You could say that The Saboteur has been influenced by some of the finest recent titles on consoles. The game’s ingredients consist of GTA IV, Prince of Persia, Assassin’s Creed, inFamous, Hitman, Splinter Cell and one of my old firm favourites, Mafia, which is soon to sprout a sequel in 2010. Without a doubt these are all stellar titles, so if you are a fan of any of these, you will surely find something you’ll love in The Saboteur - just as long as you put in the time to discover what this gem has for you, hidden under the surface.
In the first hour The Saboteur wasn’t at all compelling to play; this could have possibly been down to how the story was introduced and the random challenges you faced at the beginning of the game. At the start you are thrown into the boiling pot with very little introduction or understanding of the game’s protagonist, Irish man Sean Devlin, his reasons for sitting in Belle de Nuit, (a Cabaret hall in Nazi occupied France, full of semi-naked mistresses and drunken German generals) and why his suddenly blowing up a nearby Nazi installation for a Frenchman he's only just shared a drink with. Confused? Yes I was too!
In time you soon realise this is a fairly poorly executed introduction to your character – Devlin - and in no time you are soon taken back to previous events that begin to bring to you up to speed on the game’s story and its key characters. In short you play Sean Devlin, a witty Irish man and professional racing driver, finding himself caught up between the Third Riche, the French Resistance, and later the British Intelligence, in his attempt to revenge his best-friend's killer, the Nazi Agent, Kurt Dierker.
Your GTA-like open world is based inside Nazi occupied Paris, as well as some surrounding countryside and some parts of Germany; but most of your time will be in the suburbs of ‘the city of love’, albeit with hundreds of Nazi Soldiers, fortified bunkers, patrolling airships, search lights, propaganda fuelled loud speakers and sniper towers. So you could say that love is lost in Paris, but with the help of Devlin and the Resistance, in time, you soon take back the city of Paris, destroy its Nazi occupants and quite literally bring back some Parisian colour.
A nice touch to the art direction of the game is with the use of colour, or lack thereof. Throughout the occupied areas of the city colour is removed, leaving everything in black and white, giving a very ‘film noire’ look that really works. Once a key mission is completed or when no more Nazis are walking the streets, the colour is returned to the area in a cinematic fashion similar to the effect seen in Prince of Persia. In your attempt to wipe the city clean there are mission icons located on your city map. Gold icons indicate storyline missions while black icons lead to characters containing sub missions, which helps to clear out the enemy occupants in Paris. Each mission feels fresh and very rarely repetitive. You will find Devlin interacting with and assisting new characters , building new friendships and allies along the way. Missions consist of trespassing Nazi bunkers, freeing resistance members, being a wheelman, sniping key Gestapo agents and also - seeing as you are a driver and all - winning car races.
There is plenty to do in The Saboteur, and after the initial shaky start I found my self glued to the game, its story and the overall open world and vibrant city of Paris, with its bustling streets and Nazis who are poised to be shot, blown up and run over in any which way you can imagine. This is what makes The Saboteur so appealing for me. In the game, if an area is still overpowered by Nazis, you would find them sitting in towers with searchlights, walking the through streets or driving in trucks and jeeps. I tend to think of it like collecting feathers in Assassin’s Creed or Orbs in Crackdown, but with an execution of a Nazi at the end.
With the ability to easily scale buildings, such-as in games like Assassin’s Creed and inFamous, you can choose to get up close and personal or bound rooftops to find the optimum sniping position. Should the heat be on you, and it will be from time to time, you’ll soon find the Nazi’s all over your back and your mission changes to shaking them off. This can be done by jumping in a nearby car and outrunning their circle of awareness, however there are other ways to cool off, such as jumping into hide outs that are located around the city, or snuggling up to a nearby passing Parisian beauty to ‘blend in’ (where is that in Assassin’s Creed?). Alternatively, you could just kill them – the choice is yours. In a way, it is a game in itself clearing up Paris of its Third Reich inhabitants, but the story campaign and sub missions help to mix it up, creating a game that is just a joy to play through.
So where does The Saboteur go wrong? Well, nowhere really, but the game does have its hiccups. The AI could be a little more intelligent and less gun-ho, though at times they do retreat and dig themselves in; thankfully a well placed grenade or rushed attack soon flushes them out of their hiding spots. I found the combat system pretty good. Whether it is your fists, short-range pistols or long-range sniper rifles and RPGs, everything feels solid. The cover system is a little hit and miss, but as soon as you adapt to its quirks you begin to feel more in control. There will also be times when you’ll be driving vehicles and this has been done well too, although the AI driven traffic is not that adaptable to your screeching around the city streets at breakneck speeds. As dumb as they can be, it does add to the enjoyment of riding around the city of Paris. If it were a clear road all the time to your destination, it would just be dull and boring experience.
I found that The Saboteur was lacking a little in the graphics department, don’t get me wrong, the game does look pretty, but with the bar raised in other similar titles, a little more polish wouldn’t have hurt. With that said though, the game does look good and the world you play in is bustling with NPCs, vehicles and fairly well textured buildings - so under the surface there is a lot going, with a frame rate that's fluid, even at the most intense of times. I did find it odd that some cut scenes were using the in-game engine whilst others were pre-rendered movies (which basically used more detailed models). The rendered movies were fantastic, but the in-game ones could have warranted the same treatment to keep everything consistent.
Rewards in the game come thick and fast, whether its Achievements or Trophies. There are also in game perks that allow you to collect to improve your equipment, weapons and skills. To achieve these perks you are given a set of tasks in order to earn them, such as stealing particular vehicles, saving characters and sucker punching officers. All of these give you more things to do around the city, yet not all need to be earned to complete the game.
The Saboteur is a rough diamond amongst the gem of titles that released in 2009. Even though it contains many elements found in other key titles, it takes these and makes its own out of them. There is plenty to keep you busy here. Even if you rush through the main storyline there is still a ton of Nazi clearing to do, as well as additional perks, achievement and trophies to unlock. If you are looking for a compelling title to see you through until the next major release, look no further than The Saboteur, as you’ll kick yourself that this gem had slipped under your radar.