Resist the resistance
Momma always taught me not to speak ill of the dead. Besides being rather disrespectful, trash-talking the deceased could result in a poltergeist occupying your residence. The last thing I need is a ghost haunting my Playstation 3; slowing download speeds for the PSN Store moreso or attacking Solid Snake during the many Metal Gear Solid 4 installation screens. Part of the cruel aftermath of the economic recession, Pandemic Studios has passed away into the great beyond. This studio has produced once-mighty military games like Full Spectrum Warrior, Mercenaries and Star Wars: Battlefront. So I’m a bit worried that criticizing their swan song, The Saboteur, will leave my console haunted with the ghosts of trigger-happy marines that open fire at my team of cartoon warriors every time we’ve apprehended our fat princess.
But quite frankly, The Saboteur is game that should not be bought, either out of homage or otherwise.
You play as Sean Devlin, a rugged Irish mechanic that, coincidentally, is also adept at using firearms and explosives. He gets beat in a race against a Nazi race driver that, coincidentally, is also an evil Nazi sergeant and torture artist. Bad things go down at roughly the same time the Krauts decide to invade , and Sean decides to be the one man army that does something about it.
There’s something about playing The Saboteur that feels painful in principle. (Actually, there are several painful parts.) In particular, I’m referring to how the game apes the art style of Schindler’s List. In theory, Nazi-occupied sections of are black and white, with only certain aspects that the developers want to highlight receiving colour. (Like, you know, the explosions.) Meanwhile, the sort-of liberated parts of are brim with colour, sunshine, hope, despite how Nazi troops still walk around these sections with that same attitude of owning the place.
This concept, while potentially interesting on paper, aggravates me because the rest of the game lacks the same kind of emotional weight or drama of the movie it’s ripping off. Imagine the version of Schindler’s List recorded by the high school A/V team. Here you’ve got your swashbuckling hero (who’s not particularly charismatic, mind you), speaking in dark-but-off Irish tones, surrounded by a litany of characters communicating with horrible accents. The voice acting as a whole is bad, the script is drab and hard to believe, and thus it becomes impossible to buy into the game’s super serious tone. So the storyline is a flop.
The Saboteur boasts a combination of gameplay mechanics. Being 1940s , the car lock had presumably not been invented yet and you can just about jack any automobile of your choosing. You can then engage in a runaway, escaping from pursuing Nazis in a Grand Theft Auto 4-like chases to race out of the red circle on the map. Or you can parkour your escape, climbing around buildings to find the very scarce hiding spots, though Sean is no Ezio Auditore and is very hesitant about what ledges he can and can’t shimmy along.
Guns are always a nice option too. The gunplay here is a bit satisfying, if uninspiring. You shoot at things, then you take cover behind other things. Other, Gearier games have done this kind of action better, but at least you’ll crack a smile as your one shotgun blast mows down a row of church-attending Nazis. Though the looming threat of sniper towers and Nazis in weird places you didn’t see can ruin your Rambo approach, thus you may instead consider the stealth approach; this involves ambushing a trooper, stealing his clothes and goose-stepping your way around installations. However, even this approach has its limitations, such as “walking around the sight of the Super Smart Nazis that can spot a traitor from a mile away” and “walking around all the other Nazis anyways because they can detect the smell of Guinness.”
All of your missions, which seem to involve either killing someone, destroying something, or undestroying an ally, are often best approached by a combination of the above. That said, it gets a bit tiresome when you start falling into familiar habits. Sneak into an establishment, wind up getting caught because you got frustrated walking around all the yellow circles on the map, shoot things, drive out of the red circle on the map to escape. The formula gets a bit tiresome, especially when some of the aforementioned weaknesses of the above systems kick in. One mission guided me to the direction of a rope that I thought I could use to slide from one building to the next. But ropes are clearly something that does not exist in , so Sean had great difficulty trying to figure his way through the shelves and ledges on the building, onto this strange apparatus.
And I began to wonder what it was exactly I had to do to dispose of all this black and white oppression. Not because I cared for the annexed citizens of , but because it’s so damned hard to see anything. I would frequently crash into poles, obstacles and civilians on the road with no sympathy for anything but my car. There are the odd moments where I would try to find the ledge of a building…an experimental process that entailed grinding up along every square foot of wall and hump-jumping the side until Sean found a window ledge of his liking. The stealth parts are a bit awkward in that it can be hard to discern what direction a Nazi troop is facing. Thus my attempt at a stealth kill will transform into an attempt at an awkward conversation about the weather. Gloomy as always, I guess.
Not that I ever knew what these missions were. Remember how in Infamous, you had those sidequests who’s sole purpose was to clean up two percent of that third of the city? As much as an overwhelming chore that felt like, at least you knew how to get the cleaning done. In The Saboteur, it seems like the anti-greyscale missions appear randomly throughout the main story missions. My eagerness to liberate the masses (even if I couldn’t give a damn about the masses) was being put to test through being forced to witness the main plot.
But really, The Saboteur’s greatest fallacy is that it nicks and steals aspects from better sandbox games. Grand Theft Auto 4, Assassin’s Creed 2, Infamous, all of which were probably in development cycles at the same time as The Saboteur, all pull off this sandbox parkour/violence/death/freeing the civilians nonsense a lot better. Maybe you have a strong urge to rescue the French, and that may be your motivation for playing The Saboteur. But that sense of Parisian pride will fade when you hear Luc’s wonderfully Looney Tunes accent.