The Saboteur Review
When I first sampled The Saboteur months ago I had slightly mixed feelings. On one hand, it was a pretty unique approach to World War II games, and on the other, I felt like the game engine wasn't quite as good and good looking as it could be. But I didn't forget that between July and December, there was still a lot of time left for final polish to ensure that the game plays as smooth as possible. And much to my delight, Pandemic actually crafted a rather solid game.
You can save your collective "oh, another World War II game" groan when referencing The Saboteur. Unlike other WWII titles, this one's different. You're not in control of an American, or an Englishman, a rebelling Nazi, or even a Russian. In a WWII videogame first, you're running around controlling an Irishman. And this particular Irishman isn't even a trained operative, agent, or military recruit - he's just an average guy on a personal quest to fulfill a vendetta against the Nazis. And I must say, I really liked the story too, because it takes such a creative approach and doesn't just follow realistic events - it's simply a story that's set during the WWII era, as opposed to a WWII story.
As I just mentioned, unlike other WWII games, this vendetta stems from a personal issue that isn't war related. You're not fighting as a man of honor, but as a professional race car driver. You will take on the roll of Sean Devlin, and all throughout Paris and parts of German, you will eradicate the Nazi control of various towns. If you've seen some videos and images of the game, you've noticed it's black and white in some places, and color in others. The black and white areas represent a portion of the game's world that are still under Nazi control and presence, where as the colored areas represent cities with no more oppression and people walking about freely. The color aspect has a direct reflection on "inspiration", so when you have cleared missions in a specific area, that area and its people will become inspired, and thus the color draws in. It's actually quite a picture-esque and artistic way of designing a game.
So as you play the game, the world evolves from a desolate environment that is overrun with Germans, to a bustling environment where people walk around happily and peacefully. The guys at Pandemic call this a game with an Indiana Jones twist. And I certainly see the similarities, as you have the ability to utilize weaponry, as well as scale your environments, by climbing up virtually everything you see in the game. In fact, the interaction between you and the environment is so grand that you can actually scale the Eiffel Tower and reach its very top. While in games like Uncharted 2 you can climb on designated objects, in The Saboteur you can scale practically everything.
Now, mission structure is much of what you've probably played in other games. But your approach can vary in three different ways. You can stealthily sneak in, perhaps by using the rooftops or shadows. Or you can barge your way through by picking up some guns and assaulting everything in sight. Or lastly, you can quietly take an opponent out, steal their uniform, and disguise yourself as the enemy. If you happen to take damage, the game uses a regenerative health system, and if you need to run away and hide, there are specific hiding spots all over the map you can use.
Because Sean Devlin is actually a character loosely based on William Grover-Williams, you can expect to see some similarities in the story as you play through the game. Furthermore, because this is, after all, a race car driver, you can very well expect to use a car all throughout the condensed version of Paris. And the car you use is a 1930s/1940s Formula One-like race-car. But, much like Grand Theft Auto, when you're freeroaming, you can hi-jack any car you please.
Now, I must address a number of complaints, most of which are about the controls. Gunning is good, but not great, and perhaps Pandemic could've added more feel and a solid punch to the mechanics. General driving controls seem unusually numb, it seems as if the game tries to use real physics for the cars, but it ends up not doing a very good job. Fight controls could've also been simplified, as they're bit weird and not the smoothest out there, albeit still usable. And the camera in general can be pretty annoying.
Visually, when I first saw the game back in July I wasn't impressed. It looked very jaggy and the textures were not very good. But, Pandemic has utilized a number of special techniques and dedicated an entire SPU from the PlayStation 3 just for the anti-aliasing, and so the game now looks quite smooth, actually. Texture detail has also been bumped up a bit, which I'm thankful for, as well. Still, The Saboteur isn't going to win any accolades for its graphics, as it's simply a decent looking multiplatform game. It has some annoying screen tearing, and the framerate can be a bit unstable at times, too. I do like the art direction of the game, the draw-in distance is good, the character detail is pretty solid, and overall, this is an acceptable looking title
The audio is all quality, on the other hand. I quite like the voice acting very much, as the voices fit their roles well and the dialogue is well suited for each character. Timing and delivery is never off or awkward, so you should find enjoyment from watching the cutscenes. There is a soundtrack that is heavily based on the very era the game takes place in, and the tunes you hear aren't in English. Regardless, it adds a good spice to the audio.
The Saboteur is not the year's best game, or a must-have game. But at the same time, I do recommend giving it a go. It's a pretty fresh take on a genre and setting that have gone stale over the past years. The Saboteur makes for a good freeroam and World War II game, without really being a World War II game, of course. The characters are interesting, and so the story is more rewarding than you would imagine. Yes, there are some control issues, but they aren't terrible enough to disregard the game. Give The Saboteur a shot, you may like it.
12/14/2009 Arnold Katayev