The best saboteurs are those who remain hidden until the ideal moment to wreak havoc presents itself. The Saboteur, EA and Pandemic's unique take on World War II action, has certainly done a good job abiding by the former half of that statement. We first saw the game just over two years ago, but it's been all quiet on the western front since then. With the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo on the horizon, however, EA recently took the time to lift the veil off The Saboteur and give us a look at how things have progressed in the interim.
Even under a historical backdrop that we've seen time and time again, it's hard not to be at least cautiously optimistic about The Saboteur. Much of that comes from what Pandemic is looking to do differently with the World War II setting. Rather than playing as an unnamed soldier in the heat of a massive battle, you'll instead take the role of an Irish racecar driver named Sean Devlin taking part in a resistance movement in Nazi-occupied France. You'll sneak about the city and countryside while sabotaging various aspects of the Nazi regime in order to chip away at the effectiveness of their control over the region. You're not trying to win the war by yourself; you're just doing what you can to bring hope to the local population.
It's in the way that hope is depicted that gives The Saboteur its most striking characteristic. The game begins almost entirely in black and white, save for a few splotches of color, such as the red of Nazi flags and yellow streetlights. As you might expect, the 2005 movie Sin City was a big source of inspiration for this visual effect. As time goes on, you'll bring color to the world as you successfully complete various missions. Pandemic calls this gauge the "will to fight" in a particular region. The way it works is that the more vibrant the color in a certain neighborhood, the higher the local population's resistance to the occupying Nazi forces. It's a neat effect when you see it in motion.
The Saboteur is an open-world sandbox game, so you're given some freedom to go about painting the world how you like. We had the chance to see a pair of story missions, one from early in the game and one from quite a bit later. The first mission had Sean infiltrating a German auto factory before hightailing it through the countryside and across the French border. The mission required a combination of stealth, brute gunplay, and agile climbing to get the job done. Our hero first had to sneak into the facility, silently take down a few Germans from behind, and find himself a gun. After that, it was on to a more straightforward style of third-person action that used cover-based gun combat and close-quarters melee attacks. While the gunplay appeared fairly ordinary, seeing Sean sneak up to an enemy, lift him up, and toss him over a tall ledge was especially thrilling. In addition, there's a lot of verticality to these levels, as evidenced by one chunk of the action that had Sean climbing a giant neon sign to get a better vantage point of his surroundings.
The Pandemic rep guiding our demo then skipped a little bit forward in the mission to where Sean has finished his primary task and thus needs to make an escape across the border. It's up to you how to do that, but the game gives you a handy tip by displaying a red arrow above the first car you see upon exiting the facility. You could choose to run through the villages and farmland separating you from the border, but a brisk drive in a car gives you the chance to plow through any and all Nazi soldiers stationed along the way.
Once in Paris, we were shown a bit of the city as Sean drove around in a sleek fictional racecar known as the Morini Aurora. The Saboteur's version of Paris isn't nearly as big or true to life as, say, Grand Theft Auto IV's New York-inspired Liberty City, but rather it's a compressed locale that uses all the major landmarks to serve as sights to help you get around. For example, you'll know you're in the north end of the right bank when you see the Sacre Coeur Basilica perched atop a nearby hill, and so on. The atmosphere aims to be period-specific, too, so you'll see Nazis harassing civilians in the streets and brothels that double as resistance-safe havens.
The next mission we saw required Sean to fight across the Paris rooftops in order to destroy a nearby cannon being used by the Nazis. There was quite a bit of ranged shooting in this section, with all the space separating Sean from enemy soldiers. When not picking off Nazis from afar, Sean then had to leap from roof to roof, taking cover behind chimneys and climbing up windows whenever his path to the cannon required it. Finally, he made it and planted a charge on the cannon, blowing the thing up and flushing the immediate surroundings with vibrant color.
So far, it looks like EA Pandemic has got the right idea about how to breathe a little life back into World War II games: show the conflict from a different perspective. We're eager to see how the game turns out and whether the gameplay--which, in terms of combat, doesn't look too out of the ordinary--can eventually manage to feel as unique as the game's story and visuals. No release date has been announced yet, but we'll be sure to have more coverage in the coming months.