He's Oyrish. I'm Gamer. What's New?
I felt very excited upon the purchase of The Saboteur, given my two full go-arounds in Fable 3 and Saints Row The Third when it came to playing open world games. I was hoping for another fun adventure blowing up, shooting down Nazis. Upon completing the main campaign and participating some side quests and forays into blowing stuff up at my own leisure time, I couldn't help but feel that the game has some unfilled holes. Yes, there is a lot to like here, such as the action, but there are many facets of this game that are half cooked and underdeveloped. In the end, the Saboteur is only an OK game, better than terrible but nowhere in the conversation of the best games around.
Taking place in a well-traveled era known as World War II, the game puts you in the shoes of Irishman Sean Devlin, who is trying to settle the score with a prominent Nazi officer who killed a very close friend. So Sean takes his talents to the French Resistance and people of higher places so to get his hands on that general one more time and exact his veangeance. The plot is not really interesting itself, but is saved by some really strong and charismatic personalities. Yes, Sean is an Irish cariculture, given his accent and penchant for swearing once every few lines. However, he is a man of action, with a sympathetic back story, a penchant for the ladies and an expert wielder of firearms of all types (By the way, am I reminding you of somebody from more modern fictional times?). How can you not like the dude? Then there's the heavily accented Luc, leader of a resistance group, and the dangerous (one way or another) British secret agent Skylar St. Claire who, as Devlin points out, "drives [planes] as well as she f- uh never mind". In the end, don't expect a gripping narrative; just expect just funny heavy accents getting thrown around.
So you play as Sean, roaming around Paris. The City of Lights is no doubt a fun place for tourists, but Devlin is not just here to take the sights (human or non human, as the introduction will attest). He's here to go blow up stuff that have the iron cross symbol. You operate in an open world environment, but this is where the game has its first problem: it really doesn't give you much to do beyond going to certain areas to start missions, hijack and collect cars, blow nazi installations, or the occasional racecar competition. You can kill people but it'll prevent you from using the hiding spots throughout the city, which are really good for escaping nazi pursuers. And if you attack a nazi, they'll be swarming all over you and you'll need to get out before you get a bullet on the back of your head. So the game forces you to just go from point A to point B, doing missions here and missions there, blowing up stuff off-duty when an installation is nearby and you have time to spare.
Once you get into a mission, you usually follow this formula:
1. You arrive at an area
2. You need to kill somebody or, as the game's title suggest, commit sabotage on yet another Nazi base or institution. You can achieve this in the following manners:
a) Go in gung ho and kill everybody
b) Kill a nazi and take his uniform when no one is looking. Then slowly approach the area of the task you've been assigned to do. If enemies find out about you, THEN you pull out your gun and start shooting.
3. Once you do your job, you need to escape from nazis.
Once steps 1 to 3 have been completed, you'll be thrust into another mission with an identical setup, again making the game a bit too stale in the mission variety department. Driving cars is serviceable even though it might feel too slick for automobiles in the 1940s. Another part of the game involves a lot of parkouring around rooftops and negotiating urban terrain. Sean can climb most buildings and jump from building to building given a suitable amount of distance. However, the parkour feels very clunky and slow, a poor imitation of other games doing the same thing (InFamous comes to mind).
There are still some imperfect elements in this game, the stealth element being the most unbaked. In short, when you are seen doing a suspicious activity for too long the Nazis chase you. Fair enough, but escaping feels really broken: You need to escape a red circle to get the jackboots off your back, but if you immediately dive back into the Nazis' face they don't recognize you? Talk about unrealistic behavior! In the end, it's still cool to sneak around as a Nazi, but the concept is so underdeveloped in this game.
Thankfully, there are some really good parts. Gunplay is really fun. The game took a page off of CoD's aiming down the sight, meaning that Sean will snap to a target once he zooms in and focuses when using a pistol or a MG. Simply put, you feel very lethal indeed. I also need to applaud the game saving the best for last, allowing you to lay siege on a Nazi factory, and later pitting thevengeful Irishman against the hated general in a fitting setting: On the higher levels of the Eiffel Tower. In short, the game ends on a really, really high note.
Thankfully, there are more bright spots in the game besides the gunslinging. The presentation is probably the game's strongest point. Yeah, the black and white motif is used before, but it still evokes that dark and dreary atmosphere that is representative of Paris at this time. The shift from no color to a lot of color once you liberate an area is startling in a good sense. However, I have to applaud the soundtrack and the voice-acting more. A lot of the songs fit into the 1940s era, and really puts you into the scene. Take Koop Island Blues, my favorite tune, for instance. This is a song that is made by a modern band (Koop, started in 1995 and is still active), but you hear it and think it came from a WAY older source. In short, the soundtrack is one of the most immersive I've ever heard. Besides the soundtrack I personally like the cast: Heavily accented to provide the types of personalities that can carry an average plotline. The trophy of best voice actor has to go to Sean Devlin's VA, Robin Atkin Downes, though Skylar's VA, Kari Wahlgren is a close second. Needless to say, the presentation is not part of the game's problem.
The Saboteur has good ideas as a game but it doesn't mesh as well as it could. Part of that could be attributed to the fact that some parts are poor imitations of better games. The story could also be much more nuanced beyond the badassary of Sean Devlin and company. But still, Pandemic's last product has a really vivid setting, finishes strong, and the frequent gun parts are a joy to play. I don't think a great open world game, but neither is it a horrific one.
Breakdown (all new system!)
The plot is paper thin but is greatly compensated by a charismatic group of heavy-accent characters. Another round for me mates!
Gameplay pt. 1 (early gameplay, initial mechanics): 2.5/5
Things are functional but are very basic, especially during the parkour parts. Cars don't control very well, melee combat is OK but clunky. Stealth mechanics feel broken and unrealistic.
Gameplay pt. 2 (later gameplay, gradual increase of difficulty etc.): 3.5/5
There is not much going besides the extra side missions and blowing up stuff, but the last couple of stages are great (rescuing scientist/raiding nazi factory and final showdown at Eiffel Tower). Way to finish strong!
Great ambience provided with strong black-white/color contrasts, a great musical score, and funny voice-acting
Bonuses, Alternatives, Replay Value: 3.1/5
You can finish the main campaign in 13 hours, which is a bit short for an open world game, and you can always go back to finish some side quests that can increase the shelf life of this game
A game that does well in establishing a setting, but the gameplay leaves lots to be desired.