I have logged approximately 140 hours of gameplay in Pandemic’s final title, The Saboteur, and overall I did enjoy the game. I have completed 100% of the freeplay targets as well as the mission campaign, but still have to obtain 1 gold perk and 4 achievements. In my OCD gamer style, I have spent alot of time driving or running around exploring the map, collecting cars, contraband and running into cows. The Saboteur as a game has lots that I like, but it’s impossible to not compare many of the elements to other titles such as Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and Prototype.
The game opens at a car race where Sean first encounters the nasty Kurt Dierker from Team Doppelsieg. As the game’s hero, you play as Irishman Sean Devlin, who drives for Team Morini. Your best friend Jules Morini, is dead before the first chapter ends, setting the stage for Sean’s thirst for revenge against the Nazis and in particular, Dierker. Sean carries a heavy load of guilt as he heads for Paris with Jules’ sister Veronique and their father, Vittore. It is this guilt and vow of revenge that will enable the British to use Sean as a pawn in their battle against the Nazis. As you delve deeper into the game and storyline, there are more characters who enter the plot – Skylar, the mysterious woman from Sean’s past, Luc who heads up the Resistance, and that sneaky Bond-wanna-be from Britain, Bishop. There are other characters who play minor parts throughout the story, but these are your main game characters. Of course, only Sean Devlin is actually playable by the gamer.
I am impressed with the amount of game time offered by The Saboteur – there is certainly a lot to do in the way of collecting postcards, blowing up sniper nests and playing with some really big guns. On the converse side, those of us who have spent much time playing Asssassin’s Creed will be somewhat disappointed with the climbing and jumping abilities which have been given to the main character, Sean Devlin. Granted, he is a race car driver and not an assassin like Altair and Ezio, but I would have expected there to have been better climbing mechanics in a game which places such importance on the ability to reach building tops in order to carry out missions and destroy freeplay targets. There were times when Sean would grab ledges when I didn’t want him to, and times when he wouldn’t make a simple jump or grab a ledge to prevent a suicidal fall, even though I had specified through the controller that he do so. There were several times when I found the game’s controls to be somewhat clunky or unresponsive, and this did lead to some frustration.
Sometimes I wonder why I play games which require climbing buildings and structures to great heights, because I do not like heights. While I enjoy horizon and vista views while firmly planted a safe distance from any edges, the illusion of heights in most games today is so well done that I do not look forward to any high building climbs. I experienced vertigo moments in the two Assassin’s Creed titles as well as in Prototype – and I definitely felt it in The Saboteur. There are lots of very high places to climb up to, including the top of the ferris wheel and of course the Eiffel Tower, not to mention the many landmarks around the city. Spiral staircases make the background spin. Not good. Thankfully there aren’t many of them – but there are a number of Scenic Points, and similar to Assassin’s Creed’s viewpoints, standing at a scenic point in The Saboteur results in a camera pull-back panoramic view of the cityscape. The end game takes place at the Tower. If you don’t want to climb it more than once, save all visits until the end. Of course, if you want the achievement for jumping from the Eiffel Tower and surviving, chances are you will be climbing the Tower more than once. Splat.
I did like the large number of vehicles available for use – even though I am really bad at driving in video games, I still had lots of fun driving around Paris and taking part in the races. I managed to glitch the first country race – completely by accident. This glitch occurred simply because it involved a new car I had yet to collect, so of course my first instinct was not to start the race, but to take the car back to the closest garage so that I could collect it, and therein hid the glitch. Suffice to say that I won the race quite easily. The second country race did not glitch in the same manner. This I know, because I tried repeating what I did the first time. Turns out you cannot blow up all of your opponents before the race either, because you get busted for sabotage. Once I figured out how to win the second race, I was all set to start collecting the large military vehicles – which I did quite handily. Imagine my disappointment when I went back to my garage to get a tank and none of the big gun vehicles were on the selection list. Perhaps this was to keep away the temptation of making use of the armoured vehicles to complete missions, but all it took was a journey to their spawn locations to make use of them. Which I did. Repeatedly.
The AI isn’t the smartest in The Saboteur, but like other mechanics in the game, the AI behaviour was not consistent. At times nearby NPCs were totally oblivious to the fact that their partner on the other side of a gun, searchlight or armoured vehicle had just been sniped. The same would often go for if I switched to stealth and silent kills in order to steal a uniform. At other times, it seemed like the smallest thing would set them off and they would start blowing that damned whistle. Their ability to withstand bullets was also somewhat inconsistent, as was targeting. I was happy if I could kill the NPCs before their mood aura turned red and they reached for their whistle. Unless I was trying to set off the alarm on purpose – then it wouldn’t matter, but those whistles sure had a way of ruining a good stealth moment.
