Review by Scottie theNerd

Reviewed: 10/04/10

The Saboteur is definitely in the grey area.

Some games stick out as truly magnificent and beautiful games, and The Saboteur has an appeal to it that makes it unique. The Saboteur is a work out of art – heavily stylised and illustrated graciously in both colour and black and white, which gives players a nostalgic feeling, similar to watching The Godfather Part II.

For its appearances, what you get is something of a mix between Grand Theft Auto, Schindler’s List and Assassin’s Creed. It is a free-roam, sandbox style game that is heavily driven by plot elements and missions, with plenty to do on the side – or so it seems.

The story is quickly introduced with Irishman Sean Devlin taking part in the race of his life. The build-up to the race is tense as Devlin crosses paths with a German driver who is rumoured to be a high-ranking Nazi official. A crash course in the simple driving mechanics given to the player aids Devlin in asserting his dominance on the track, but Mr Nazi won’t take that as a satisfactory result in front of his home crowd, and shoots the tyres from Devlin’s car. In a revenge plot, Devlin tracks his opponent to his secret base, drives the winning car into the lake before finding himself captured and in the middle of the outbreak of the Second World War.

Fast forward a few years and Devlin is a broken man fighting the guilt of losing his best friend in the daring intrusion. Hiding out in a cabaret in Paris, Devlin’s talents are drawn into the French Resistance and he takes his first steps in fighting against the Nazi regime – represented by Kurt Dierker, the man responsible for Devlin’s fall from grace. An Irishman fighting a French war transcends the notions of patriotism and pride as players experience guerrilla warfare from Devlin’s eyes and become the straw that breaks that Nazis’ back.

The game world is a dark and gloomy. Paris is shackled by the Nazis and the colours represent the people’s hopes. Starting out in dreary black and white, the environment is stunning. Certain colours are picked to standout – heavily stylised red Nazi banners are strewn around the city; red armbands stand out from the monochrome background; while allies have some token of blue. Completing key plot missions will inspire the population, shattering the icy world with colour and presenting a new side of Paris. The transition between black and white to colour is flawless and adds an amazing sense of fulfilment as more areas become colourised, providing a true sense of progress.

The size of the world is impressive. Naturally the game provides a downsized version of Paris, but the key landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph are easily recognisable and navigating the streets in historical-era cars is not too tedious. Outside the city limits, players can explore some of the northern French countryside, see the port city of La Havre and even travel into Germany itself. The player will find an attachment to areas they’ve travelled to before as missions bring them back and forth and more areas of Paris are unlocked.

The game, as the name implies, isn’t just about driving around. It’s about blowing a lot of things up – and who doesn’t love doing that? As a show of force, Devlin must eliminate signs of Nazi presence in the city. Missions start gradually with taking out guard posts and stealing supplies, but soon graduate to demolishing train bridges, military bases and airships; while throwing in the odd defensive fight or assassination mission. Devlin has access to a variety of weapons available from vendors in the black market, including small arms, rockets and explosives.

Outside of the missions, Devlin can freely target Nazi installations anywhere in the game world, and this is where most of the game time will be spent. Scattered around France and Germany are hundreds of potential targets, ranging from propaganda speakers to armoured cars to anti-aircraft batteries and statues of Kurt Dierker. As you’ve been raised to believe, anything that is coloured red is a Nazi, and Nazis are bad. So, blow them up!

The first hundred or so things you blow up give an exhilarating feeling. Some targets are easy to pick off, but taking out targets and evading capture by responding forces is a challenge in itself. Often you’ll find yourself climbing onto the rooftops and doing a bit of free-running. For the most part, the controls are smooth, responsive and simple, though not up to the same level as Assassin’s Creed. Running on rooftops does, however, give Devlin a unique view of Paris and a key striking point. Evading enemy forces involves finding hiding spots in rooftop sheds and strip clubs, while high-level alarms will bring down tanks and planes to hunt you down like an enemy of the state. As a reward for your destructive efforts, you get paid in contraband, which can be used to unlock more weapons, replenish your supplies and upgrade your allies’ fighting capacity.

The problem is that there are so many targets. There’s no real sense of accomplishment, as you don’t liberate the city through freelance terrorism. Instead, the only “gain” is that it Nazis won’t shoot at you if you drive down the street if you’ve already blown their station up. Given how big Paris – let alone France – is, getting a 100% completion rating by blowing every single Nazi object up is a bit of a stretch to expect players to do. It’s a big time waster and you’ll be swimming in so much money you’ll never want to touch an explosive again. Time and time again, you’ll take a drive down the block and see targets, and you think, “Do I really feel like climbing that roof and blowing more stuff up?” Yes, it does get old, and it gets old quickly.

Variety is a big flaw in general for The Saboteur. There doesn’t seem to be that much to do other than do mission and blow things up. Doing missions is exciting and we’ve already covered that blowing things up gets old. What about side missions? Apart from more assassinating and sabotaging, you do get a couple of racing missions, but those can’t be repeated and are fairly easy to win if you have the right car.

Indeed, the automobile collection is a bit lacklustre. You get a few cars based off vehicles from the era and can access them at any Resistance garage. You also get the nifty feature of designating a vehicle as you getaway car, which you can call in on any street and it will be delivered to you by a Resistance fighter, similar to the Scarface game, though you’ll more likely be using it for convenient transport. You get a few racing cars as well as luxury limousines and a few bombshells. However, once you find and collect a reasonably fast car, there’s no real need to touch any other vehicle.

There are some gameplay features that look nice on paper but don’t pan out well in the actual game. A good feature included is a simplified “Perks” unlockable, which grants Devlin added abilities or items, such as more powerful weapons, upon pulling off a certain feat, such as killing a certain number of generals or running away from a max-level alarm. The ability to call in Resistance fighters for an assault is nice trick, although you’ll find that it’s much easier to operate as a lone wolf.

The stealth element, however, is disappointing and somewhat redundant. If you’re not keen on running in guns blazing, you could choose to silently dispatch a soldier or officer and steal his uniform for some infiltration work. Unfortunately, doing so gives you new parameters that are harder to follow than if you had not bothered. For example, as an officer you draw more attention if you run around and your disguise is blown if you get too close to an enemy. On the other hand, if you stuck with your plain clothes, no one recognises you no matter how much you run around or get in their faces. There are some actions that do give you away, but it’s so much easier to kill enemies rather than trying to avoid them, especially once you get silenced weapons.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the storyline cop-out. The developers so obviously wanted to make a sequel that they left huge plot lines unresolved. A key character is introduced and then forgotten; another character betrays you and practically declares his appearance in the following game; and the final mission, while bathing in awesomeness, ends with the cliche of “it’s only just beginning”. Bah!

For all these gripes, The Saboteur is a rather good game. There’s nothing amazingly wrong with the game that makes it unplayable. It’s fun in short doses, contains a plot that is thrilling and believable, has engaging characters and the sound and visuals are very stylish and appropriate. You will enjoy taking relaxing drives through Paris, even if you choose to ignore those ugly red banners, and progressing through the game is fulfilling just as the missions lead to a natural climax and ending. It’s a worthwhile game that, unfortunately, lacks in the replay department.

Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Replay: 6/10

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: The Saboteur (AU, 12/03/09)

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