Occupied Paris, sophisticated nightlife, enemy installations to destroy, women to romance ... what's not to like?
Saboteur is best described as a third person shooter come action adventure come racing come "sand box" game. All three aspects are ultimately satisfying and make for a solid, well created package, although the car racing element was my least favourite. Saboteur is no simple shooter, you need to plan each mission by scouting, for example how you will infiltrate an enemy base, take down the guards, whether you will use timed or remote charges, and most importantly how you will evade the inevitable Nazi pursuit.
The mission narrative is solid and has branching stories that allow you to complete missions in any order, although there is a main story arc running through the game, which essentially involves Sean's justified vendetta against Kurt Dierker, the race car driver and sadistic Nazi interrogator. The story unfolds in four acts: a Prologue (comprising 9 missions) and Acts 1 (16 missions), 2 (25 missions) and 3 (4 missions). As expected the Prologue, which develops sequentially, sets the scene for the rest of the game, culminating in the final showdown with Dierker atop the Eiffel Tower. If you complete the missions comprising the main story missions before completing all the side stories you will be able to play them at the end of the game, and still benefit from any rewards accruing from them. The story unfolds through excellently executed pre- and post- mission cut scenes. Dialogue and voice acting is spot on throughout. Saboteur arguably makes the best use of period music and songs in any game I have played.
The length of most the missions is open ended as you may need to evade German search and pursuit teams and depending on what perks and/or hiding places you have unlocked this may take some time. Generally your escape will involve hijacking cars and driving through the maze of streets and/or seeking refuge on the rooftops and making your way to a hiding spot. It's evading the Nazis that adds adrenalin to the game, over and above completing the various mission tasks, and you will be doing a lot of it, with pursuit car and motorcycle klaxons blaring, tyres screeching and troops deploying to cut you off.
There are many elements to the story including the loss of friends, betrayal, romance, revenge and redemption. Sean's missions include destroying installations, assassinating Nazi generals, rescuing captured Resistance members, stealing valuable items (not just cars), spying and driving in (and winning, the most difficult aspect of the game for me) car races. Sean undertakes the various missions on behalf of various contacts, including French Resistance leaders (which include a defrocked priest, an art curator and black marketeers), British SOE agents (including Skylar, an upperclass femme fatale), or just plain revenge. Pssst, there's even an element of Indiana Jones in one mission in particular.
The Germans, or more appropriately in this case "Nazis", are those gloriously cliched jackbooted types from those British and American wartime propaganda movies. They are evil, seriously evil ... but by the same score make the game the fun it is. True, in the real world Nazis and fun did not go together but despite its setting this is not the gloomy, yet very involving, Velvet Assassin. This game, at times, is somewhat tongue in cheek, but with serious undertones which you will witness as you drive the streets of Paris. The Nazi troops range from your average rifle armed soldier to extremely lethal flamethrower and machine gun armed "terror squad" units. While the latter stretch credibility the vast majority are "normal" soldiers serving out their time behind the lines ... or so they believe until Devlin arrives on the scene. In addition to installations, weapons depots, armoured vehicles and bases the Nazis have an array of terror weapons that need to be destroyed, including V1 and V2 rockets, a nuclear and a chemical weapons establishment.
Paris ... has an entire city ever been so beautifully rendered? Wide boulevards, narrow cobblestone streets, parks, grand buildings, courtyards, all the famous Parisian landmarks ... simply wonderful. While you can only enter a few buildings the ability to traverse the maze of rooftops is incredible. Like me you may marvel at the detail and little touches that show the care in creating this "sand box". Comparisons to city maps of Paris (or via Google Earth) will reveal that the Paris of Saboteur is, while not exact, a very faithful reproduction. Similarly the rural lanscapes, country roads, villages and even palaces outside of Paris are beautiful. So graphically for me this game passes all the hurdles ... it is a believable environment filled with many wonders. I should also mention the various underground cave and tunnel systems, some hidden and found accidentally, including some some hidden passages under the cemetary and within the catacombs, again the attention to detail is astounding.
After the Prologue and the Nazi invasion, much of the environment, especially in Paris itself is rendered in black and white with splashes of red, for the Nazi flags, armbands and splashes of blood. This beautifully captures the depressed mood of the city and its inhabitants under Nazi occupation. As you progress in the missions and free play you will notice that colour returns to the city of Paris and the countryside and eventually the Resistance will take to the streets and fight back against the Nazi tyranny. You will eventually be able to summon the Resistance fighters to join you in street battles or to cover your escape.
Now before you start thinking that Saboteur is "just" a great looking game, let me assure you the gameplay is excellent. Apart from killing Nazis, whether by stealth, shooting and explosives you will be dealing with black market weapons and car smugglers, blowing up rail bridges, weapons emplacements, and factory installations. Sean can drive any vehicle in the game, climb most buildings where he can get a hand-hold, jump large gaps and hurdle fences and slide across streets on power lines. Sean benefits from what is essentially a GPS on the mini-map to find his way around. Contacts are marked on the map and you can also set a marker to identify specific landmarks or targets. Between missions and evading Nazis Sean can rest up at the Resistance bases, especially downstairs at "The Belle".
