Giant Bomb Review

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The Saboteur Review

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Pandemic brings some pulpy flavor to this open-world WWII game, but its stylish charm doesn't quite overcome the rough edges or the sense that its best tricks are borrowed from other, better games.


 A holiday in Paris, Devlin-style.
In a way, The Saboteur feels like a companion piece to another Pandemic title, last year's Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. Both find unique settings and situations for the open-world format. Both find fascination with blowing things up on a grand scale. And both are brimming with potentially fun ideas that aren't as thought through as they should be. To be clear, The Saboteur isn't as straight-up busted as Mercs 2 was, but it still feels overextended.
 
Though set in World War II--more specifically, the Nazi occupation of Paris--The Saboteur is notable for, if nothing else, foregoing the reverent tone most WWII games assume. This isn't Saving Private Ryan; this is more like The Great Escape by way of Inglorious Basterds. This is a two-fisted tale of revenge about an Irish mechanic-turned-race-car-driver named Sean Devlin whose vendetta against a diabolical Nazi officer--the same man that both cheated him out of his first race victory and murdered his best friend right before his eyes--puts him in league with the Parisian underworld, comely cabaret girls, and the French Resistance. It's got an odd tone to it, and the game sometimes has a hard time juggling the tough-talkin' Devlin's personal angst, his multiple femme fatale love interests, his role within the Resistance, and all of the war-time business that actually propels the story forward. The story doesn't pack as much of a punch as it could have, but it sets an appropriate mood for the improbable craziness Sean gets up to.

 
The big visual trick in The Saboteur is that Nazi-occupied Paris starts off mostly in black-and-white, save for some splashes of color to help identify Resistance and Nazi stuff. It's a striking, Sin City sort of look, though the lack of color cues can make the world a little hard to negotiate. As you liberate portions of the city, not only do the Parisians themselves become more sympathetic to your cause, but color comes back to that piece of the world. Again, not a bad little trick, and the world of video games is built on borrowing clever little tricks like that from other games, but it would've carried more weight if Okami and Prince of Persia hadn't already put it to good use.  
 

  Bringing color to Paris, one explosion at a time.

Some might take issue with the voice work in The Saboteur, which trades almost exclusively in thickly caricatured European accents. Though voiced by an actual Irishman, Sean Devlin's Irish accent has a syrupy lilt to it that, in concert with his stereotypically short temper, affection for Scotch, and regular use of colloquialisms like “shite,” “arse,” and, I shite you not, “top o' the mornin' to ye,” can make the character feel a little Lucky Charms at times. English, French, and German characters receive similar treatment. While there's no American character in the game, if there were, he'd wear a 10-gallon hat and be called “Tex.” This might be distracting if The Saboteur took itself too seriously, an issue it mostly avoids. The music, on the other hand, requires no such apologies, and The Saboteur gets a lot of mileage out of its main musical theme filtered through various era-appropriate genres. I particularly found its use at the end of the game to be haunting, an adjective I don't throw around too often when it comes to games.

 
That oddly quiet end sequence, though, is squarely at odds with the not-quite-there quality that permeates the rest of the game. This is an open-world game that gives you very little to do beyond take on missions and blow up Nazi installations, of which there are hundreds scattered across Paris. The missions themselves follow some pretty sturdy open-world formulas of "go here, blow up a thing/kill a guy/steal a thing, get away." 
 
The trick is that you can opt to go about each of these missions in a few different ways. As Le titular Saboteur, Devlin's got four primary disciplines, and most missions are structured in such a way that I found myself regularly using some combination of all of them. He's handy with the hardware, including the firearms he adds to his personal arsenal via a network of black market traders, and that he picks up off the bodies of dead Nazis. Regardless of how you choose to play The Saboteur, you're going to end up in a fair amount of firefights, and the shooting has a nice impact to it. Save for some late-game heavies you encounter, headshots are easy, but enemies work in volume, and the city of Paris is littered with sniper towers, rooftop guards, machine-gun nests, and just Nazis, Nazis everywhere. It can make firefights unpredictable, but it can also be a point of frustration. Devlin can absorb a pretty unearthly number of bullets and his health regenerates, but there were repeatedly moments where I'd go down spinning in circles, unable to figure out where the hell those bullets were coming from.
 

 Guten tag, Herr Devlin!

