
Yet another common point with the Rockstar franchise, the music is present only in cabarets and cars. Being the 1940’ you only have one radio station working, but the song played are extremely beautiful and have a major impact on the player. It reflects the state of the population of Paris, refusing to bow down before the Third Reich.
One thing that did amuse me was when I was in enemy areas and used a nice silenced bullet to the back of the skull of an unsuspecting Nazi guard. That itself didn’t amuse me, what did was that I was being very sneaky but all of a sudden Sean decides to shout “Lets see how proud you are; with my fucking boot up your arse!” upon making the takedown. Luckily all Nazi guards appear to be deaf so I was very lucky and also extremely amused by his Irish accent.
All that said, a lot of the script is actually quite amusing and very well delivered.
Despite all of the glitches and the average mechanics of the game, I liked the incursion in Parisian life and the play through. It’s true that this game isn’t the best on the market today, but you can have a lot of fun with it! It depends in what state of spirit you are and how many soldiers you want to kill. The achievements were great, enough to challenge but not requiring total dedication to the cause. Just going through the story and making you’re way in the Resistance is enough to get you every bronze and silver perk at least.
The sheer choice of things to do and the various ways of getting them done keeps things fresh and the story keeps you interested. The climax was a little disappointing if honest and also in quite a disturbing setting, more so than other games I’ve seen using similar imagery, though a Saboteur 2 would make a pleasant sequel.
All of that being said, if you stumble upon this game at a low price it deserves a chance to be played, more than sure you won’t regret it.