GOONL!NE Review: The Saboteur

Developer: Pandemic Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Also on: Xbox 360
Console Played On: PlayStation 3
Release Date: Friday December 4th 2009
Age Rating: BBFC 15, ESRB M

Pandemic love blowing stuff up, fact. Check out the Mercenaries series of games if you don’t believe me. This is how we’re initially introduced to The Saboteur, by blowing things up, a fuel depot is our target. Sneak your way in, distract the guards with a carefully placed grenade and run as fast as your legs will take you to the fuel containers. TNT set, it’s time to make yourself scarce. One mighty boom and the fuelling station is engulfed by flames, Nazi’s in disarray but you’re cool, calm and collected as you make your escape unnoticed.You are the saboteur, the man who’ll be the catalyst for the French Resistance in Paris against the forces of National Socialism, you are Sean Devlin.

Let’s start with our main protagonist, Sean. Bar his cringe-inducing Irish accent at times, he’s the sort of cocky Han Solo lead everyone loves with a fondness for drink, women, smoking and swearing. Following the murder of his best friend Jules in front of his eyes by your stereotypical Aryan Kurt Dierker, Sean is out for revenge first and foremost as explained during the games prologue, he feels responsible for the death of Jules.

Paris with its monochromatic veil cast over it looks simply wonderful. There are little pieces of colour interposed from characters clothing and vehicles which gives The Saboteur a highly unique and endearing look to it. It’s a shame however that as you progress through the game and revitalise the Paris landscape with colour (similar to Okami and Flower) it looks decidedly less impressive, so enjoy the noir colour palette whilst you can.

The map is reasonably sizeable without being too big, which is a good thing since your main mode of transport around the city and the surrounding country is by car. Oh dear, the cars. Yes the cars are old so significant body roll and sluggish acceleration on the majority of them would be expected but they feel so wooden and stiff that they’re joyless to drive (the racing cars are an exception) that getaways during the many chases you’ll encounter aren’t in the least bit exciting. Apart from driving, the other main way to explore is through scaling the buildings of Paris. Uncharted 2 and Assassin’s Creed 2 are two examples of how to get climbing to feel ‘right’, The Saboteur though won’t be joining them in that catagory.

Climbing feels is slow and feels clumsy, all you have to do is repeatedly press X and generally aim up to get Sean to reach the apex of a building. Thankfully it’s not forced upon you to climb too often, as it’s slow and ponderous, and if you’re trying to stealth your way around you’ll almost certainly be caught by the Nazi’s.

Stealth is another part of the game that can often lead to frustrating outings. What is supposed to happen is that you dispatch an enemy with your bare hands and steal his uniform so that you can disguise yourself as a Nazi and walk around without attracting attention but ironically the opposite happens, you’re actually more likely to fudge up the mission by donning the uniform of the Wehrmacht, as the Nazi’s in Paris must be some of the smartest people alive during the 1940′s, as simply by walking past them is enough for your cover to be blown, making the whole idea of stealing a uniform pretty redundant as it’s more hassle than it’s worth.

It’s understandable that shooting other Nazi’s while disguised would blow your cover but simply walking or even driving by will fill up your Suspicion Meter. This means missions are often gung-ho, all guns blazing frenzies rather, than the covert action you might’ve hoped for.

Progress through the is made up by missions from the Resistance and other organisations like British Intelligence. The missions have good variety, ranging from the aforementioned blowing stuff up to rescue missions and even races. As you complete a major plot point, the city becomes rejuvenated and the Parisians get the will to fight back against their occupiers.

Most often though you’ll be involved in a firefight of some form, and there are always plenty of Nazi’s to mow down, but with health that regenerates faster than in any game I’ve previously played, they aren’t too much bother.  As you progress you’ll meet stronger, better equipped enemies but even then they aren’t too difficult to dispatch. The AI might not be the most intelligent, nor the strongest but the shooting is fun and frantic throughout due to this, and never becomes a chore. Who’d ever get bored of blasting SS officers?

On the topic of the AI, I had a bit of a problem with the morals of the Nazi’s. “Whoa!”, you might think, I’m having a problem with the Nazi’s morals? Strange but true. In GTA, flying round in a car mowing down pedestrians gets the police on your tail pretty sharpish, but the Nazi’s don’t even bat an eyelid when someone flies 30 feet through the air off your bonnet. As cruel and sadistic as they were, I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t be reprimanded at all for killing pedestrians by the Nazi’s.

Like all sandbox games there are a variety of side missions to attract you away from the main story. There are some races to take part in along with missions from Resistance contacts contacts. The most fun side mission involves what Pandemic do best, explosions. Scattered throughout the map there are fuel depots, sniper towers, radars… you name it. Destroying these can be as simple as shooting an explosive barrel and watching your target go up in smoke, or sometimes you’ll have to create a distraction before you can get in to blow it up.

After destroying these targets you’re rewarded with contraband, the currency of the game. This can be used to purchase weapons and explosives from the various black market dealers found through the city. Your best chance at finding some fun variety are the freeplay targets.

Final Thoughts: The Saboteur is packed with action and is relatively rewarding. It starts off slowly but it will grow on you once you pass the half-way stage it becomes more compelling, with character growth helping to spur you on towards the finish. The World War II backdrop is unique, making this sandbox world worth exploring, and with all Paris’ trademark landmarks there to be explored (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame) it’s worth taking a look around.

Poorly implemented stealth is a big downer, as is your methods of traversing the city. World War II games may be getting a bit tired (CoD: WaW, BIA: HH) but The Saboteur takes a new slant on the period and makes it fun to revisit. If you can get over the gameplay niggles, the relatively lengthy (15 hours approx.) story is generally pretty fun.

Story: 7 - Competent, backed up by decent voice acting makes it an enjoyable tale.

Gameplay: 6 –Shooting works well and sabotaging Nazi installations is fun, but close combat is inaccurate and frustrating, stealth is poorly done and lacklustre vehicle handling mar the experience.

Graphics: 7 – At their best when in monochrome, the introduction of colour highlights their mediocrity.

Sound: 8 – Excellent period music helps with the atmosphere of the game. Recognisable tunes come in the from of ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone.

Overall: 7 – Coming this side of Assassin’s Creed 2, The Saboteur is likely to be overlooked by many. The game offers simple thrills, don’t expect much in the way of deep gameplay. Unfortunately, The Saboteur proves to be a bit of a disappointment considering it’s Pandemic’s swansong, the concept had great potential, it’s just lost in a sea of other average titles.

One Response to “GOONL!NE Review: The Saboteur”

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