Great Ingredients, Lackluster Execution
The Saboteur should have been much better. All of the ingredients were there; Pandemic Studios (the group behind Mercenaries) developed the game, it has a brilliant art-style, and the story is pulpy fun. Yet, The Saboteur is plagued with problem after problem, which wind up turning a great idea into a mediocre reality.
The Saboteur takes place in Paris during Nazi occupation. In the game, the player controls Sean Devlin, an Irish race-car driver. After his best friend is brutally murdered, Sean sets out determined to avenge his friend, one Nazi at a time. This game very closely mirrors the type of gameplay seen in other free-roam titles, such as Grand Theft Auto III, Mercenaries, etc. There are quite a few story missions to complete, but there are a good number of side missions to do as well, all of which earn Sean contraband (the type of currency used in The Saboteur) so he can buy better weapons and ammo.
Most missions in The Saboteur can be played by shooting at the enemies in plain sight, but a few missions demand the player utilize stealth gameplay, which is really too bad, since the stealth segments in the game are absolutely terrible. It doesn’t matter which route the player takes in these missions: the enemy always spots them. The game allows Sean to equip enemy uniforms in order to better sneak by other enemies, but even this eventually fails almost every time it’s used. The shooting in the game feels solid, but these stealth missions really drag the game down, making a otherwise fun experience much harder than it should be.
The other glaring problem in the game is the way Sean moves about the city. There are many instances in The Saboteur where the player will need to control Sean to scale buildings in order to reach enemies. Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately control which ledge Sean jumps to next, which makes for very frustrating climbing. It doesn’t help that Sean’s basic movement, both on and off of the ground, is extremely sluggish. When being shot at by enemies, the last thing players want is a character that is too slow or awkwardly controlled to dodge fire from their attackers.
One thing that The Saboteur gets right is its unique environment. Using the art style that was made popular through the Sin City franchise, all of Paris starts out in black and white, save for bright red Nazi flags and arm bands. Once Sean completes a mission or two in each black and white area in the game, the environment becomes fully immersed in color. This effect is used very well, and definitely bring a bit of originality to The Saboteur, since this is one of the first games that this black and white technique has been used. Paris looks astounding in black and white, and the enemies are really easy to spot with the bright red on their arms.
The story in The Saboteur, though sometimes ridiculous, works really effectively in the world depicted in the game. Sean, as mentioned before, is a professional race car driver turned Nazi-hunter. One of his love interests is a beautiful British super-spy, resembling a femme fatale in any number of James Bond movies. These characters, as well as the Nazi super-villain (who is also a race car driver), are players in the story of a French rebellion defeating the Nazis and restoring Paris to its former glory. Despite the game taking place during a real-life situation, nothing in the story ever feels very authentic, which can be seen as a blessing. Instead of focusing on the atrocities committed in this time period, the player can instead focus on having fun, which is the purpose of gaming in the first place.
All-in-all, The Saboteur is somewhat of a guilty pleasure, the type of which is usually reserved for Summer, when video game releases are sparse. With games like Assassin’s Creed 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Modern Warfare 2 taking up most gamers’ time, there’s really not much in The Saboteur to take them away from what they are already playing. However, The Saboteur would be a nice rental for a cloudy weekend, or even a cheap purchase a few months down the road.