Review by RVallant
Boobs and explosions.
Remember Pandemic? They were a pretty popular developer, mostly due to the well crafted Battlefront series, a particularly enjoyable sandbox game called Mercenaries and a like-it or hate-it type of game in Kill all humans.
The Saboteur is their final swansong, for they were eaten up by two time 'worst company ever' award winners Electronic Arts, who promptly shut them down shortly after this game was made.
Unfortunately, it's a pretty horrendous swan-song.
The Saboteur is an open world sandbox game with a storyline weaved throughout via mission givers. Taking place in World War 2, it's not far off to say this is a mish-mash between Grand Theft Auto and Just Cause, but with 'those whacky Nazis' as the centrepiece villains.
History buffs would do well to stay away though, for the story takes huge liberties with dates, times and events through the early 40's-41's. Suffice to say, the setting will mostly take place in Nazi-occupied Paris, where our hero, Sean Devlin, race-car driver, ex-IRA Irishman with an affinity for bombs hides out in the local strip-club.
It isn't just history buffs that should turn away from this game. Those with a prudish nature, or those who can't handle a bit of skin, should most certainly stay away, for the game pretty much opens with a pair of boobs front and centre, for no discernable reason other than for fan-service. To be fair, this is happening in the local strip-joint, but it's pretty much 'in your face' about matters. Even the title screen is particularly sexualised, the Eiffel Tower drops in on a red and black background followed up with a bubblegum butt and hot damn, is that a blatant camel toe? It leaves nothing to the imagination.
If, dear reader, you're wondering what boobs and bubblegum butts have to do with Nazi-Occupied Paris, fear not, for the game tells you that it has nothing to do with anything. It essentially only exists for fan-service, but more likely, it is just the game's direction is particularly juvenille.
No more obvious is this seen in our glorious effing and blinding and 'ooh mary, you're accent is slipping' anti-hero, Sean Devlin. A walking stereotype of the Irishman back in the day, Sean is as unlikeable as they come, effing and blinding, and coming off like one of those adults spouting out the lingo of the day, trying to fit in with the cool kids.
The voice-acting doesn't help, characters stress the wrong words, and this is particularly obvious for the British people. A statement such as "Oh why don't you just get screwed, mate." should roll off the tongue with sharp wit, (assume 'screwed' is an adult expletive), but the voice acting sounds pretty much like this; "oh why don't you get...*pause* SCREWED, mate."
There's absolutely no need for stressing the swear word, which only makes it stand out more and essentially destroy the flow of the statement.
Regardless, the juvenile anti-hero Sean Devlin, races around in the prologue, gets his mate killed by stumbling onto a secret SS tech base, and then spends the rest of the game in a drunken stupor effing and blinding, while having two girls on the go, one that particularly isn't keen on him and one that is absolutely perfect for him, sharing a common wit for the effing and blinding and keen to get her boobs out for him. (He ends up with the boring one, but not before she's basically smooching someone else, yeah no, if that doesn't stand out as something of a massive contradiction in terms of direction, then nothing else will.)
The main story missions follow Sean on his quest for revenge, and sees him get tangled up with the French Resistance and the English Special Forces. Throughout the game, Sean is pointed to targets to basically blow up, which pretty much sums up the entire game. Sean blows stuff up, effing and blinding his way into French hearts while dicking over 'ze Nazi's'.
The plot is as bare-bones as they come, characters aren't particularly likeable, and there's no thought given to the player's ease of access. Some missions send you hurtling across the map to do a particular objective, rather than allowing some form of quick-travel. And the final boss, is such a complete waste of time that the shoe-horned sequel hook at the end of the game feels like an afterthought.
Given EA's history of purchasing companies, forcing them to spew a game out unfinished and then murdering them, one can really see the influence somewhat of EA in the ending parts of this game.
That said, take away the main missions, the horrible characters and what is left is an open world playground to blow stuff up in. There's a lot of areas, and some thousands of stuff to blow up, ranging from sniper nests, to refuelling stations and Anti-Air weapons. All these are optional targets, and it's very easy to get distracted for hours at a time bombing them all, but it's all a good time-sink in a sense, for the benefits are smaller than they might have been had the mechanic been given full thought.
Indeed, The Saboteur has a few interesting things going for it. For one, the colour scheme is perfect, the game plays out in black and white, with dashes of red for Nazi symbols and dashes of blue for the resistance. Colour is only restored via optional or story missions, and represents the will of the populace to fight back, it's all rather clever.
Same goes for Sean's ability to take a Nazi uniform and disguise himself, sneaking in between Nazi Soldiers and laying waste to them with dynamite, but again, the mechanic isn't well thought out. Once a bomb has been set off an area becomes a 'suspicion zone' that if Sean loiters in, causes the Nazi's to get suspicious and set off an alarm, which sets off another 'zone' that Sean has to leave in order to reset the alarm. Lower level alarms can be escaped by walking out of it, higher levels cause Zeppelins to hunt you from the air and require some talent to get out of, because it covers half or all of the map at maximum level.
But that doesn't stop Sean from being able to set off a bomb, walk out of the suspicion zone and walk back in and bomb another target, while the Nazi's play 'dumb' about this whacky Irish man, effing and blinding as he straps sticks of dynamites onto their tanks. -Sure, they're not blind, but it isn't particularly difficult to evade their line of sight.
That pretty much is all there is to the game. There's some car races, there's some other minor mechanics, but really this was a game that was made almost in the spirit of Mercenaries 2, and where Mercs 2's characters were witty and just as juvenille, but fun at the very least, The Saboteur falls flat, both in terms of writing and dialogue, but also because it aims low, and succeeds in pretty much staying there for the entire game.
On the PC, technical issues spoil it. A decent rig should be pulling over 60fps with some ease, but any resolution above monitors of the Windows 98-era will cause the in game map to glitch out and basically be unworkable. There was a patch announced for it, and it never came along (surprise, surprise..).
On top of that, an open world game that requires a lot of rooftop climbing really needs to have a good context system. While firefights and whatnot are fine, the game sometimes fails to recognise when there is a climbable object in front of Sean, causing him to jump like a bunny as the player spams the climb button relentlessly until they eventually find the sweet spot or fall to their doom. There's quite a few of these graphical issues, where Sean might get stuck in an area and try walking up a telegraph pole rather than going around it, or heaven forbid, climbing the bloody thing.
The Saboteur would like you to think the French freed Paris by having their ladies get their breasts out, while their men bombed the utter snot out of their own city.
It is probably more accurate to say that the game itself bombed, and failed to do what it set out to do, unless its aim was to create a juvenile playground of boom-goes-the-dynamite, in which case, they succeeded.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Product Release: The Saboteur (EU, 12/04/09)
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