The Saboteur is the last in the line of Pandemic Studios’ gaming catalogue, having been closed and largely swallowed up by Electronic Arts. Its sandbox environment, World War II themed, third person genre promises to deliver a successful swan song for Pandemic, just in time for the holiday season.
An Irish man by the name of Sean Devlin (loosely based on William Grover-Williams, a GP racing driver and Special Operations Executive inside France) is the game’s main protagonist, living his life in the fast lane, regularly participating in the motor racing scene of Paris.
After being robbed of a racing victory by one of the Nazi drivers, Sean and his best friend, Jules, embark on a relatively low-key quest for payback. The attempt goes awry and Sean and Jules are captured, finding themselves in the midst of a secret Nazi military installation.
Sean manages to escape with his life, but Jules is not so lucky. While not previously bothered by the increasing Nazi occupation of Paris, the loss of his friend Jules tips Sean over the edge and he devotes his life to exacting revenge on the Nazi forces.
Those familiar with similar third-person sandbox games like GTA and Saints Row will immediately feel at home and in control of The Saboteur. Mission markers appear in your map in little boxes, you can set waypoints to your objectives, bring up a map and select custom directions or view ambient freeplay targets.
Control set up is neat and tidy – and within a minute or two of getting into the game I knew exactly where everything was and what I was doing.
Undoubtedly, the focus of the Saboteur is, as you’d expect, to blow **** up. And there’s no shortage of stuff to destroy. Throughout your time in Paris, you’ll encounter what are referred to as ‘ambient freeplay’ actions. These include guard towers, road blocks, supply drops, enemy officials and other miscellaneous Nazi propaganda. They also make up the ‘collectible’ of the Saboteur’s world.
Annihilating or finding each of these ambient freeplay objectives awards Contraband, the currency of The Saboteur. All your positive actions, from mission completion, to ambient freeplay demolition accumulates Contraband, but earnings from the abundance of ambient freeplay items scattered on every city block make currency much easier to obtain by simply wandering around, blowing random stuff up. Its a clever distraction, but it is slightly overused. There are 1338 ambient freeplay objectives to collect throughout Paris and the countryside, making 100 Pigeons in GTA, or even inFamous’ 350 blast shards pale in comparison. They’re a lot more work too, as the majority of them raise an alert, attracting Nazi defenders, usually meaning you have to flee to a safe zone or a hiding spot.
Contraband allows you to buy everything from upgrades to new, shiny weapons and ammunition from black market sellers dotted around the city. Performing actions in the world contribute to ‘Perks’ as well, things like a steadier aim is achieved when you’ve done 10 headshots on Nazi’s with the sniper rifle. You can also get rewarded bonus cars and the ability to garage Nazi tanks and heavy military vehicles.
Upon entering the game, you’re immersed in a largely drab, grey-scale recreation of Paris. Its essentially black and white, except for certain artistic elements, such as a blue scarf on a female British secret agent, or red brake lights on a car. In this way, it kind of feels like a Frank Miller graphic novel, almost Sin City-esque in its presentation. And it works incredibly well.
These grey areas signify Nazi occupation (and civilian oppression) of Paris broken into divisions all over the city. It is your job to bring colour back to these areas. By completing story missions or special missions (usually eradicating significant Nazi targets within these divisions), encourages renewed Parisian – and French Resistance enthusiasm. Referred to as a “Will to fight”.
This has a small effect on game play; ‘Grey’ areas have stronger Nazi presence and as your alert level increases, it is much more difficult to escape from a grey area with a Nazi vehicle or spotter lurking on every corner. Conversely, the areas of full colour offer a bit of a reprieve from random Nazi checkpoints and scouting parties.
There are two main methods of attacking a mission, the “straight through the front-door” approach, or the silent and deadly approach – and you’re often offered both options. Going in guns blazing, setting up charges, creating distractions with explosives and car bombs is definitely fun, but the most enjoyable method I found was the stealth approach. Find a lone Nazi, stealth kill him, steal his uniform and waltz through the mission like you’re one of their own. One mission involving a jail break, I managed to complete the entire sequence simply by walking through the front door and escorting my captured Resistance friend out the exit. Thoroughly rewarding when you manage to get the timing right.
Its not always this easy however. Higher ranking Nazi soldiers will see through your disguises much easier than their lowly grunt counterparts. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself in an area with no way out as a General or Officer guards a hallway. Line of sight can work in your favour in these instances, but once you’ve been discovered, your only option is to change strategy and start shooting.
The Saboteur offers a huge range of option. You can tackle most missions any way you please. While there are a few small problems, mainly to do with Sean’s free-climbing ability that requires you to constantly hammer the ‘X’ button to continue climbing (right after Assassin’s Creed II, this is even more frustrating) and a lack of things to do (besides the ambient freeplay) after story completion, its still a fantastic and enjoyable game.
Graphics & Sound
As I touched on briefly earlier in the review, the art style in The Saboteur is very impressive. Black & white presentation mixed with little highlights of colour here and there (a red Nazi swastika, or someone’s blue scarf) helps set apart the characters in dark, brooding backdrops.
Exploring 1940’s Paris is absolutely fantastic. The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame make appearances, among other famous Parisian landmarks. All infused with propaganda from Nazi occupation, barb wire barriers and swastikas littering the history. The cobblestone streets are bumpy and react to your car as you drive over them.
There’s a convincing night/day cycle and powerful lighting in addition to a weather cycle – producing effective thunderstorms (also acting as cover for some missions!) and drizzly rain. Walking through a Nazi-controlled chemical plant in a stolen officer’s uniform, during a thunderstorm, setting charges on chemical tanks and fuel storage depots, trying to avoid detection has an immense atmosphere to it.
Graphically, The Saboteur is a gem, no significant frame rate hitches and very pretty to look at.
Sound is equally as impressive, cars sound like old 1940’s automobiles. The old race cars and classic Nazi staff cars have been designed beautifully and sound genuine. Radio stations play classic music and the soundtrack is spot on for the era.
There are occasional audio hiccups; A few times I noticed the sound from my car suddenly mute, like it was revving out to a range that didn’t exist, but for the most part, its totally solid. Voice acting is excellent (there is some conjecture about the quality of Irish and French accents, but personally, I found it convincing) and well delivered.
At the end of the day, The Saboteur is an absolutely solid third-person shooter. The story is a little loose at times, but the characters, language and snappy dialogue save it for the most part. Its a strong mix of World War II with plenty of distractions. The motor racing elements and associated car selection are fantastic.
It feels like a World War II based Grand Theft Auto in France, with graphics done by Frank Miller. The art style sets this apart from the majority of its competition in the genre – it just feels special, even if the artsy style does little to actually affect the game play.
They wanted to go out on a high. Indeed, it is Pandemic’s swan song. And what a crescendo it does deliver.