The Saboteur or A Nazi Killing Sandbox Gem

The Saboteur definitely is an underrated game, probably one of the category “good games you’ve never heard of before”. It’s also Pandemic’s swansong (also responsible for the superb yet flawed Mercenaries games and the insane Destroy all Humans series), just before the real pandemic, EA, killed off this ingenious studio. Beware Bioware, it has happened before, and you might be next in line.

First off all, when you first play The Saboteur, it is not a good game. The control are clumsy, climbing is slow, driving is weird, shooting feels weightlessly, there are some glitches, and the graphics were not exactly well done even for years ago. The German voice acting is sometimes good, but sometimes it is even worse than the awful German in Die Hard (“Schiess das Fenster, Karl” is grammatically wrong on more than just one level). But if you start playing the engaging story, you quickly forget about it.

The Saboteur takes place during World War II in occupied Paris (actually, there’s some geographically twisted surrounding areas of France and then, there’s also Saarbruecken which looks nothing like the real city). Paris looks pretty similar to the real town; there are the typical houses and the contorted roof tops, and there are many of Paris’ attractions to find in the open world.

But that’s not the real charm of The Saboteur. This game has two charms to captivate you: The first one is the black and white (sprinkled with yellow lights and red blood and red nazi flags) setting in occupied areas. This innovative art choice adds immensely to the atmosphere; walk through a dark and rainy grey world and you feel the oppression of body and mind, emphasised by loudspeakers blaring propaganda and fortified checkpoints where nazis just wait to tear you to pieces. It feels good to bring colour back to those areas.

Charm number two is the sandbox aspect: In The Saboteur, you earn contraband (the in-game currency) by destroying thousands of nazi targets, basically like in Just Cause 2. There are also car jump ramps, postcards near monuments and of course, you can also climb the tallest buildings of Paris. Climbing is actually one nice challenge in The Saboteur; if you want to reach the top of, let’s say Notre-Dame, you first have to find the correct spot to climb the first part, then follow to the second one and so on. Thanks to some lights showing you the way, it’s not that hard to find, but sometimes it still involves some turning around and risky jumps. There are also useful perks you unlock during your stay in Paris; from an inconspicuous melee stab to powerful weapons, it’s all there.

But there’s more to the gameplay than just destruction and climbing. If you want to walk around unharmed in restricted areas, it pays off to wear a disguise (yes, this handy element has been imported yet tweaked form the Mercenaries series). Just melee kill one of the bastards and take his clothes. Provided you walk slowly and keep your distance from the real nazis, you can wander around and play the silent killer/place bombs without catching attention – if you play it right.

So the gameplay is fine, what about the story? It’s alright. The Saboteur features a classic B movie narrative; you’re an Irish outcast named Sean Devlin somehow entangled in a love triangle between a grieving French girl and a British spy. Your best friend gets killed by the evil nazi bastard you swear to kill, and on your way there you board huge zeppelins, infiltrate castles and cemeteries or defend your HQ. Side missions are usually on a smaller scale and they are often a bit quirkier. Most missions can actually be played any way YOU like – stealth and cunning or all guns blazing through the front door, the choice is yours most of the time. Oh, and one mission even has a pretty cool Indiana Jones easter egg (just watch the last minutes. By the way, some guards in this mission also talk about one of their aryan pals who’s currently in Nepal …):

From time to time, The Saboteur reminds you of its guerilla theme: Kill too many nazis, and you’ll be relentlessly hunted down by heavily armored squads wielding heavy MGs and flamethrowers, tanks, fighter planes and zeppelins … usually, poor Sean dies pretty fast in open combat. But don’t fret, there are several ways to escape the nazis. Run out of the red circle à la every other game, hide in special spots, fend off a nazi onslaught together with the resistance … or go to a brothel or do this:

As said before, it’s the various technical weaknesses that are holding The Saboteur back. Yes, they shouldn’t have been in there from the start, true, and they are the reason why the game has disappeared in metacritic mediocrity hell.Who knows, maybe they primarily are the results of Pandemic’s demise …

But you learn to work around the issues quickly. The reward is an immersive sandbox adventure where you can take your time watching the attractions of Paris, relaxing in your strip club safe house (moody jazz and half-naked women included) or driving through the countryside inbetween the occasional mission and plenty of blowing up nazi equipment left and right and above.

Rabidgames diligently sabotages: If you liked Just Cause 2 chances are you’ll love The Saboteur. It’s a big playground, there are many toys at your disposal, just go out and have fun. We need more games like these! But The Saboteur is also the Obituary to Pandemic. Way to go, lads.

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