Review – The Saboteur
Pandemic go out with a bang.
Yes, yes, we’re a little late reviewing this one. Here we are half-way through January and up pops a game that’s been out for a month. This kind of epic tardiness can only be blamed on the general apathy that this game seems to generate but what do we expect from the latest â€“ and indeed last â€“ game from Pandemic, the devs who brought us the sensational Mercenaries and the indescribably inept Mercenaries 2?
After that particular gaming abortion was inflicted on us, the news that EA were adding them to their lengthy deathlist was neither unexpected or unwelcome and when you add the fact that this game had a marketing budget that wouldn’t keep Louis Walsh in rentboys past this weekend, it was no surprise that Saboteur was released to die with little or no fanfare.
Popularity isn’t always a great barometer of quality though (see: Gears 2, Halo 3 or GTA IV for proof of that) and in The Saboteur’s case, the fact that this game would make Nick Griffin seem well-liked certainly doesn’t mean it’s a lemon, far from it in fact because The Saboteur is, for the most part, fantastic.
The game starts out with a couple of scene-setting linear missions that teach you a little bit about the game’s key gameplay elements: driving and fucking up Nazis. You play the part of Sean Devlin who despite his chain-smoking and heavy drinking has the kind of agility you’d normally associate with Messrs Ezio and Altair. Add to that some nifty race-car driving skills, expertise in weapons and demolitions and well-honed fighting skills and you’ve got yourself quite a destructive force.
As is mandatory these days, he also sports a ‘gawd damn sploicers’ Oirish accent and isn’t afraid to shout ‘fuck me arseways’ every now and again for good measure. Add an achievement called ‘A Pint and a Shag’ and you’ve pretty much got a crash course in Irish stereotyping. Still, it doesn’t detract from the game or indeed the story and at least you’re not playing a Yank whose job is to win the war single-handedly.
After a Sean and his French buddy Jules rather unwisely decide to destroy the car of teutonic racing driver, Kurt Dierker â€“ a man whose day job involves running secret ops for the Nazis â€“ they end up in the German equivalent of Guantanamo Bay and after a little torture session Jules ends up shot in the head. Not the cheeriest of openers but good motivation for what will be hours and hours of Nazi-killing action.
A quick escape to Paris and rendevous with the local Resistance later and Sean is ready to hit the streets. From this point on, this is your standard Pandemic sandboxer with a mixture of story-driven missions to partake in and freeplay targets to find. These targets vary from structures to blow up, officers to assassinate, postcards to collect and Assassin’s Creed scenic viewpoints to clamber your way up to. These can be approached with a great degree of freedom but there are far too many of them (at least a thousand) which adds a fair degree of chore to the proceedings. On the plus side, a quick visit to your local arms dealer will allow you to buy local maps that highlight the locations of all these targets (including the collectibles) â€“ a very welcome addition to the game.
The main meat of the game is in the story-driven missions though. These are, for the most part, exceptional and take you through various Nazi-controlled structures and areas as you take out strategic targets. How you take out a target or accomplish and objective is usually left up to you. You can attempt to walk in through the front door armed with shotguns and SMGs, or you could opt to sneak around the rooftops with a sniper rifle and silenced pistol. Perhaps the most-rewarding method is to silently kill a nearby guard, steal his uniform and sneak your way around planting remote-detonation charges as you go.
Whichever method you take, the story missions are of a consistently epic standard and often unlock new weapons and vehicles. Indeed, after a few chapters you’ll be able to take out the freeplay targets with improved explosives and RPGs which will speed that side of the game up considerably.
Another neat element of the game is the perks system. Perform a set number of tasks such as headshotting Nazis or blowing up vehicles and you’ll unlock new abilities and equipment. My favourite is the ‘death touch’ ability which allows you to silently kill Nazis whilst in full view of their sausage-munching comrades.
I’m sure you’ve all seen screenshots and videos of The Saboteur’s noir style black & white graphics turning to colour and thought it was a pointless visual gimmick trying to draw attention away from yet another Pandemic game that has tons of potential but ultimately plays like shit.
Well I’m happy to say that’s not the case as not only does The Saboteur look great it plays great with easily the best sandbox environment in a game this year – well last year now – be it the freeplay sabotage or assassination missions or story missions filled with inventive and exciting set pieces.
Sure Devlin sounds like a UCLA first year drama student trying too hard and acts like a cock-end but, compared to the multitude of cookie cutter protagonists we’re often asked to sympathise with, he at least stands out from the crowd along with the rest of the cast despite all sounding like the same guy doing ten different accents.
The easiest way to describe this is as the game Mercenaries 2 should have been so if you were left cold by that or still have a Freedom Fighters itch to scratch you can do a lot worse than give this diamond in the rough a try.
Secondary Score: 8/10
Paris itself makes for a truly brilliant location. From the city itself to the nearby countryside, everything looks great. In occupied areas the game switches to black and white graphics with yellow highlights for lights and windows and red highlights for Nazi banners and equipment. Driving from the oppression of one of these areas into the brightly-coloured countryside isn’t a million miles from the beginning of ‘The Wizard of Oz’.
The other great thing about the game’s setting is that Sean can climb and free-run his way all over the city. This adds extra freedom to your strategising and really allows you to explore the game area in ways that GTA IV never really offered. Between that, the extremely satisfying gunplay and the solid vehicle handling there is more than enough about this game to recommend it to anyone who can look beyond the lack of hype. In many ways this game deserves the same cult status as Crackdown. Indeed if this game had online co-op, it’d be at least that good and that’s swearing.
So if you fancy a game that takes the best elements of Mercenaries, Saints Row, Assassin’s Creed, Tenchu and Crackdown and puts it in a living, vibrant city without subjecting you to even a hint of modern hip-hop, then you really need this game in your life. If you can get past the slightly slow introduction and occasional technical hiccup, The Saboteur will keep rewarding you with set-piece after set-piece and more Nazi-maiming frolics than you can shake a Jewish Bear at. 2009’s post-awards Game Of The Year? Jawohl!