The Saboteur is a WWII sandbox game that has some flaws but makes up for it in abundance...
My first impressions of the game weren't good ones however. Prior to playing the game, I'd seen one small game play video of our main heroin, Sean Devlin, driving his sports car through the city of Paris to blow up an objective. The driving dynamic didn't seem right, the graphics weren't exactly flawless, and the general feel of what I was watching seemed cheap and poorly made. Added to this was some commentary from one of the Pandemic developers telling me how great this game was. Before I'd even played it The Saboteur had received a resounding thumbs down from me.
However, a WWII era, sandbox style, free roaming game was too much of an attractive proposition for me to pass up. I ended up buying the game on release and here I am, about 15 gaming hours later, and I'm glad to say The Saboteur has genuinely surprised me.
One thing you should realise about The Saboteur from the outset is that it doesn't take itself seriously. It's a game that knows that it's a video game. It succumbs to various stereotypical traits within its dialogue and game mechanics but it doesn't detract from the overall atmosphere or storyline, which makes a nice change in comparison to most current-generation video games that often fall flat when trying to create a sense of feeling. I'd even go so far as to say it reminds me of a PS2 game in the way that it presents itself but don't let this put you off.
The game begins with an immersive, interesting introduction. Your character, an Irish man named Sean Devlin, who was living in Italy after being mysteriously exiled from Ireland, is now in Paris. Sean is an unlikely heroin. His devotion for justice against the Nazi invasion is outweighed by his love for women and whisky, but he has motives that set him apart from usual war game heroes.
Sat in a bar in the centre of Paris, it's here that you meet Luc; a key player in the French Resistance to the Nazi invasion. Luc orchestrates your initiation to the resistance and ignites the storyline that pushes The Saboteur along. He is a key character that gives you quests and joins you on missions in an attempt to over throw the heavy handed Nazi regime.
Much like Grand Theft Auto, The Saboteur offers you a scaled down version of a city to explore using various vehicles. The missions see you gradually over throw the Nazi rule by taking out officers, blowing up buildings and checkpoints, and rescuing various people involved with the French Resistance and/or Devlin's story. As you fight back against the Germans, you create small pockets of resistance amongst the French citizens, in the areas of the city you are fighting in.
Like the colour coded gang-controlled zones seen in the latter missions of GTA: San Andreas, The Saboteur adopts a similar system of it's own, that is much simpler. All areas under Nazi rule are bleak, black and white, film noir style cityscapes. The only real colour seen in these areas is the abrasive red on the Nazi emblem, which is plastered around the city on armbands, flags and vehicles. As you overthrow the dictatorship the areas that are taken back are filled with huge amounts of colour. Out in the countryside birds even begin to sing and waterfalls begin to flow. Graphically the suppressed areas of the city look really good when juxtaposed to the vibrant, brash colours, of the areas that have gained independence.
Free roaming and climbing is used to complete many of the missions during the game. Various watchtowers are scattered throughout the city skyline and it's your job as 'The Saboteur' to blow up these posts. It's fun to climb around buildings and take out the 'nests' whilst they are still occupied with Nazi soldiers. Climbing in the game is a little clunky but overall it's pretty good. It doesn't have the flow of the Assassins Creed games but it still looks cool and is fun. You can climb pretty much everything in the game including the Eiffel Tower. Once you reach the top of the buildings, looking out over the city is pretty rewarding. Whilst the graphics aren't as good as those seen in GTAIV they are good enough and don't have any striking flaws.
The combat system used in The Saboteur is a little rough round the edges but satisfies its need. You can't lock onto specific enemies to direct your uppercuts and kicks, but Devlin is strong enough to overcome Nazis in most hand-to-hand situations. You also have the option to take various disguises and use stealth as a means to fight. The stealth moves make Devlin look good and are nice additions to the combat system. You can also unlock certain perks that give you additional stealth combat options once you have played through the game a little.
Perks are a really cool feature of The Saboteur. As you play through missions you achieve various perks that are automatically assigned to different key areas of Sean's character. There are ten categories within the perk system, each of which has a trio of challenges that you complete throughout the game that affect Sean's abilities. This keeps the game interesting throughout.
When it comes to weapons you have an array of everything from knives and pistols through to rifles, all of which can be found on bodies after fights, or can be bought from the black market from various characters around the city throughout the game. The actual gunplay reminded me of the system used in Uncharted; whilst not deadly accurate, it's a good, easy to use, gun and run system. I guess one bad thing about The Saboteur is that Sean Devlin can absorb bullets like a beanpole in a fat suit, but it doesn't detract from the game play and it's not hard to be killed. This game feels like a game and that's one of the cool things about it.
You can control a variety of different vehicles throughout The Saboteur. The handling isn't up the standard of other sandbox games such as GTA but the physics are easy to get used to. The cars do feel as though the steer from the middle slightly at times, but this is a minor gripe and doesn't affect the game.
Overall The Saboteur is a breath of fresh air. If you hated Mercs 2 and don't want to touch this because it was made by Pandemic, don't be put off. I thought Mercs 2 was terrible but The Saboteur is really cool. It's a fun game and whilst it has no specific strengths within it's mechanics, the overall package is that of a great game.
While Grand Theft Auto and Assassins Creed series have both defined two unique styles of sandbox games, The Saboteur has enough atmosphere and unique elements for it to standalone in a hard to impress genre. It might not be an instant classic, but give this game some time, and it will give you hours of fun in return.