A fun game to play but very unpolished. Too many technical quirks prevent this from being the big hit title it should be
You play the role of Sean Devlin, an Irish mechanic turned race driver. After being cheated out of victory in the 1940 Saarbrucken Grand Prix a simple prank sets you on a path which sees you become a valuable protagonist in the fight to liberate France. During your journey you meet a variety of period-specific but heavily clichéd characters ranging from a defecting German to the head of the French Resistance and even international covert agents. Whilst the story is interesting and well delivered the terrible accents, cheesy stereotypes and poor scripting often makes it hard to take seriously.
The story is presented via a mixture of cut scenes and integrated missions. This format suits the game and helps keep the story flowing whilst preventing the main missions from becoming boring or repetitive. As you progress in the main story new parts of France become available to explore along with additional side missions or free play events. These additional tasks are non essential to the story and can be completed at any time giving The Saboteur considerable replay value well after the core story is completed.
Visually the 1940s cities are depicted beautifully with Nazi controlled regions appearing in black & white and areas where you've inspired revolution appearing in full colour. The black and white portions are not devoid of colour though with Nazi armbands, flags, and blood glowing bright red, resistance logos and clothing glaring blue and lamplights shining patches of yellow throughout the landscape. This clever use of colour creates an in-game atmosphere that is truly unique. When in a black and white, German controlled area with the rain pelting down and only an occasional glimpse of light you can't help but feel the oppression and hopelessness. Likewise when you liberate an area, sunlight and colour returns giving you the sense of a weight being lifted.
The atmosphere in The Saboteur is further enhanced by the music and sound effects. Songs played in vehicles and the background music are suitably periodical whilst weapons and explosions sound as you would expect. In contrast the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from the poor accents and stereotypical cut scenes the one liners thrown out by Sean and the Nazis are enough to set your teeth on edge. Sean doesn't seem to be able to say a single line without an F bomb and every Nazi who catches sight of you feels the need to yell "Look, it's the saboteur" before commencing an attack. The first couple of times it's funny, 10 hours into the game it's not.
As you would expect from a current sandbox title you are able to go almost everywhere in the game. Feel like climbing the Eiffel Tower or Arc De Triumph? No problem there. There's even an achievement/trophy for jumping off the top of Eiffel Tower and surviving! Whilst some locations are hard to reach or heavily guarded you can get almost everywhere. With 32 missions, 18 side missions and over 1300 free play events you are certainly given the incentive to try.
The missions are well structured with a nice variety of subversion, driving, gun fighting and sabotage elements to keep you interested and on your toes. Most missions involve combat at some stage and 99% of the combat in this game is done with guns. Initially your guns are fairly poor however you can steal the weapons from defeated enemies and, as the game progresses, unlock bigger and better ordinance. New weapons are purchased from the black market and include a nice assortment of pistols, shotguns, automatic weapons, sniper rifles and rocket launchers. If you find a fight becoming too difficult you also have the option of calling for resistance support or a getaway car. Like the guns these are initially pretty weak however you can upgrade them as you progress in the main story.
Along with combat a large part of your time in France will be spent blowing things up. This is exceptionally fun and very satisfying. You have three types of explosive at your disposal. The first is a simple bomb with a fuse. Either light the fuse and run or shoot it from afar to trigger the explosion. The second type is RDX. You can plant as many as you like and then remote detonate them with the press of a button, providing you're within range of course. It's quite fun to line up a bunch of both these types, press the trigger and then watch a 32 explosion chain go off. The third is a bridge demolition kit which, no surprise, can be used for destroying Nazi controlled bridges.
A stealth approach is optional for most missions or tasks but, due to poor execution, not something you will try often. The mechanics are similar to Assassin's Creed crossed with a GTA/RDR alarm system. An on screen gauge shows whether you are incognito or attracting the attention of the guards. Actions like carrying a gun, climbing a wall or being in a restricted area raise the attention level of the guards and, if continued, cause the guards to raise an alarm. To escape an alarm you can choose to run away from the guards or find a hiding spot to lay low until it's over.
