Published on December 5th, 2009 | by prime0
The Saboteur – Review
Summary: Funny, explosive and occasionally brilliant
Poor old Pandemic. Just as the Californian studio closes its doors for the final time, it ships its finest game of this generation. It’s hard not to balk at the irony of that.
For the studio that brought us Star Wars Battlefront, Destroy All Humans and Mercenaries, it shouldn’t come at a great surprise that The Saboteur is an open-world action game. What might be a raise a few eyebrows though, is just how stylish the whole thing is. Pandemic has always done good action, but rarely good adventure.
You play as the sweary, drunken super-Irishman Sean Devine, who – after a lengthy and enjoyable interactive prologue – joins the French Resistance and set about liberating Paris and seeking revenge against a particularly blonde member of the SS, Kurt Dierker, who just happened to kill Sean’s best mate. The Fokker.
What follows is thunderously enjoyable romp around a duo-toned Paris, where the entire city and surrounding countryside is open for running, climbing, driving and shooting duty. Areas under Nazi occupation appear almost in monochrome, while liberated France is picked out in warm, golden hues. The contrast is quite affecting – it’s genuinely oppressive and unsettling when you’re deep in Nazi territory.
Of course, the only way to alleviate these feelings of unease is to free the color-sapped sections of the map from the rule of the Fuhrer. With Sean being a saboteur-elect, it’s not massively shocking to hear that this is all done with a lot of gunfire and a lot more explosives.
What sets The Saboteur apart from other, similar open-world shooters though, is its variety. Missions take typical forms – follow this, blow up that – but the engine is freedom enough to allow players to take these instruction however they see fit. Do you wade straight in with a machine gun, or climb to a vantage point and start sniping? Perhaps even steal an SS uniform and walk straight into an enemy encampment undetected. There’s plenty of scope for experimentation.
The Saboteur only really ties you down during one of the bombastic story set-pieces. The guys at Pandemic sited Indiana Jones as a massive influence on development, and it’s not tough to see why. If you’re not zip-lining through a burning Zeppelin, you’re speeding under the Eiffel Tower while Nazis chase you on side-carriaged motorbikes.
And the story is actually worth paying attention to. If you can get past the dreadful French, English and Irish accents, that is. Still, there’s enough outrageous swearing, double entendre and tongue in cheek intrigue to keep you ploughing through the plot.
Of course, as with any open-world game, The Saboteur falls foul of some of the genre’s footfalls – there’s inconsistent pacing, repetition and a few technical hiccups here and there, and it never quite manages to live up to the hilarious first few hours. These are the pitfalls of the genre though, and The Saboteur makes up for them by benefiting from the freedom that open-world design offers. Take five minutes out of your hard-drinkin, ‘French liberatin’ day and climb the Eiffel Tower, Assassin’s Creed-style. It’s a terrifying, nerve wracking and ultimately euphoric gaming moment. And if you do it after liberating the Champs Elysees, you get a beautiful, full-color view of 1940s Paris that is one of this generation’s truly great digital vistas. Breathtaking.
The Saboteur doesn’t quite oust the genre’s greats, but its Allo Allo-meets-Indiana Jones plot, Crackdown-aping climbing and sense of fun is a fitting tribute to one of the last decade, and the most interesting World War 2 game in years, Au revoir, Pandemic.