The Saboteur Reader Review
The Saboteur was Pandemic Studios last game release before being closed by EA games. Primarily a third person shooter it also weaves in an equipment/upgrade system, an Assassin's Creed style climbing system, a stealth/disguise system, a GTA IV driving system and a fairly large sandbox environment.
I'll be honest, I heard a couple of mixed things about this game and also the presence of boobage seemed heavily concentrated upon for what was possibly the most irrelevant piece of the overall game. That said, I did enjoy a burlesque dance or two...how else would I get the achievement for spending 75,000 contraband? ;)
Set in WW2 France you play the part of an Irish mechanic, Sean Devlin. The game starts out with you getting the chance to make the move from mechanic to driver and you get to test the driving portion of the game before being robbed of your victory and thrust into the main storyline. It's actually pretty compelling and despite Sean being possibly the angriest, most antagonistic and sarcastic character I've played recently he still manages to find allies that appreciate the cut of his gib.
When initially getting through the introductory sections you are presented with a world map encompassing Paris, some French countryside and a border town (presumably in Nazi Germany territory - poor reviewing skills here as I didn't look it up).
As the story unfolds you are taken around Paris and the outlying areas shooting, sneaking and driving your way to progression. At any point you are free to peel away and take a pop at some of the several hundred mini-objectives. Whilst it may seem like an insurmountable amount to begin with, a couple of hours of hitting those before returning to progress the story a little will soon have them whittled down.
As storylines go I was pretty immersed by the efforts in this game and it certainly contributed towards my wish to get the full 1000G's from the game.
It's colourless, literally colourless. Actually that's a total lie, the Saboteur has two very different settings: black & white or full technicolor glory. Black & white areas are under Nazi Germany control with the only colours being a pale illumination of search lights and the red swastikas on their uniform. As you do deeds and progress you may 'inspire' the populace of that region to rebel against their Nazi overlords and when that happens you are greeted with full colour for that area, less Nazi patrols and more places to hide/evade the heat when you're a wanted man.
Speaking of being a wanted man, The Saboteur utilises a GTA style wanted meter from 1-5 accordingly. 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 armoured APCs then level 5 will see you chased by everything the enemy has from tanks to flame-throwing Nazi terror squads.
The primary method of getting about is by foot, especially if you are concentrating on the side objectives (a large number reside on the tops of buildings) and this is your usual third person fare. In fact like most of the large array of play options, it isn't anything fantastic but it does the job well enough. When bored of walking then you can commandeer vehicles and hurl French peasants and high society types alike out onto the cobbled streets. Various vehicles are available, even Nazi ones, so you can go from the behemoth of a prototype tank to a single seater race car, or if you prefer you can steal a tractor...the slowest tractor ever conceived!
Driving is very similar to GTA, the handling isn't fantastic, there seems to be about 5 speeds that encompass the entire range of vehicles and I was amazed at the amount of punishment a civilian car can take from enemy fire, in fact they almost fared as well as some Nazi military vehicles. Although your cars have horns, beeping them at a poor civilian whose AI has decided the middle of the road is a better pavement has no effect. It is useless for anything other than trying to play a tune with to try and lighten the French resistance morale, and even then I don't think they appreciated it as much as I wanted them to.
Inevitably you will get into combat and this is where the cover system comes into play. Well it would if it worked most of the time. I was forever popping out of position, failing to get into cover behind an object that is clearly good cover material - you know, like a wall! But despite that failing I tended to use a silenced pistol and scoped rifle all the way until the silenced smg and rpg then rotated depending on mission and these proved pretty deadly on the old headshots wich negated a lot of need for cover when a quick dart out from behind an object worked just as well. There is some limited up close and personal combat too but I only tended to use that when stealthing as it isn't the greatest implementation, in fact it was very GTA IV and just a brief look at my gamertag will show you how little I played that before I vowed never to touch it again.
The sneaky system did work pretty well, you kill an enemy with hand to hand combat out of sight of any other Nazis and you can steal his uniform. This will allow you to enter enemy restricted zones that would normally get you killed in seconds. Provided you keep your distance, don't scale buildings or kill when in full view then you have free roam of the map. I spent about two thirds of the game in disguise I think. Although sometimes a total pain it is pretty useful and a nice mechanic to have in the game. 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. Luckily it was never more than a couple of minutes before I could get back into disguise and I was able to run away giggling like a little girl as a watchtower, tank and searchlight all exploded behind me like a scene from a Michael Bay movie.
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 manoeuvres. 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.
All around the city as the story progresses you unlock shops and hideouts where you can change your equipment, store cars, etc. If you die you are usually placed at the closest hideout which at times is a blessing and a curse. Currency is 'contraband' which you get for completing missions, sub-targets and also from some crates and things to. Initially quite tough to find by the end of the game I was rolling in it and I struggled to spend enough to get the 'spend 75,000 contraband' achievement.
In addition to shooting things you are equipped with explosives. Two types (well three but I won't go into that), a timer set and a remote detonator set. They are what you be using a lot throughout the game and they are fun. In fact I enjoyed setting up a ring of 10 remote devices around the small alley I was in and then started a firefight, oh there was carnage! I also unlocked a tough achievment then too.
As mentioned before the game is very different visually if you are in the Nazi occupied areas or the inspired areas. Both are visually stunning with plenty of detail put into buildings, cars, people and surroundings. I do urge you to take a trip up the Eiffel Tower and look around, it's quite something. Then jump off the top and live...seriously, it can be done (for 15G's).
Once you remove the contrasting colour 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 certainly captured the mood and feel of what I imagined WW2 France was like (as I obviously wasn't there) and you get the feeling a lot of effort was poured into that side of the development.
Much like GTA there is only music when in a vehicle or a club, and being occupied Paris in the 1940's there is only one radio station and it only has 4 songs (or so it seemed as the same ones were always playing). Songs which I am not entirely convinced were released in the 40's! But I'm no music guru so it could be they were, but I imagine the warblings of Dame Vera Lynn and such classics as the White Cliffs of Dover and not 'Feeling Good'.
The burlesque dances have some nice accompaniment but other than that the game is pretty tuneless. Voice acting is pretty good with slightly over the top stereotypical representations of the Irish, Scottish, English and French accents.
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 didn't arouse any suspicion or attract attention, but you don't tend to go around screaming obscenities on a stealth mission, at least I'm sure James Bond doesn't and Altair certainly didn't.
Sadly little things like that, whilst amusing (and Sean Devlin does have a rather large cache of one-line commentary littered with foul language), can pierce the immersion and ruin the moment.
All that said, a lot of the script is actually quite amusing and very well delivered.
Despite all of the little flaws and the average implementation of mechanics I really enjoyed my play through. The achievements were great, enough to challenge but not requiring completion on 'hardest difficulty' settings which are some of the lamest and laziest achievements going. I put a good 60 hours into the game at least to garnish the full 1000 achievement points and only a couple of times did I find myself thinking it was a bit of a grind (kissing 50 women to evade wanted levels for example).
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. Somehow it just seemed more wrong, which is a good thing because anyone still foolishly championing the idea that gaming makes us all killers would only need to see the look on my face at that point and realise that even after practically committing genocide on Nazi occupying forces there is a line that still feels wrong.
If you see this game for £25 or less then definitely pick it up, I doubt that you will regret it.