The Saboteur Review
Written : Thursday, December 03, 2009
By: Dan Webb (GT: Webb x360a)
Despite World War II as a setting for games becoming as old and as used as Hugh Hefner, Pandemic Studios have at least tried a fresh approach for the setting. One that feels fresh and fairly unique. Most of that can be attributed to the fact that a.) We have a 1940’s Paris here in sandbox form, and b.) Pandemic didn’t set out to retell the stories of old, instead, they’ve opted for a fictional story in a fantastic setting with a unique art-style. Whilst on the one hand The Saboteur delivers as it originally intended, on the other, it seems like it’s another Pandemic game that lacks that extra layer of polish to make it something great. A shame, but a fitting end to a studio that's struggled to recapture their glory days.
Titties and smokes. A good night out for Devlin.
The Saboteur takes place during World War II in a regimented Paris that is absolutely littered and suppressed by the strong Nazi presence. The story itself is a classic tale of revenge, revolving around supposedly Irish racing driver and mechanic, Sean Devlin. I say supposedly, because although his misdemeanour may fall in line with all the traditional stereotypes of an Irish person – smokes a ton, drinks a lot and swears like a trooper – but the accent itself is... a little more Hollywood than Dublin. Other than that, and a few flaccid performances from a few other voice actors, the story itself is actually quite an enjoyable one, with each scene stepping up to an even more elaborate set piece than the one previous.
The mission variety and set pieces of this sandbox action adventure title are actually one of the main highlights. They normally involve the “quiet in, loud out” mantra, but storming bases and even castles to get to a target or bring down an iconic piece of German military presence never seems to get old. There are a few tools at your disposal to stealth into these situations including the ability to steal disguises and also being able to sneak and perform stealth kills, but chances are, you won’t be able to sneak out once you’ve performed your main objective. The problem is, other than the main story, The Saboteur isn’t really that much of a “sandbox” game per se. There are limitless possibilities for anyone who’s willing to investigate and just mess around in the environment, but other than maybe 10 side missions and about 1,000 pieces of German presence that need to be blown up, it seems to be skimpy on the sandbox aspect. The environment itself though is absolutely huge and represents all the major landmarks of Paris in stylish fashion. That alone is good enough for you to get lost in.
What sets The Saboteur apart from other sandbox and World War II titles is Pandemic’s unique take on the art style. In the early stages, the game world is presented with these film noir style visuals that are reminiscent of the visuals found in Sin City – the black and white backdrops, vivid reds and bright lights. It’s frankly a pretty epic sight. It does have its issues from a gameplay perspective when it gets dark at night and you’re in the back alleys of Paris, but otherwise, it’s a joyful experience. The problem comes when the story progresses. The art style signifies the Nazi suppression in the area, and so if you progress the story enough and inspire the people of the region, the colour drips back, and the game becomes yet another generic looking sandbox title.
Devlin takes hanging around to a new level.
The game controls in The Saboteur will be familiar to anyone who was played Pandemic’s other title, Mercenaries. The driving controls retain that arcade, fast paced feel, whereas the shooting mechanics feel responsive, simplistic and again, fairly arcadey. If it wasn’t for the new climbing mechanic, you’d be hard pressed to pick out the differences. The climbing mechanics themselves are pretty well delivered, but after playing Assassin’s Creed 2, the mechanics seem to pale in comparison and feel somewhat sluggish. Unless you’re presented with a drainpipe or a ladder, it can take an absolute age to scale a building. The climbing mechanics come into their own though when you’re actually on the rooftops, as you fling yourself from roof to roof. Sometimes Devlin will refuse to latch on to a zip-wire which results in an Irish pancake on the streets of Paris, but other than that, they're very well implemented.
You’ll never be short of tools of the trade in The Saboteur, both vehicular and weaponry, then again, you’ll need them if you are to escape the Nazis and be successful with your revenge mission. There are a ton of different weapons to use including rocket launchers, flamethrowers, sniper rifles and the usual array of standard weaponry. Chances are though, dynamite will be your best friend as it’ll allow you to take out key German structures in true saboteur fashion. If you’re feeling slightly more destructive, then stealing a tank is usually the best course of action. Grabbing one of the old fashioned sports cars and trying to outrun them is always worth a shot as well, but get to level 4 or level 5 on the wanted system, and trying to outrun Zeppelins and APCs isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Another one of the game’s shining lights is its inbuilt "perks" system that rewards players for performing certain tasks around the game world. These can be simple things like 10 head shots using a sniper scope, or collect every vehicle in the game and store in your garage. The rewards you can get from them as well are actually really beneficial and can net you new weapons, new vehicles or even character traits that stop you from getting knocked over by explosions and the like.
Whilst the game’s controls have many similarities to Mercenaries, the game also carries the same issues that tainted the game. Other than the fairly weak enemy AI, the game also lacks the polish that Mercenaries 2 lacked... but not quite to the same extent as its sister title. Throughout my 20 hours of in-game time, the game locked up on numerous occasions, I saw cars stuck in scenery, Devlin stuck in scenery, tanks having spasms to the extent that they blow themselves up, plenty of pop-up and some serious issues with mission trigger points. On one instance, I had to retry the same mission at least 6 times with numerous console reboots before the mission’s next stage would trigger. This happened in numerous missions on numerous occasions. The game also misses some kind of fast-travel system considering that the game world is absolutely massive, especially with its vast, often lifeless countryside.
Bomb planted, time for a stylish getaway.
On an achievement point front, you can probably mop up around 800 points in around 15-20 hours, but to get the full thousand, prepare to grind. And when I mean grind, I mean really grind. A good portion of the points are allocated to taking down all of the ambient occlusions located around the massive environment, of which there are about 1,000. They’re essentially collectibles and easily a false way of extending the longevity of the title. Other than that, the balance is good and there is a good spread. You’ll get the vast majority just playing normally, but there are a few missable achievements (complete a mission without detection and complete a mission in disguise), although you’d have to be pretty callous to miss those. The problem is definitely the collectibles though. I’m not sure anyone has put more than 1,000 in the game, so this maybe a first.
There’s no doubting that The Saboteur is a barrel of fun and a pretty addictive game that will keep you wanting to do just one more mission, but the simple fact is, it lacks that extra layer of polish and a few ideas are missing to make it a great title. More side missions, less glitches and a fast travel system would have made this an immensely more satisfying game. Instead, it falls just short. It does a lot of things right, but at the same time, does so many things wrong... I mean, is it that hard to employ an Irish actor? Or even an Irish hobo... both would have done a better job at voicing the main character. The Saboteur is definitely one worth trying, but after the story has gone, and the colour has seeped back into the game world, you may be heading down the store to trade this one back in for something else.
The small list of fitting songs doesn’t make-up for one of the worst Irish voice over performances I’ve ever heard. In fact, a lot of the back-up characters put in a decidingly average performance as well.
The game looks pretty solid for a sandbox game. Nothing to write home about, but it’s the game’s unique art style that win The Saboteur some massive kudos cookies.
If you’ve played Mercenaries, this game will feel second nature to you. Simple driving mechanics, responsive shooting mechanics and a climbing system that seems to work, but only just. It’s a little slow if you ask us.
Pandemic have created a solid game world full of life and character, but too often it will be the glitches and stupid NPC’s that frustrate the hell out of you.
Good balance, good pace, but a horrible amount of collectibles.
Hit and miss is an appropriate phrase for The Saboteur. There is no doubting it is a decent game and a lot of fun, but at times, it can be frustrating. Not as raw as Mercenaries 2, but it definitely needed another layer of polish to smooth off the rough edges.