The Saboteur Review
It's a lot of fun to paint the town red in this black and white open-world game, but the weak stealth elements limit your options.
- Striking art design seamlessly mixes black and white with color
- Shooting action is fun and chaotic
- Perks system gives valuable rewards for being creative
- Freeplay targets are an interesting diversion.
- Stealth elements are underdeveloped
- Driving and melee controls are clunky
- Climbing buildings is boring.
Sean Devlin is one tough Irishman. A single Nazi bullet may have ended the life of his best friend, but the protagonist of The Saboteur isn't going to succumb to death's waiting embrace nearly as easily. He absorbs rounds of German artillery like a plant sucks in sunlight, exhibiting an uncanny ability to regenerate his health in a way that would make even Wolverine envious. Despite the 1940s trappings--the dreary setting, old-fashioned weaponry, and painfully familiar foe--The Saboteur has very little in common with World War II. The strange thing is, once you get over the obvious clash between the real war and this over-the-top portrayal, The Saboteur is a really good time. It may not make a lick of sense that you can single-handedly shoot your way through a burning zeppelin, or dispose of waves of angry Germans with careless ease, but it's so much fun that the ridiculousness of these situations only adds to the enjoyment. If you can get over a few rough spots and put your real-world knowledge of World War II to the side for a while, The Saboteur is a goofy reenactment of some of history’s darkest days.
It's a shame the story doesn't mirror the devil-may-care nature of the action. The cutscenes drip with drama, documenting the terror the Nazis are exerting on Paris. Sean Devlin has a score to settle with the invading army. Sure, the city he calls home is occupied by aggressive forces, but his beef is much more personal than that. His best friend was killed, murdered before his eyes, by a high-ranking Nazi with no moral qualms holding him back from committing unmitigated atrocities. Each new cutscene brings with it dark news from the war front, adding fire to Sean's quest for vengeance. Taken by itself, the story is well done, despite some visual discrepancies during the cutscenes. However, the overly dramatic tale serves to further highlight the jarring disconnect between the ridiculous action and the depressing reality. Unfortunately, even though the story goes out of its way to put a damper on the fun of rebellion carnage, it can't even keep a straight face long enough for you to care about the horrific events being told. The characters act in predictably stereotypical ways, which makes it difficult to confuse them with real human beings. Sean Devlin may be upset when his best friend is killed before his eyes, but after making his 10th whiskey crack in just a few sentences, he becomes an Irish caricature.
The story may not be able to decide if it wants to be goofy or serious, but the intriguing atmosphere definitely adds to the experience. The depression and fear cast on the city by the occupying forces are expressed visually through striking black and white backdrops. The buildings and roads in the Nazi-controlled sections of the city have a bleak, suffocating feel, making your actions to free these areas carry more weight. The most interesting aspect of this art design is the way in which color is carefully placed. During cutscenes, a scarf on the person Sean is speaking to may be drenched in shocking blue, standing out brilliantly against the dire background. Action scenes are even more impressive, using the orange flash of a gunshot or the glowing red of spilled Nazi blood to create a dazzling look. When you finally kick those evil Nazis out of parts of the city, the color comes flooding back, giving you a visual reward for your hard-fought progress. Ironically, the colored sections don't look nearly as impressive as the black and white areas, although the pristine countryside is a pleasure to take a leisurely drive through. Just make sure you don't hit any cows. They explode as if filled with dynamite, which could ruin your mood.
The Saboteur is an open-world game that lets you roam the streets of Paris at whatever pace you desire. The city is comfortably European, and does a good job of capturing wartime Paris. The world-famous landmarks are intact so you can visit the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower when you need a break from the Nazi-killing action. Your main method of travel, when you aren't running wildly down the somber streets, is a variety of cars pulled straight from the dawn of the automobile. They certainly blend in with the 1940s aesthetics, but their handling leaves a lot to be desired. They feel every bit as old as they look, which makes it difficult to quickly wind your way through these narrow streets or pull off a smooth hairpin turn during the many chase scenes. That isn't to say the vehicle controls are broken; they're just stiff, which makes the cars less fun to drive than they could be. You can also get around town by climbing straight up the sides of buildings. However, although this gives you a unique view of the City of Lights, it's clunky and unsatisfying. Getting to the top only requires you to rapidly mash on the climb button, and it takes an awful long time to finally reach your destination. Thankfully, this is a mostly optional way to travel, so you can ignore it if the sluggish nature gets to you.