Saboteur has a stealth element, but it is not a core game component. Sean can avoid or infiltrate installations and suspicion zones by sneaking or by wearing a Nazi uniform. The HUD mini-map indicates when Sean is being observed and the level of scrutiny he is undergoing. While this is not Splinter Cell it can be rewarding to sneak into an enemy base, leave remote charges, sneak out unobserved and set them off. Equally rewarding is wearing an enemy uniform, but interestingly like Velvet Assassin, the Nazis seem more alert when you do this.
For those seeking some, errrr, diversion from the travails of a life fighting Nazis then the Midnight Show in The Belle's VIP room is made to measure. This and the language and themes, including summary streetside executions, throughout tends to make Saboteur an adults only game, with a "wink, wink" element.
Freeplay targets, completed before, during or after missions, are essentially a series of quests that involve either exploration or destruction and sometimes both, including:
o Nazi propaganda, observation and sniper towers.
o Nazi AA, radar and searchlight installations.
o Nazi armoured cars, tanks, fuel stations and missile sites.
o Nazi coastal and long range artillery,
o Nazi zeppelins (with great explosion animation).
o Statues of the loathsome Dierker (to blow up).
o Monuments (landmarks with vantage points giving a great view of Paris).
o Sweet jumps (ramps over which to drive your fast vehicles)
o Postcards (to be collected).
o SOE ammunition drops (containing contraband and weapons).
o Pheasant shooting in the countryside.
Other activities you can undertake, some of which will earn you perks, include stealing vehicles and delivering them to the Resistance garages, these are usually near Resistance bases. There is an array of civilian, racing and military vehicles for you to steal and these, once deleivered to a garage become available for your use at all garages. Sean also gains access to a dazzling array of weapons, mainly real world, some less so as the game develops. I generally used the Viper (a silenced Sten gun) and the Steiner scoped rifle, later replacing this with the Panzerfaust once I completed the game and played free play missions, as my preferred weapons and the Aurora as my preferred vehicle.
Destroying installations, killing Nazis and achieving free play objectives rewards you with contraband. Contraband is the currency of occupied Paris and you cash it in to buy weapons, ammunition, maps (showing free play targets) and repair your vehicles. During the course of the game you are also rewarded with various "perks" which unlock new weapons, weapons enhancements, vehicles or abilities. The evasion and racing perks I found the most useful, the first for pure survival and the second to have some chance of winning those very difficult, for me, car race missions. Indeed I must confess that while playing the entire rest of the game on Normal difficulty I had to drop to Casual mode to complete, that is win, the last two country races. The car races are fundamental to the main story arc and hence must be completed to proceed and in my case this did lead to major teeth gnashing and Devlin-like swearing.
Saboteur's save system seems a bit arcane at first. When you save your free play progress, perks, and game statistics are saved though in-mission progress is not. When you restart the game you will begin at a Resistance base after the end of your last completed mission and ready for the next one. Sean can die, for me this was mainly due to falls from great heights and less commonly due to enemy fire, although you do not lose your free play progress.
Glitches? Well Saboteur has well-documented issues with ATI graphics cards, especially when combined with Quad Core systems. For me the game ran with only a few crashes to desk top on my Nvidia 9800GT Quad Core system, especially after setting pre-rendered frames to zero on the Nvidia Control Panel. I had all in-game graphic settings on maximum. As with all games, especially an open ended one I recommend saving every half hour or so, especially when focussed on free play just in case.
My key stats at the time of writing this review are as follows, although I'm still enjoying the free play and will for some time:
o Time played = 59h 47m
o Mission Progression = 100%
o Free play targets progression = 58%
o Contraband collected = 71,200
o Contraband held = 21,239
o Nazis killed = 3,829
... and I have completed all free play targets in the Le Havre, Normandie and Trocadero areas, collected all civilian vehicles and unlocked all the weapons.
SUMMARY: The Saboteur is definately a top contender for my ultimate "desert island" game. Great characters, great setting, great story and so much to do ... so much fun. Sadly the technical problems of getting he game to work on a number of rigs have caused this great game to garner a much lower rating than it deserves. On the plus side you can now find it at a low price due to the negative sentiments of those with problems ... if it works on your rig be prepared for a truly involving experience.
ADDENDUM (15 October 2010 game completed):
o Time played = 95+hrs
o Mission Progression = 100%
o Free play targets progression = 100%
o Contraband collected = 106,730
o Contraband held = 40,819
o Nazis killed = 5,703
... plus all weapons and vehicles (civilian, racing, military & tanks/APCs) collected and all Perks Level 3 (except Explosives Level 2).