The Saboteur: Some notes are out of key in this swansong.
(360, PS3, PC)
Taken from my blog: http://numbthumb.wordpress.com
With the massive layoffs that hit Electronic Arts in November the company confirmed that Pandemic studio’s is no longer. While a small handful of the studios force was absorbed to offer support you can call The Saboteur their swan song. It’s not a bad note to go out on, but it’s a bitter pill for a crew that obviously had some unique and outright fun ideas.
The Saboteur pits you against Nazi forces that have invaded France during the 1940’s as, the mechanic turned race car driver, Sean Devlin. In an odd choice you’re not French, British, or even American, but a tough assed Irishman that loves his whiskey, women and guns. Devlin’s a loyal man that holds a deep seated grudge against a man that stole a racing victory from him and then proceeded to kill his best friend. Devlin finds himself in France, shacking up with the French Resistance, plotting revenge, and going about his business with an uncanny ability to take hundreds of bullets to the chest without a care.
Pandemic has laid out a wonderfully constructed version of Paris and the surrounding country side, shrouded in the misery of war with Nazi watchtowers at almost every corner. How you go about winning France back is pretty much up to you. There are some fairly standard missions at the start, where Devlin must prove his worth by destroying German fuel supplies or assassinating SS agents. The story picks up some solid momentum toward the end of the game but its narrative focus isn’t as tightly wound as it could have been. The emphasis on action as you roam the city actually takes away from the serious undertones of the story, and as a result you may be left forgetting what everyone is so grim about.
France is a beautiful setting and this is emphasized with the help of a borrowed artistic style reminiscent of Prince of Persia whereby all the German controlled zones are pales in black and white, with some reds and blues added for style. As you regain areas of the city color returns and the streets become sunny and lively. It might not be original but it is enacted with a deft touch that makes it fitting. You liberate sections by completing side missions and story missions, the total of which should take you approximately 12 to 18 hours depending on how much you’re racing through. But there are a lot of good distractions to go with that, literally hundreds.
Those distractions come by way of Freeplay Ambient missions are marked on your map as white dots. These will range from watchtowers, sniper nests, armor divisions, supply drops and the like, and your only task to complete them is to blow it all to hell or collect whatever’s lying around. Doing so gains you Contraband, the games currency for weapons and Perks. You could ignore most of the Freeplay missions and struggle through with enough cash, but doing so means you miss out on virtually all the destruction. This is a problem I had with the game, however.
Given the time periods lack of weaponry, you’re relegated to basically two types of dynamite and a rocket launcher. It takes away from some of the fun after you’ve steamrolled a few hundred towers and realize there’s another 800 or so to go. They way you go about this never changes, while you can do this with stealth or barging in guns ablaze, there’s a lack of creativity from what we’ve seen in previous Pandemic titles like Mercenaries 2. Some of these can be tackled during missions, but I would have liked to see more side missions that actually tasked you with taking out these targets. There are a couple of those, but it’s not enough, and it becomes boring at a point given the restraints on your arsenal.
The other issue with the side missions are with the Races, of which I think there are only 5 total, 3 of them story related. The driving in the game is not exactly fluid, but it’s not broken either. When you hop in a race car you’ll definitely enjoy it, and that’s what makes the races surprisingly fun. The fact that there are only a couple of these to do is a real shame. The other cars themselves though, aren’t as nice as the race cars. Tanks are slow, cars drive odd speeds that don’t always make sense and invisible barriers seem to pop up randomly. It forces you out of the experience and makes you remember you’re playing a game which is an ongoing struggle The Saboteur has. It’s strange that they couldn’t marry the fun had with the race cars with the rest of the vehicular aspects. It also doesn’t help that you can only find half dozen tanks to actually acquire yourself. Why they limited this is beyond me.
Another strange design choice is parkour elements within the game. It seems Pandemic didn’t want to be left behind with a hero who couldn’t climb anything and everything they made sure to add it anyway. For no clear reason other than wanting to make you be able to, Devlin can indeed scale virtually every building in the game. Doing so, however, is hardly fun. Assassin’s Creed 2 isn’t the be all and end all of free running, but 10 minutes climbing in the Saboteur will make you realize just how much better it is than Pandemics attempt with it. Devlin is clunky, slow, and lumbers with every jump. You also need to keep hitting A or O to jump each time and you’ll grow weary of scaling buildings altogether, and since most ambient freeplay targets are on the tops of buildings, that really sucks.
On the other hand, gunplay is nicely executed here. Sniper rifles, shotguns, rifles and pistols all handle well enough. Targeting isn’t always quick, but it’s fairly precise and given the absurd amount of damage you can take before dying you can pretty safely battle it out with waves of enemies with ease.
The game holds up visually on most fronts. The black and white portions of the game and the areas once colors have come back are all adequate. The further you are in the story the more you see different places in Paris which can be a treat. Seriously terrible frame rate issues pop up, however, as the action intensifies. I found this mainly to happen toward the end of the game, but it was astonishing just how bad it could get. The soundtrack is spectacular, if maybe not a little lacking in quantity. But it’s easily some of the best match music I’ve heard in a long time. The voice acting counteracts that by being so over the top it gets ridiculous. Devlin is so stereotypical it just becomes silly, and the rest of the cast isn’t much better either. None of this is make or break though.
The Saboteur is a fun title, packed with tons to do and a good revenge story worth seeing to the end. Some polish would have really helped the game succeed more though; a tighter grip on the pacing of the story and a better tie-in of the side missions could have focused the action that Pandemic sets up. All told, it’s a lengthy adventure that packs enough action to keep you interested, easily worth a rent, if not a full purchase.
THE WORLD: France is a beautiful place and that isn’t lost in the game. The neat art styling helps unravel it in an interesting way. A fresh setting for an open world game like this. 9/10
THE STORY: It’s hard at times to take it seriously, but that’s not because it’s bad. Too much time is afforded the player to create ridiculous amounts of chaos in the world, so when you come back to the heavy story the impact is lost on you. 7/10
THE SIDE MISSIONS: Over the top, tons of fun, but ultimately limited. You can only blow up so many items with the same sticks of dynamite before it gets boring. Too few races for me. 6/10
THE AUDIO/VISUAL: Music is wonderful, but there are too few tracks. The voice acting is competent, but none of it is convincing. Game looks pretty, but frame rate can kill you at times. Cut Scenes do not look amazing though. 7/10
THE LENGTH: It’s a long game with a ton of stuff to do if you’re willing to do it all. But you might need to take it in small doses. If you’re a trophy hunter, this game could take you up to 40 hours. But around 15 will beat the story. 8/10