The Saboteur

Let me start out by saying I wanted to enjoy this game, especially as Pandemic Studios’ last gasping breath before it was consumed by the cutbacks and dissolution brought by this recession, but alas. The “looks good on paper” sentiment I offered after my visit to the Eurogamer Expo a couple of months ago works all too well with this title.

Now we’re no strangers to dubious foreign accents in the games world, especially with the recent Super Mario Assassins Assassin’s Creed 2 but The Saboteur takes the biscuit. Our protagonist is Sean Devlin, based on World War 2 resistor William Grover-Williams, and apparently the developers considered the Anglo-French roots of the real-life hero (yes, I can use wikipedia!) to be distasteful to Americans, so why not make him Irish, close enough right? So its when the awful accents proceed that in my mind, I’m transported into a world of Guiness and Clover leaves rather than the horrors of Nazi occupation and it doesn’t therefore help when the dialogue often descends into a series of cheesy one-liners – I kid you not, one of the first Xbox achievements is “A pint and a shag”. All this might be passable (as its certainly not a game-breaker and can be taken lightly) if the game didn’t also try to deal with some deep content like deaths of companions in wake of the Blitzkrieg – I had no idea the “horrors of war” included twatty catchphrases in odd Irish accents.

The Saboteur has a lot to it, but lack any substantial unique features

The Saboteur has a lot to it, but lacks any substantial unique features

The real shame is that the game does have some interesting things to offer – the black and white film noire concept, where areas in the spirit of the resistance once again regain their full colour is definitely intriguing, and I did feel immersed for short periods wandering the dark Paris alleyways with a fantastic soundtrack of soft jazz hovering in the background but the other ideas conflict with this and ruin what I can see at least one developer or producer was trying to offer up. The actual narrative doesn’t help much either, despite clichéd deaths and dialogue, there’s no real depth or interest in the story – it simply becomes one sabotage mission after another, I know its called that, but come on!

In terms of gameplay, The Saboteur is what can only be described as the bastard (and underachieving I might add) child of assassin’s creed, mercenaries and grand theft auto. So as you can imagine there are plenty of things to do in Paris from drinking in the local cabaret/strip joint to destroying poorly built German fortifications, and on top of this, plenty of ways to get around – by foot, car and even rooftop, Ezio-style – I cant blame them for lack of variation; but here’s the thing, all of these mechanics are done half assed to say the least, every aspect has been done infinitely better in another game. Sprinting makes Sean look like a lepricon on a mixture of lucky charms and steroids, climbing becomes as mash of buttons as you press action for every single ledge and grip and the driving has all the physics and weighting of Mario kart on the N64. While some successful franchises may have disillusioned other companies into thinking it might be otherwise – the old saying still retains truth “quality not quantity”.

I respect Pandemic for the choice of classical vehicles and the ability to acquire them and the array of weapons; killing Nazis is always fun and the weapons and fighting isn’t to bad considering it’s 3rd person – I can see what they were tying to do, but the poor controls and mechanics tend to take from potentially good moments. There were times when I laughed, times when I felt immersed and instances where I identified with the characters but they were few and far apart, and strung together by a lot more dodgy moments. In one race early on, I managed to secure a good lead and eventually came to lapping some of my opponents. However, I didn’t quite manage to lap the driver in 2nd place before the end of the race, so the game proceeded to award me 2nd place – that’s just bad and the AI is nothing shout about. Besides the mechanics a lot of immersion is lost through poor and unpolished animations, which make many simple exercises seem awkward and difficult. For instance, knocking into a 7-foot pile of straw instantly transforms it into about 6 lonely strands floating to the ground and…well I wanted some way to fit a joke in using “hay day” but I couldn’t.

Climbing is awkward at best, but ruling the Parisienne rooftops can be fun.

Climbing is awkward at best, but ruling the Parisienne rooftops can be fun.

So don’t get me wrong – this game is certainly playable, and is probably worth the money to most gamers out there if you’ve got it to spare, especially if you like your enemies to not only be Nazis, but also walk in to bars in tight outfits with henchmen and play out a scene from Talladega Nights or Dodgeball. Graphically, aside from the black and white thing, there’s not much to talk about, it does the job – and when that’s one of the only satisfactory aspects, you know something is a tad off. It would be unfair to say the it completely rips most of its’ features from other games, as Pandemic has a sandbox heritage, including Mercenaries, but many features do feel like the Rolex you bought in Thailand that actually says “Rollex”. The Saboteur is certainly a victim of its own ambition, and when you’re up against titans like call of duty, throwing all the ideas you can at a game just doesn’t cut it. RIP Pandemic.

January 9th, 2010
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