Many of the missions you'll take on revolve around the destruction of crucial Nazi property, with mission arcs often culminating in you single-handedly hollowing out a large Nazi base, and it's amazing what Sean can do with a few well-placed sticks of dynamite. Despite some fussiness with where exactly you can place explosives, it's admittedly pretty satisfying to walk up to a Nazi tank, casually stick a bundle of TNT to the side, and walk away all nonchalant as it blows up behind you.
 
Most of the time you can walk around Paris a free man, but if you're too close to an explosion, or a Nazi sees you doing something suspicious, the jackboots will start coming for you in a hurry. Lucky for you, Devlin can be a sneaky Irishman, and there's a lot of very loose, very optional stealth gameplay to be had here. If you manage to take down a Nazi with your bare hands, and without any other Nazis seeing you, you can steal his uniform, making it easier to approach Nazi bases, personnel, and equipment. There's a whole system of gauges and meters and alarm levels and zones and geegaws and jimjams associated with the stealth that makes it feel extremely gamey. I spent a lot of my time during the stealth sequences staring at circles within circles within circles on my minimap. It's a fairly baroque solution, but it mostly works.
 
Alternately, if dress-up's not your thing, you can bypass some security by scaling the sheer faces of buildings and running along rooftops. It doesn't help that The Saboteur is coming out a few weeks after Assassin's Creed II, which handles urban traversal with preternatural elegance. Even without those comparisons, The Saboteur would still feel a little unreliable. The character movement in general feels twitchy, but trying to negotiate the uneven roof ledges of Paris is particularly nerve-wracking. In all my time with The Saboteur, I never felt totally confident when I approached a ladder.
 

 Kind of hard to argue with shooting zeppelins out of the air.

The gunplay, the sabotage, the stealth, and the proto-parkour are all fun, if not original, ideas, and they're accompanied by additional ideas like the ability to call in Resistance supporters or a getaway car in a firefight, or the ability to turn any car into a rolling bomb, but the ideas never feel like they come together as a cohesive whole. Whenever a new gameplay concept is introduced, it's not streamlined into a mission. Instead, the game comes to a full stop and treats you to several pages of text explaining how the new stuff works. The other sterling example is the way that, when your Nazi disguise has been discovered, it jarringly disappears off Sean's body. That ruins any sense of reality the game might try and establish.
 
There are also nuts and bolts issues with the tech behind The Saboteur. The frame rate, while mostly inoffensive, bogged down dramatically at one particularly action-packed sequence. The level of detail can be distracting, especially when the bright lights of the Eiffel Tower blink out abruptly at a certain distance. Enemy, pedestrian, and driver AI aren't particularly brilliant, and it's not uncommon to see another driver (or as Sean might say, droivur) trying to negotiate some baffling 16-point turn. At a certain point in my progression, I found that every time I passed a certain tank, it appeared as though it had dropped from about four feet in the air, and was rubbing uncomfortably against a nearby tree. There are a lot of nitpicky little things to snag yourself on in The Saboteur, but they add up.
 
About the greatest success an open-world game can achieve is to dupe the player into believing, even on a sub-conscious level, that they are in a real place. Deep down, we know that these are all clockwork playgrounds constructed specifically for our amusement, so it's not an easy thing to do. But The Saboteur's gameplay systems never let you forget that you are playing a game, and the nakedness of the underlying machinery is one of the game's greatest shortcomings.

53 Comments
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Posted by zombie2011

Still gonna pick this up. I'll probably get this over the break along with Dragon Age

Posted by ajamafalous

Shame, was looking forward to this game.

Posted by Madyew

Bout what I expected.

Posted by luce

That Ryan shrugging image should have a wrap-around so that the text doesn't hide behind his hand

Posted by Dan_CiTi

So it's better than Assassin's Creed then. Good to know.

Posted by Binman88
@Ryan said:

Though voiced by an actual Irishman

Ryan, didn't Robin Atkin-Downes (a Londoner) voice Sean? Tom French mentioned this on the PlayStation blog not long ago.
Posted by Yummylee

A fair review, I'm still enjoying it for what it is, half-baked elements n all. 
 
And Sean was voiced by an actual irishman??? It was done so strongly and OTT I never would of guessed =S
Posted by CraigAA1028

I finish my review and it just so happens Ryan's was posted as I was writing lol And it seems we have about the same options. Yay consistancy

Posted by Jayzilla

I think that Obsidian will be the next studio to close its doors. They make games that seem to have as many glaring bugs as Pandemic.

