The Saboteur Review
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC (reviewed on PlayStation 3)
The Saboteur certainly has its work cut out for it, being released shortly after such big hitters as Modern Warfare 2, Assassin’s Creed II and Left 4 Dead 2 is never going to be easy. You take into account that they are all well established titles whereas The Saboteur is a new IP and that makes things even more difficult. When you throw in the fact this is the last game from Pandemic Studios (developers of Mercenaries and Full Spectrum Warrior), I think it is safe to say that spotlight is well and truly on The Saboteur. Does it sparkle under the spotlight or does it falter? Well the answer would be, a bit of both. Read on for the full review.
STORY: The Saboteur starts of with a bang, literally! You take control of Sean Devlin (race driver turned war hero!) who is drowning his “sorrows” in a Parisian Burlesque house (yes there are plenty of topless women) when a rather eccentric Frenchman approaches him with a proposition. This leads to a mission where you blow up a Nazi fuel depot and then the game really begins. You enter a flashback which explains how Sean ultimately ended up at the Burlesque house in Paris. Without revealing too much, this flashback basically explains Sean’s main motivation (revenge) behind bringing down the Nazi war machine that has taken over Paris. The story then reverts back to where you left off (just having blown up a Nazi fuel depot) and you go on an action packed rollercoaster ride with Sean though Paris as he attempts to gain his revenge and free Paris of Nazi tyranny.
The story is nothing more than you would find in your typical action movie (or game) but what makes it interesting and engaging are the characters and the setting. Sean is one of those begrudgingly likeable heroes, you shouldn’t like him but you can’t help it. His Irish charm might have something to do with it, the accent combined some witty dialogue is a recipe for some good laughs. The characters around him do a decent job too even if some of them are taken straight from the book of stereotypical gaming characters. For instance Sean’s chemistry with two particular female characters is really good, you feel like they actually have some sort of history together.
The setting of World War II Paris is great; the events in the game might not be particularly accurate but the streets and monuments of the French capital (The Arc de Triomphe and The Eiffel Tower) add an layer of authenticity to proceedings. You can even climb the Eiffel Tower if you wish, can’t ask for much more than that eh?!
SOUND: The audio in The Saboteur is a bit hit and miss, some elements of it are fantastic while others just fall flat. The stand out aspect of the audio is most definitely the games soundtrack, the music is great and suits the setting/time period down to a tee. The tense/atmospheric orchestral music that plays during the missions is brilliant. Even though it is slightly underused, the the main theme music for The Saboteur is also fantastic. I found myself humming along to it whenever it was played! However the most enjoyable aspect of the soundtrack is definitely the selection of songs that play while you are driving around the streets of Paris. Granted the list of tracks isn’t that long and some of them repeat quite a bit throughout the course of the game but they are all great. Listening to Feeling Good whilst speeding along the Parisian streets and avoiding Nazi patrols just feels awesome.
Like I said though, not all is great in the audio department. The voice acting for the majority of the characters leaves a lot to be desired. Sean himself is voiced quite well but pretty much every other character sounds like they are participating in a third rate TV show or movie. It’s a shame because a bit more work on the voice acting and the game could have given the brilliant Uncharted 2 a run for money, in that particular department. As it is though the resulting voices sound a bit to “campy” and cheesy.
GRAPHICS: If you watched any of the pre-release trailers then you will know that The Saboteur has a rather unique visual twist, or so it would seem so anyway. The basic premise is that the Nazi occupied/controlled areas are submerged into black and white but once you free a particular area from their control natural colour is restored. The irony is that the game looks alot better in black and white as it hides some of the rough looking visuals which include some low resolution texture and some distinctly average looking environmental/character models. Now that is not to say that game looks terrible in full colour but it is nothing special either. Like I mentioned though, when in black and white the game does look quite good. Particularly impressive is the subtle use of colour, a hint of red to highlight enemies and a dash of yellow to show off the lighting.
As good as the black and white visuals are there is one minor annoyance, at times it can be very hard to see where you are going. This is most apparent when you are driving around Paris, some areas are way too dark. I found myself actually turning up the brightness during a couple of the sections as I really could not see what was happening on-screen. Another general issue would be the graphical tearing that shows up during cut-scenes and certain in-game scenarios. It is not really distracting during gameplay as there are alot of on-screen distractions but it is very much visible during the cut-scenes.
GAMEPLAY: The core gameplay of The Saboteur is based around the open-world or “sandbox” that is presented within Paris. Alot of games try and ultimately fail at using this mechanic effectively; The Saboteur certainly doesn’t fail but it does fall short of being recognised as one of the top games in the genre. Viewed as whole the game is certainly fun but once you look at each of the mechanics separately they don’t quite match up to what the top titles in the genre.
For instance take the climbing, it just feels so awkward and clunky. You can climb up pretty much any building but it just isn’t fun when you do so. The controls are simple, you press up and hammer the X button to watch Sean rather hilariously “climb” up the selected building. I hate to compare but the whole climbling/free-running mechanic was done so much better in games such as Assassin’s Creed and Crackdown. Another example would be the stealth mechanic, it is a decent but you get the feeling it is somewhat incomplete. You can try to be as stealthy as you want but no matter what you will always get found out by the enemy in the end, even if you play by the games rules. Some missions actually draw you in with the promise of stealth but that is soon broken when you hit a brick wall and you realise you have to revert to the “all guns blazing” approach.
It seems like the developers have tried to emulate mechanics that other games have created but in the end failed in doing so. As I mentioned earlier, this applies to every single mechanic of the game; the shooting, the cover system and even the driving. All the elements blend together quite well to form gameplay that is fun but separately each of them feel unpolished and unrefined.
Much like other open-world or “sandbox” games the gameplay is broken down into main missions and side missions. The main missions are pretty good and they are what provides the game with its stand-out quality moments. However the side missions don’t live up to the same quality, infact they fall quite a bit behind. As you progress through the game you are given these missions by friendly NPCs but you are never given a real reason or incentive to go out of your way and tackle them. To add to that, these missions don’t really vary in content; the majority of them basically ask you to go and kill a particular enemy. You also have various other optional objectives present within the game, they are more relevant than the actual side missions. If you complete these you gain in-game cash (known as contraband) and also lessen enemy presence within that area. You can use the in-game cash you earn to buy new weapons and ammo from black market dealers but this part of the game is criminally underplayed. During my playthrough I didn’t even need to buy a new weapon once, I just used the ones I picked up off dead enemies and wasn’t really troubled at all.
LONGEVITY: It took me around 13 hours to complete the main story plus a few side mission here and there. If you add in all the side missions and optional objectives then you are looking at about 20 hours or so to get everything done. The game does have multiple difficulties but I don’t see any reason to return to the world of The Saboteur once you have finished unless you want to clean up a few side missions you might have missed.
VERDICT: The Saboteur is a decent open-world game that borrows many elements/mechanics from other games but, unfortunately, it fails to use them effectively. Despite that though, together with an interesting lead character and setting these elements/mechanics combine to make a fun game. If you’re tired of the likes of GTA or Assassin’s Creed and looking for a decent open-world action game, you could certainly do alot worse than The Saboteur.