Publisher: Electronic Arts
MSRP: $49.99, $59.99
by: Mike Katsufrakis
Not many games can begin by displaying a pair of naked breasts, but somehow The Saboteur manages to pull it off without seeming too puerile. Considering our hero, Sean Devlin's main base of operations is in a Parisian burlesque bar, it certainly fits. The story is actually kind of refreshing- Sean is a mechanic and race car driver who happens to piss off the wrong opponent in his first major race, which spirals into a bloody tale of revenge set in Nazi-occupied Paris. He'll get swept into the French Resistance, bed a British spy, and generally cause trouble for his jackbooted enemies.
The Saboteur is an open-world game, though you won't get that vibe at first. The first hour or two of gameplay are intensely story-driven and linear, ultimately culminating in Sean's capture by and subsequent escape from the Nazis. After you arrive in Paris, things begin to open up, though that's not the first thing you'll notice. In heavily occupied areas of Paris, the color will be completely drained from the area, save for certain elements such as red Nazi emblems, Sean's green eyes, or the blazing blue trimmings of a resistance member. It's striking, and I actually found myself missing it once I liberated much of the city.
Once things open up, you'll be greeted by open-world gameplay with all the usual trimmings and a few unexpected additions. You'll sabotage (naturally) Nazi operations in Paris, and in an interesting twist, the missions are much more action-heavy than most games of this ilk. The metagame largely consists of "freeplay" events such as taking out Nazi sniper nests, vehicle depots, tanks and heavy artillery, you can effectively lower the difficulty of the game since you're taking out obstacles you'd otherwise have to avoid during escapes. For some missions, you'll also be able to acquire a Nazi uniform to try and sneak in, but you're forced to slowly walk everywhere if you don't want to get spotted.
There are a large number of escape options when you trigger an alarm. You could always drive far enough away without getting spotted, but sometimes you're not going to have that option. Get out of line of sight of your pursuers and you can duck into certain buildings or find a nearby girl to kiss, ending the alarm. If you get in a really tight spot, you can head to "fightback zones", where members of the resistance will help you kill the guards chasing you.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from myriad AI issues, from inconsistent behavior by guards and pedestrians to vehicles performing 20-point turns in the middle of an intersection. If you're spotted in disguise, you instantly lose it (seriously, the clothes disappear the instant you're found out), and have to acquire a new one. The climbing mechanic is a strange affair, forcing you to mash on a button each time you want to move to a new hand-hold or make a jump. For a game that encourages you to sneak along rooftops, it's definitely not trying to empower you to do so. The aforementioned "freeplay" events are a great way to lengthen your experience, but when you consider there are close to a thousand of them in the game world, they'll definitely wear on you.
As Pandemic's swan song, The Saboteur is a great way to go out. It's definitely got issues and an almost expected lack of polish, but with it's alternate take on the World War II setting, artistic achievements, massive explosions and fantastic soundtrack, it makes for a fun experience regardless.