It was nice to know that the NPCs really can’t drive much in a game environment than I can. I often just sat and watched as NPCs would try to navigate corners, often hitting walls, buildings and other vehicles repeatedly while trying to follow its programmed path. The NPC driver would hit a wall, back up, drive forward and hit the wall, and would repeat this task until the vehicle bounced around enough to get past the obstacle. This came in handy when trying to outrun Nazi vehicles, as it was easy to steer them into immovable objects, usually blowing them up in the process. As in Grand Theft Auto, it was important to depart from a vehicle should it start smoking heavily. A faster exit is required should flames be involved. The really cool thing about vehicles is that they can be booby-trapped. Use of the B button while driving plants a bomb in the vehicle. The idea is to then race the vehicle towards a Nazi target and jump from the vehicle before impact. Preferrably there isn’t a wall blocking your jump and resulting roll. If there is, this usually results in death. I speak from experience.
As in Grand Theft Auto, it is possible to take possession of any vehicle simply by getting in it. This may at times require the removal of the vehicle’s owner, but when you need a car, you need a car. Naturally there was some protest over this action, but other than some verbal retribution, the consequences of stealing a vehicle weren’t all that severe. Unless you stole a Nazi vehicle from a Nazi. That didn’t often go over well and usually resulted in a car chase. There were no immediate consequences for accidentally running over civilians, unless you killed too many in too short a period; then you were penalized for Friendly Fire, and it took longer for your predetermined hiding spots to spawn. If the AI were smarter, it would know to get off the roads when I’m driving in a video game. Come to think of it, the sidewalk isn’t exactly safe either.
The alarm system was not always consistent, either – but that usually worked to my advantage, so I will not complain too much about it. As you increase the inspiration levels of the Parisians, it becomes easier to escape the alarms, so there was less time spent running from the Nazis and more time blowing them up. I liked the way Pandemic worked in the colour shifting that is a major feature of The Saboteur. When the game is started, the whole environment is monotone, setting a very bleak, downtrodden feel which successfully set the mood for the plot of the story. As the gamer moves through the campaign missions and thwarts the Nazis at every turn, the people of Paris start to become inspired, and colour begins to return to the landscape. I feel that this was a very innovative way to add emotion to the game play, and I give top marks to the Pandemic team for this.
The more I played The Saboteur, the more things I discovered I could do in the way of game play, and what things would respawn for further destruction and which things wouldn’t. For me, this adds to the game’s replayability factor, along with challenges I set for myself and things I just decide to do, such as sit in an anti-aircraft gun turret and blow up the endless supply of zeppelins and then the aircraft which eventually show up at Alarm Level 5. Unlocking the RPG and BFG weaponry also makes for alot of fun, even if some human targets seem to survive the blowing up of vehicles, gates and searchlights. Which brings me to a point of contention. The AA guns cannot shoot through trees, and their range is at times very inconsistent. I can shoot a zeppelin which is quite some distance away in the air, but I cannot hit a sniper nest which is only a few street blocks away. It is quite frustrating when I know there is a vehicle shooting at me from behind a tree, but I cannot shoot back because the missiles cannot penetrate tree branches. This was not a positive WTF moment.
Another activity I enjoyed in the game was escalating the alarm level so that the Resistance fighters would set up Fight Back Zones. The player can then race to these zones (not too quickly, because if you escape the alarm area then the Zones disappear), and shoot Nazis until the kill metre fills. Unfortunately, these Zones are at times on the other side of checkpoints, but that is just an opportunity to make sure the alarm continues.
As with pretty well every other game on the market, there are perks to earn, which reward you with special abilities such as increased explosives, brawling and evasion talents along with unlocking weapons and vehicles. Some of the perks are very challenging to achieve, but thankfully it is possible to unlock a couple of silver and gold level perks with a lot of contraband. It’s important that you find as much contraband as possible because the black market can be quite expensive when acquiring new weapons, ammo and maps. There are a few ways to earn contraband – destroying Nazi targets, completing missions, finding the appropriate crates, and completing a variety of other tasks which are set out in the game. If you forget what you’re supposed to be doing (because you get distracted by a cluster of freeplay targets or something), the Pause Menu offers loads of good information – your journal shows you conversations, objectives, perks and your all important stats, which show how many targets you’ve found in each map area.
There are lots of improbable mechanics – such as surviving the burning and crashing zeppelin, but hey, it’s a game – realism is optional, after all. While at times the game seems not quite done, rushed and unpolished, The Saboteur really is a good game – bordering on a great game. It’s a shame that any possibilities of a sequel are slim, thanks to the closure of Pandemic by EA, because this is definitely a title which could easily have a franchise built around it.
I rate The Saboteur at 8.5 to 9.0. At the lower end of the spectrum are mechanics and AI intelligence. At the higher end is player engagement, in-game activities and replayability.