You may have heard of The Saboteur due to it being Pandemic Studios' swan-song, as this is the final game to be released by the studio after its closure. The team, responsible for games like Mercenaries 2 and Destroy All Humans!, have certainly produced an ambitious title to go out on, as The Saboteur is an expansive World War II-era sandbox title. It blends several gameplay types together, as well as experimenting with some bold stylistic choices, which make for a game that may have slipped under the radar of many, but is still worth checking out.
The Saboteur follows Irishman Sean Devlin, a mechanic with aspirations of becoming a racecar driver, based on real-life historical figure William Grover-Williams. However, after crossing the Nazis one too many times as they begin their invasions which started World War II, Sean pays a heavy price and is forced underground. He is talked into joining the French Resistance to fight back against their German occupiers, to exact revenge against the Nazi agent responsible for his misfortune, and to blow stuff up. The tale varies from the dark and realistic, to the very, very silly, with stereotypical evil Germans, femme fatales, and sleazy Frenchmen. If we had to describe Sean's personality with one word, it would be 'Irish'. Its execution also varies, sometimes the pacing is swift and tense, at other times it's conveyed in static conversations with operatives where you'll find yourself tuning out. It's also worth noting that there is some DLC that comes with the game, with the code inside the box. Basically, it unlocks a Burlesque Venue where Sean can watch topless dancers.
As we mentioned, The Saboteur tries to blend several gameplay types together, although only ones that make sense given the context. You're given all of Paris, and a fair bit of countryside around it, to explore at will on foot or by jacking cars Grand Theft Auto style. You can also scale buildings by climbing wiindowsills and gutters inFamous or Assassin's Creed style. There's also a bit of a stealth system going on, where any suspicious activity such as holding a firearm, climbing or fighting will alert the guards, which is similar to any number of other stealth games too. It's up to you whether you follow the main story, or just go off and try to sabotage as many Nazi targets as you like. You're given missions by various operatives around Paris, and you're sometimes able to choose which missions you tackle first, as well as choose from a variety of non-compulsory side-missions. The only niggle we had with this system is that sometimes you'll find yourself driving across half of Paris for the next story mission, only to find that the mission was only composed of a talking-heads cutscene with no actual gameplay. This happens too often, with the cutscenes feeling like too little reward for getting yourself out to the mission location.
Your activities will also inspire the resistance around you, increasing their Will to Fight. This affects how heavy Nazi presence is in an area, as well as how the game appears. You see, by default the game is in black and white, with occasional splotches of colour to highlight important items, Sin City style. Nazi arm-bands, flags and targets (when locked-on in combat) will glow red, while resistance members may have blue scarves, or leave blue graffiti to mark entrances. However, as you increase an area's Will to Fight, that area will regain colour and become more vibrant. It's a cool visual representation of how you're faring in the game, as you'll find yourself driving around a colour-drained Paris, only to see splotches of colour in areas like Montmatre that stand out from the rest of the city. The visuals as a whole are generally very nice, although Sean has some strange animations in-game. The voicework is cliched, but fun, and some classic songs are available on the cars' radios.
There are plenty of gameplay aspects in The Saboteur, so let's dig into it. First off, your actual sabotaging requires you to lay dynamite on an object, then clear a fair distance before it goes off. Pretty simple. Actually getting to your target requires stealth, which sometimes works, and unfortunately sometimes doesn't. While the map makes it easy to see Nazi positions, it's hard to determine the Nazis' line of sight, which means that despite your best efforts you're going to be seen. There's a short delay as a Nazi has to blow his whistle on you before he sets off the alarm, but it's usually not enough time to kill him. You can disguise yourself in a variety of Nazi uniforms by taking out soldiers, Indiana Jones style, but this sometimes makes things even more difficult as you gain a 'ring of suspicion' around you. If any enemies fall within this ring for a short period of time, they'll suss you out. The only way to make this ring smaller is to walk at a snail's pace, but even then it's hard to manouver around soldiers without being seen. It's necessary to wear uniforms in 'restricted areas' where an alert will immediately be called if you're seen, but the stealth is often too unforgiving, forcing you to rely on combat.
Sean can carry several weapons and grenades, all of which can be purchased from Black Market retailers at several convenient locations across Paris. The combat is pretty basic, not going much further than most third-person shooters, and Sean's resistance to bullets is usually similar to an armor-plated rhinocerous that was itself made of kevlar. We say usually because sometimes he can stand in a doorway and take damage from barbed wire on the outside of it. The most inconvenient thing about his health for us is that there's no real easy way to kill him. If you've messed up, and want to die and restart from a checkpoint, you can't really do that without killing him, which can and will take ages.
The climbing mechanic in the game, like the other components, is functional but not a lot more. His animations when climbing aren't exactly as fluid as Altair or Ezio from the Assassin's Creed series, and you'll often find him climbing into dead ends. However, climbable objects are highlighted as you progress up a wall, which is useful, so you know exactly where to jump. Finally, we should say something about the driving mechanics in the game, which are solid fare for a sandbox title, but once again not a lot more. There are races you can compete in, what with Sean's background in racing and all, but it doesn't boil down to much more than a mini-game. The game itself is about 12 hours long, give or take, and there is quite a lot of extra content to do, provided that you're enamoured with the game's mechanics and setting.
Despite all the problems with the game that we've described over this article, we still recommend checking it out. It's worth playing for its ambitious nature, as well as the fun, if silly, story and interesting visual style. While all of the components that make up the whole may not be spectacular, they are functional and can be quite fun. In no way is it realistic for you to smash an old timey-car into a Nazi tower, then gun down everybody inside while barely sustaining any injuries, only to lay down some dynamite and bring the whole thing down, but it is silly fun. Give it a rent, and if it charms you enough then you'll find plenty of content and plenty of Nazis to sabotage.