The Saboteur is one of the most interesting stories in gaming this year. I am not necessarily referring to the actual story of the game itself though as much as its transition up to its release. Pandemic Studios, the company most notably known for titles such as Mercenaries and Battlefront series, are at the helm of this latest open-world extravaganza. This is also their last game they will ever create as the team was released before it even hit shelves. Then we have the fiasco of downloadable nude codes and The Saboteur is ripe for failure at every turn. Still once you sit down with the game you will quickly discover that underneath its rough exterior is a game that is chock full of fresh and entertaining ideas, and will reward anyone with enough patience to get past its shortcomings.
The Saboteur takes a familiar setting and mixes it up with a unique take on visual representation. You are Sean Devlin, an Irish race car driver who gets mixed up in the Nazi invasion of France when his life is suddenly thrown into a spiral. The game does a great job of conveying the emotional ties between characters and the voice work does a nice job of dragging you into the world and not letting go. The game also brings the idea of sexy back into gaming. While some of it is obviously aimed at getting the thrill of nudity into the mix, the overall style of the game really gives off a sense of the era perfectly. Stylish Jazz music floods the clubs and the neon glow of the Belle Club really sets the tone of the game.
Probably one of my favorite parts about the presentation though is the visuals themselves. While mostly archaic in technical nature the blend of black and white mixed with accented colors is just mesmerizing. Basically as you move around the city you can inspire various sections of the city, thus causing them to move from black and white into color. Personally I would have preferred if the game stuck with the original look throughout as it really draws attention to important aspects of the game such as the emblems on a Nazi’s uniform and of course the blood of your fallen enemies. It is hard for me to give a game the tag of “artsy”, but this one truly deserves the moniker.
At its core Saboteur is very akin to games like Grand Theft Auto and Mafia. The open-world aesthetic has become a regular staple in the industry, and Pandemic helped innovate the genre with their Mercenaries titles. With any game of this type the real challenge comes in keeping the player interested enough in the story to not wander off, but still giving them enough freedom to run off the beaten path when they so choose. This balance has been near impossible because the idea of a game like this is to not follow a single, linear progression. Saboteur does a favorable job of keeping players interested in what is transpiring between Sean and the Resistance. You still have your typical missions scattered among several people, and of course all of them require you to perform one of the many aspects of the game.
Missions range from simple things such as blowing up Nazi strongholds and towers, to rescuing prisoners and of course the traditional driving and escort missions. The progression is nicely paced and rarely will you get tired of doing the same thing over and over. My gripe though is that the most enjoyable aspect of the game isn’t more prominent, and that is blowing things up. Sean has access to plenty of explosives, and taking down a Nazi watchtower with a pack of dynamite is just as satisfying as you would imagine. It is a shame that more missions are not focused on this aspect of the game.
You have the option of either trying the stealth approach or per usual go in with guns blazing. The more I tried to sneak, the more I found it to be useless the majority of the time. Sure sneaking a little bit to get where you need to be works well, but sometimes some objectives fall under the category of “silence is not the best option” you will find yourself more often than not playing more in the action frame of mind. Thankfully combat works, well at least the gunplay works.
Shooting in Saboteur feels good. Games are a strange creature when it comes to shooting mechanics, and sometimes it takes a certain finesse to get the satisfaction of landing a bullet right. Whenever I mow down enemies in this game though it definitely feels good. The aiming is just right, and the various weapons do a good job of adapting to various situations. Hand-to-hand combat on the other hand feels loose and not as responsive. This is a common problem in open-world games due to the sheer scope of the encounters. You never know who you will be up against and it shows here. I spent many times hitting my own partners and even worse whaling on civilians at times as I could not control where my fists landed.
As with any open-world game there is plenty to see and do. Sean earns perks as he performs certain actions. I love the idea of rewarding players for the way they play. For instance if you blow up five towers with dynamite, you earn a perk that shortens the time it takes to light the fuse. This upgrades players based on how they want to play the game. Early on you will also earn access to Black Market dealers that will sell you new weapons and ammo. There are also plenty of side missions and activities around the city to occupy your time, all of which will be familiar to anyone who has played this type of game before.
As I mentioned earlier I love the visual look of the game. The black and white setting is extremely appealing to me. However, on a general level some of the game just does not look all that good. For example the character animations, especially when Sean is climbing up the side of a building, are just rudimentary. A lot of the drawbacks of creating such an open and dynamic world pop up in every area including the quintessential glitches. I found one mission where I lost the ability to hit enemies with my gun, yet they still inflicted damage on me. I also found dead enemies bouncing around the city streets like puppets on a string. Needless to say the game suffers from feeling like it was rushed out the door on a technical level, and needed a few more months in the oven before it was released.
The audio on the other hand is fantastic. The voice work is some of the best I have heard this year. Characters do a nice job keeping the story entertaining without feeling cheesy. The music is straight from the era and really does a fantastic job of immersing you into the world. Sound effects are not the best, but they get the job done. Overall the package looks and sounds good enough, but you still feel like it could have been better.
In the end The Saboteur falls victim to several things that keep it from being a great game. Mostly it is due to timing. This game is launching right after the holiday rush has died down and people are still trying to catch up on the massive library just released. It also suffers from not feeling like it was completely ready to be on store shelves. Still I cannot help but find enjoyment in the creative setting, excellent visual style and intriguing story. Even with all of its problems The Saboteur is one enjoyable trip down the overplayed setting of World War II. If you love open-world games and are willing to be patient with its shortcomings, there is a lot to love about this title.
Review copy provided by publisher.