Posted by George_Hukas
@CraigAA said:
" I finish my review and it just so happens Ryan's was posted as I was writing lol And it seems we have about the same options. Yay consistancy "
Ya, almost disappointing but the art style and the 1940's Paris setting are just pretty enough for me to wanna check it out.
Posted by moelarrycurly

Noice review.  I'll definitely be interested in this game when the price drops.

Posted by CraigAA1028
@cide: Shameless plug: Hey read my full review.  lol 
 
I think Saboteur is solid for the most part. It's worth playing. I'd say rent first.
Posted by handlas

bought it.  It is fun.  3 stars seems correct tho.  It tries to do everything but doesn't exceed at any of it.  Still, I'm enjoying it for what it is and really not being into Assassin's Creed at all...this is nice alternative.

Posted by addictedtopinescent

Still looks worth a playthrough.
Good review duder

Posted by JeffGoldblum

Ill either rent this or pick it up when it drops to around 20 bucks.

Posted by Origina1Penguin

From Ryan Davis, I think this is a good score. Plus:


The halfway point. An inherent appreciation of this game's specific gameplay style, characters, subject matter, and so on may play as big a role in your enjoyment as the actual quality of the game. (emphasis is mine)

Since I do dig what the game is presenting in terms of gameplay and definitely style, I will probably really enjoy the game. To the inevitable remarks of disappointment: don't dismiss the game for having three stars, saying "too bad it's not as good as I hoped" or "it's a shame it isn't better." Read his personal problems with the game and think about whether or not they would bother you too much to garner sufficient enjoyment from the game.
 
I can't comment for sure on the game's quality yet, but I'm still really excited that I'll playing it soon after class finals.
Posted by JJOR64

Another let down from Pandemic.  :(

Edited by Brendan

Some of the comments suggest that Ryan is saying this is a bad game.  It's three stars, which means it does some things well, and people who like open world games will most likely find some enjoyment with it. 
 
You get the feeling people don't really understand what the stars mean. 
Posted by FunExplosions

Well... I guess that's not a surprise to anyone. I feel like renting this, though.

Posted by RHCPfan24

One word:
 
BOOBS.

Posted by Milkman

Aw, well, that's a shame. 
 
Goodnight sweet prince.

Posted by HT101

I will probably pick this up when it goes down to bargain prices.

Posted by FCKSNAP
Edited by Brackynews
Magically Demolicious!   Back o' the box.
 
@luce: The web designer in me agrees, but I've come to enjoy the overlap.  Copy/paste still works if I need to know what those few letters are.
Posted by TheHBK

looks like another reason they went out of business.  except for their franchise, why were people bemoaning the closure again?

Posted by Nexas

Its sad to hear that Pandemic's swan song is nothing spectacular but Its only $50 at Best Buy so I may pick it up if I get through with Spirit Tracks quick enough.

Posted by Media_Master

Seems alright

Posted by Catarrhal
@Binman88: You're correct; it is the voice of Robin Atkin Downes a.k.a. Travis Touchdown, and he is English. (I actually asked the same question several weeks ago, because--looking at one of the trailers--I thought it sounded like him, and no one responded to me. Apparently no one here played No More Heroes; for that matter, the Giant Bomb staff completely overlooked it in their Game of the Year 2008 feature. A shame, that…)
Posted by SleepyDoughnut

called it in my head

Posted by dunc12

I think this looks like it'd be worth picking up...or maybe as a christmas gift

Posted by StingingVelvet

I got the game for PC this afternoon and so far I really like it and would categorize this review as overly harsh.  The gameplay is very well done for me and the controls and framerate are perfect for a PC port.  The addition of quick save is awesome as well I must say.  The pop-in and lack of AA are bad points, but I hope some tweaking can take care of both.  The action is where it's at though and I feel it holds up well, much better than some higher rated games like say Assassin's Creed.  The story is also very well done at least in the first couple hours... the music and tone of the world are perfect, the game can actually be sexy which is kind of amazing for polygons and the voice acting to me seems superb.  The only "top of the morning to ye" I heard so far was in jest.
Posted by Nasar7

Just what I thought it'd get.

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

I'll pick it up when it's cheaper.
Posted by Kohe321

Pretty much as expected, great review Ryan. I'll get it when the price drops.