A nice addition to the stealth system is the ability to use a disguise. Killing a Nazi using a stealth kill (sneak up behind and attack) or melee will allow you to steal his uniform. When in uniform you can access restricted areas without drawing attention however, in addition to the normal suspicious activities, you are unable to run or walk near a guard... so, by donning a disguise, you are actually more conspicuous than before! The problem with the stealth mechanics are that they aren't particularly well applied. Your alert gauge goes from empty to fully detected in a matter of seconds and alarms are ridiculously easy to escape from. This, coupled with the ease of gunfights, mean you will probably rarely use this option to achieve your objectives.
When not partaking in the various missions you can choose to complete free play events or work on getting perks. Free play events are scattered all over the map and usually involve simple tasks like destroying something with explosives, assassinating a general, even collecting a postcard or photograph. There are over 1300 free play events and most of them only take a few seconds to complete. These small tasks really give the game it's legs as they provide you with an interesting diversion en route to a location and something to do once you've finished the core story.
Perks are another great addition to the game. Perks are, basically, skill based rewards. They come in 10 different categories and each has three levels of varying difficulty and reward. These perks include challenges like defeating X number of Nazi's with your fists/headshots/a car, destroy a certain number of targets with dynamite/grenades, collect cars, win races, escape alarms, etc. Each time you complete one of these 30 perks you get a perk specific reward. For example, if you complete an explosives based perk you will decrease the time it takes to plant explosives or the quantity you can carry. Completing racing perks gets you new cars, sniping perks give sniper upgrades, and so on. Most of the perks are easy to accomplish and all are very rewarding. It's a nice change to the regular experience based upgrade systems that seem to permeate today's games.
With such a large map and so many tasks to complete it's a shame that only 4 re-spawn points were provided. Luckily travel time can be reduced by availing yourself of one of the many vehicles in game. Car acquisition is performed via a process reminiscent of a GTA game. In other words, you steal them. There are over 45 vehicles in the game and each one handles exactly as you would expect a 1940s car to handle. This would make for some very difficult escape chases if the enemy AI were any good or if your car took damage when hitting things. Whilst driving is essential for timely navigation of the map the GTA method of hijacking of cars and running over pedestrians is very out of character for our Irish hero.
On the whole the game controls fairly well. The buttons are mapped logically with the exception of using select to call in a backup squad or getaway car. Driving, running, fighting and sneaking all feel very natural however climbing is a slow and arduous experience which will often result in you taking the long path around obstacles rather than climbing over them. Fighting, melee and sabotage all work very well with weapon zoom providing a small "snap to person" aide to make combat a little easier. These controls combined with poor enemy AI and Sean's ability to take an absolute pounding before going down make this game feel more like an arcade shooter than an action-adventure title. This is actually a big plus for The Saboteur as it makes the game very easy to play/enjoy and much more accessible to a wider audience.
For once I had the opportunity to play this title on both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 (sorry, no PC version for me). The Xbox 360 version is the clear winner with much sharper visuals and no discernable screen tearing. The screen tearing on the PS3 version was frequent but not overly distracting. The lighting was considerably better on the PS3 with the lack of reflective glare making the black & white sections of the game much easier to traverse.
Trophy/Achievement wise this is a time consuming but very easy 100%. The rewards are evenly spread with most being achieved after completing all story missions, sub missions, free play events and perks. There are a few action based rewards however these are easily to complete. All the hidden rewards are story related so you won't need to use a trophy site to see what you need to do. There is only one reward you can miss however it's a biggie and would require a significant replay to get (hint: don't kill any generals until you need to for the Melee Perk).
Saboteur borrows heavily from most current sandbox games and brings many elements together into a package that could have been fantastic. Unfortunately poor implementation and buggy game play prevent this from achieving all it could. If the bugs had been ironed out this could easily be one of the best sandbox games around. With the lack of polish you can't help but wonder if the Pandemic development team's heart just wasn't in it after EA started to dissolve the company.
Over the course of the game Sean Devlin's fame grows. I found it very amusing that, in Germany controlled France, the Nazi's found it hard to find and kill a single overly clichéd Irish saboteur who spoke neither French nor German. You'd think they'd maybe notice him at one of the many road blocks or when he walks by saying "top of the morning to ya... or whatever time of day it is". :D