Game Review: The Saboteur
Release: December 8, 2009
Genre: Third-Person Action Adventure
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating: M
Nazis seem to be ubiquitous these days, from Call of Duty: World at War to Inglourious Basterds. Let’s face it – killing Nazis never gets old. Before Pandemic Studios was unceremoniously shut down, it produced its last gasp effort to join the “killing Nazis” trend before dying a cruel death at the hands of Electronic Arts: The Saboteur. In their last hurrah, you get a sandbox overflowing with these totalitarian pricks. When life hands you Nazis, you make mayhem – it’s only fair that you get to cleanse Paris of these overbearing douchebags.
With the City of Lights dimmed by Hitler’s regime, whom can the residents rely on to spur on the resistance? Sean Devlin is just the man for this rough job, waging a vendetta against the Nazi forces that have taken over. He certainly fits the bill of a rampaging Irishman: swash-buckling swagger, filthy mouth fluent in profanity, plus ravenous appetites for sex and alcohol. Throw him in an open world, filled to the brim with Nazis, prostitutes and resistance encampments, and Paris becomes his personal playground of madness. As Sean takes on riskier missions, he helps empower Parisians to take back their city. Vive le Résistance!
Following in the footsteps of both Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed, Pandemic Studios attempts to combine an open world environment with stealth mechanics. The perks system, black market and resistance points offer different ways to approach game play. As you progress with each mission, you’re given more resources to strengthen the resistance movement. Sean has free-running capabilities, Nazi disguises and HUD to use to his advantage. Moreover, Paris offers weapons that can be bought with contraband, brothels for information or refuge and roaming cars to flee the scene of the crime. AI is placed up in sniper towers, roaming in vehicles or walking on foot. If Sean isn’t too careful and sends AI to raise alarms, he has one of three choices: fight back, run away or hide. Splotches of blood will taint the screen each time Sean takes a hit, and if he is too critically injured, the entire screen will turn red; simply wait and hide for Sean to regain his health before going on. Essentially, Sean has a myriad of options open to him, and it’s up to the gamer to decide how to approach each mission.
The Saboteur has enough spice to keep the gamer interested. Keeping with the theme of an open world, gamers can either continue on with main missions to complete the story or do side quests to gain more perks and contraband. While the main missions provided further information on Sean’s history or the progress of the French Resistance, I thought the side quests were just as engaging. These side missions really show the scope of Parisian society against the Nazi regime, from a defrocked Catholic priest requesting the assassination of a rat to passing on a message of vengeance before killing a Nazi general. While World War II stories may be overdone in video games, there is something refreshing about The Saboteur. The historical context of the French Resistance during World War II is not something that has been explored in video games, and the 1940s backdrop of Paris provides an interesting setting. Small details like the fantastic soundtrack really set the tone. Monochromatic renditions and color provide some striking visuals. Black and white overlays coupled with the bright red Nazi insignias in occupied territories really captures the oppressive ambience.
And in the same vein, the visuals can sometimes be hard to navigate. I had to reset my settings because it was sometimes too dark to see certain areas clearly. When Sean frees sections of Paris, color floods back to the screen, and I can’t help but notice that these areas don’t look nearly as dynamic as their black-and-white counterparts. Stealth is supposedly part of the game, but when Sean is disguised as a Nazi soldier, everyone is suddenly much more sensitive to suspicious activity; it’s actually easier to navigate the city undisguised since there’s less scrutiny involved. By the same token, shouldn’t these Nazi scouts be suspicious of a car riddled with bullet holes? No? But a tiny splotch of blood on Sean’s Nazi uniform disguise will get their suspicion meters going? Besides these inconsistencies, the most damning feature of The Saboteur has to be the game play mechanics. It feels dated and sticky, a slower counterpart to the smoother controls of Assassin’s Creed II. When climbing up a building, Sean does so in a stinted manner instead of fluidly ascending. Grabbing onto edges can sometimes get frustrating. Run too quickly and Sean will plummet to his death; take baby steps and slowly navigate to grab onto a building ledge. Switching between stealth and full on brawl can be bothersome. What happened to just assigning certain buttons for specific actions and using triggers to switch between different modes?
Unfortunately, The Saboteur was released right at the heels of wildly successful titles within the same genre. While the artistic direction was certainly interesting, I couldn’t help but feel that there are titles that got the controls down better. It’s a shame, really. The Saboteur has all the right ingredients, but is missing something that can make it cohesively awesome.
Jinkwell’s final say: Artistic direction and story plots are quite interesting, but that’s not enough to keep the gamer engaged. The Saboteur quickly loses its charm with sticky controls and cumbersome game play mechanics. Even so, it’s worth checking out as a refreshing change of pace amongst the pile of World War II titles.