Posted by Skins

The reason they do a star system here is so you DONT see the rating as an X/10. 3 stars can be good.

Posted by 02sfraser

i also read that cars can't be damaged which is really odd for this style of game. its a shame as i was showing interest in this but all the reviews i have read has put me of it completely. like Mercenaries 2 actually. was going to get it on launch but decided against it for the better

Posted by atomic_dumpling
I stopped right after the first sentence. Borrowing from other games? How is that bad, Mr. Davis? Every game does that. With that logic, you can't give any game more than three stars.
Posted by barkertron

Was nice to see a mention in the review for the caricatured European accents... as a resident of the UK, I'm getting fairly sick of every English character in a video game either speaking 1) incredibly posh Queen's English ("What ho old chap, I say, this weather's a bloody nuisance" etc.) or 2) swaggering cheeky cockney wideboy ("Awroight guv, shat your maaaf, up the apples and pears" etc.).
 
Most (not all) US films and TV series adhere to the same boring stereotypes, along with the rule that every English character must say the word "bloody" every second and will probably be the villain too. Uncharted 1 & 2 - I'm looking squarely in your direction, even though I do love you. Yes I do.

Posted by MjHealy

"Top of the mornin' to ya"?
 
For shame, Saboteur.

Posted by _Nuno_
@Jayzilla: I don't see what you mean. Have you played KOTOR2? Besides, teir genre specialty is totally different from pandemic.
Pandemic = Shooter
Obsidian = RPG
Posted by VWGTI

Sounds like a game I'll enjoy. I'll be picking it up today.

Posted by nnilley

Something about this game makes me want to buy it..

Posted by OldGuy

SCOTCH?! I've just fired up DAO (so it might be a while till I get to this one), but (partcularly) a stereotype Irishman would NOT drink Scotch. Whisky, yes (and there are some DAMN FINE Irish whiskys), but not Scotch.
 
I seem to recall multiple references to whisky in the QL, but no mention of type.

Posted by strangeling
@Origina1Penguin: I end up doing that a lot too, quoting the giant bomb faq for what the different ratings mean _here_.  Too many people have come here with the mindset that all rating systems mean the same thing. 
 
Nothing in Ryan's review makes me think this is a bad game.  I'm really attracted to the style and story / setting.  My only worry is I don't really like games like Grand Theft Auto.  I'm not sure if it's just the game play, or the fact that I didn't find any of the story elements of GTA really to my liking.  I plan on picking up the Saboteur, after I play it I guess I'll know.
Posted by MattBodega
@Catarrhal:  I agree with you that NMH missed a deserved Game Of The Year nomination, but it still won Best Wii Game of 2008, a wholeheartedly deserved win. So, there's that.
I am totally curious about the "haunting" moment that Ryan described in the review. Certainly may be worth a purchase when the price comes down.
Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

I knew Ryan would give it this score, every game I love to death he gives 3/5. I always forget I am in a game world in this game, and I am so glad I picked this up yesterday.
Posted by Tactical_Kill

Good review Ryan. 
 
I'll pry pick this up after Christmas. Still looks pretty interesting.

Posted by bakwards

"About the greatest success an open-world game can achieve is to dupe the player into believing that they are in a real place." Games are games and should be treated as games, their realism as a factor of beauty and resemblance to reality, not extensions beyond the games as reality - this fallacy extends to all games. The Saboteur deserves a higher score on these grounds alone, as all the component are, as a matter of fact, fun. You can crave the day someone will let you plug in to a  "realistic" matrix, but that simulation will be nowhere near a game.
Even though I agree about the technical shortcomings, I must say that the fun more than makes up for it.
Blowing up nazi stuff? Platforming through a burning zeppelin? Nazis instead of cops means noone cares about the civilians? Access to all roofs? Highly dynamic stealth? A main character who smokes? IT IS TEH AWESOM

Posted by foodchaiNN

my gosh... ANOTHER WW2 GAME?! shit... wolfenstein 3d, RTCW, RTCW:ET, medal of honor, 1, 2, 3, CALL OF DUTY 1,2,5... forget it... please developers... just stop.

Posted by Jim_uk

PC gamers with ATI cards can forget about this one, despite being sponsored by ATI it doesn't work with their cards on Vista or 7. They're supposed to be patching it but they're taking their time about it.

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