The Saboteur Review
I recently had time to play Pandemic Studio’s final game (they were shut down) on the Xbox 360. I will admit that I knew very little going into this game and did not have high expectations. I never was one for Thief or other games that encouraged you to not be seen – I have this nasty habit of sticking out like a sore thumb when I should remain unseen. The name ‘Saboteur’ implied that this was a game that might not be for me. I am pleased to report that I was very mistaken.
The Saboteur is set in (mostly) in Occupied Paris during the Second World War. The Nazis are everywhere and the locals have lost the will to fight. Enter Sean Devlin, the Irish protagonist. He meets Luc, a patriot French writer that recruits Sean to fight against the Nazis. As the story progresses, Sean finds himself involved with the French Resistance and the British SOE. The main plot makes sure to bring you back to 1940, where we are introduced to the reasons for Sean ending up in Paris living in a cabaret (which doubles as the headquarters of the French resistance, those cheeky fellows).
A Human Story About a Human Hero
For me, one of the strengths of this game was its simple approach. Sean Devlin is motivated by personal interests, and only becomes involved with the French Resistance because of his pursuit of an SS Colonel that murdered his friend in Cold Blood, then destroyed the life he had built for himself with a surrogate family he drove Race cars for. (Sean Devlin, by the way is loosely based upon William Grover-Williams, a former Grand Prix champion that worked for the British SOE in France during World War II). Sean is not an untouchable hero in any way – he has his vices.
Sean is fun to play as – he curses and spits out some hilarious one liners. I laughed at some of the things he said and the reactions to the colourful Irish expressions he uses by more ‘sophisticated’ French or British characters. The interplay between Sean and the British lady friend of his are classic.
That being said, the story is not the least bit surprising and I found myself skipping mission briefs. I just didn’t care what I was blowing up, I just wanted to be sent out to do it.
A Fun Game
Of course, all this characterization would mean nothing if the game was bad. Lucky for us, the Saboteur is fun to play. The game is played in a sandbox style that borrows heavily from Grand Theft Auto 4 – including a ‘search radius’ that you must escape when Sean has attracted Nazi suspicion. Imagine Grand Theft Auto: Occupied Paris, only you are a freedom fighter.
This area includes Paris (including the Palais Royale, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the L’Ouevre, and more) as well as Normadie, Picardie, Le Havre, and the occasional country village. Sean travels around Paris, able to wield a variety of weapons and drive many1930s and 1940s vehicles. You complete missions for various interested parties that range from driving, to shooting to stealth. Sean can knock out a Nazi and use his uniform as a disguise, although he must be careful not to get too close to enemies or he will be discovered. Sean can also do ‘free play’ which involves destroying Nazi equipment such as propaganda towers, tanks, Anti-Aircraft Guns, Rockets, Fuel Depots, etc. Doing so not only earns you contraband to purchase equipment from the black market, but it also very satisfying.
As you complete missions and ‘inspire’ the locals, areas of the city will change from black and white like an old movie and light up again. This is a neat effect that I think added a great deal to the game. The gritty black and white effect was very mood setting and I sometimes wished that they had not lit up – it was a neat experience playing in that black and white world.
Inspiring the locals in this way also changes the way the city breathes. Locals will be more supportive of your actions, and you will sometimes see the Resistance help you in fights. The Nazis are less dominant, and tend to huddle mostly around their sensitive areas (such as their occupation towers). During the black and white sequences, they are seemingly everywhere, and you clearly feel that this is an occupied city.
Who Needs History?
I had some gripes about the game’s setting. For one, a portion of the game is set in 1940 Saarbrucken. The characters talk about how Germany and France could go to war at any moment, and you cross the border into Saarbrucken from Germany. For those of you have ever seen a history book, you know that France and Germany were at war in September 1939, a full year before this took place. you cross the border back into France at the exact moment Germany goes to war and decides to invade – despite the real breakthrough occurring not in Saarbrucken (which was near the Maginot Line) but to the North-West through the Ardennes Forest. The Maginot Line was manned, and the borders would have been closed. There was no Grand Prix again in Europe until 1945. That is not the only flaw in the game’s setting. Mp44s are available on the 1940 Black Market, despite not being produced until 1943. Also, the game’s focus is from the beginning clearly building to a major showdown between the Resistance and the Nazis, despite this not really happening until Paris was liberated in 1944. This doesn’t ruin the game and these changes were probably made for the sake of improving gameplay. However, some of these factual errors did not sit right with me.
The Saboteur is a fun game. I enjoyed its quirky animations, its like able characters, and its simple yet fun game play. This is not an intense game, and it doesn’t try to be. It is not a perfect game – the history is bad, the story is fun but not surprising, and the game is probably not going to keep you entertained after you’ve beat it once (unless you’re one of those people that must 100% your games).
I’m not sure I would recommend the Saboteur as a purchase – I rented it and in a busy week where I did not have time to play a great deal, I had completed the game. However, I would recommend it as a rental for sure. This game is like potato chips – empty calories that are so good when you eat, but you’re hungry an hour later.