You may know Adam Ruch from the other stuff he's written for the site, or his blog Flickering Colours, but he's also a seasoned veteran of our Reader Reviews section. This time he's taking a look at The Saboteur - a game I was always interested in, but never got round to playing.
And the best reader review each month wins a Blu-ray pack courtesy of Madman.
Take it away Adam.
The Saboteur The Saboteur was released in 2009 and represents the swansong for Pandemic Studios, who were closed down shortly after its release. I have to wonder how long prior to the completion of The Saboteur the development team or upper management at EA knew the studio’s fate – a death knell may explain the disappointing lack of polish I experienced playing this game. That disappointment was all the more intense for the raft of great ideas and a wonderful setting chosen for this game.
Loved The setting, like I said. I love open-world games, so that’s my own bias creeping in. But a city like Paris, during the Nazi occupation is just about the most perfect backdrop for an open-world videogame I can think of. The lengths to which Red Faction: Guerrilla went through to create this kind of scenario is completely unnecessary in the Saboteur, history took care of it for us. I also just finished playing LA Noire, so I’m in kind of an early-mid 1900s groove at the moment.
The concept, which ties in to the setting I guess. It just makes sense! Open world games generally struggle to reconcile a player’s destructive tendencies with the attempt at realism those games mostly go for. In the Saboteur, the game actively encourages wanton destruction. There are so many designated targets, of a fair variety, that it’s almost impossible not to have something on the screen that needs to be blown up. On top of this, it's Nazi stuff, and let’s be serious, who doesn’t want to blow up Nazi infrastructure? And not just blow it up, but plant a bomb in your car, rev it up to breakneck speed, then bail out to ghost it into that clump of goose-steppers around the fuel depot. “Oh-ho that went f*cking well!” Couldn’t say it better myself.
The pastiche of mechanics from other open-world games really amazed me. The Saboteur implements practically all the open-world mechanics from Grand Theft Auto, Red Faction: Armageddon and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and adds a few of its own. I pretty much already knew how to play from the start, and there were so many options on how to get the various jobs done! The disguises were super-fun, as I’m a little bit obsessed with being sneaky in open-world games.
Hated I played the PS3 version and it was the most buggy game experience I’ve had on console this generation. The bugs were actually game-breaking in places. There’s a race sequence early in the game where I got into first, and was about to lap the rear-most cars when I actually completed the final lap. The game, however, never registered my position, so when I crossed the line, activated the losing mission failure. As it turns out, as soon as I pass Dierker, it’s meant to switch to an cut-scene. So I had to do it over. In another case, I was on the back of a truck with a minigun, standard ‘escape the pursuit’ fare. I died, so had to start over, only when the mission reloaded, no one’s miniguns worked. Not mine, nor the Nazi’s pursuing me. It was a bit of a problem since I was meant to use the gun to blow up a roadblock…
Aside from that, the hackneyed plot was a let-down. There’s a pretty significant ‘Wait, what about…?’ moment regarding a super-secret box Sean recovers. It’s quite a big deal apparently, and he’s not meant to peek inside. Of course, he does, and is shocked by what he discovers. I, however, have no idea what ‘the bastards found,’ that plot point just disappears into nothing. The narrative arc is mainly a revenge quest, which is fair enough I guess, but was stilted and, in the end, unnecessary. The Saboteur is set in Nazi-occupied France. Who needs motivation to go and clear out Nazis? Sean has way better reasons to help out the Resistance even than Ezio. The vengeance, the rescue of Kessler the defecting scientist, and Sean’s weird relationship with Veronique all seem to be attempts to motivate me to want to help out – but the most affecting incidents were outside of all this scripted stuff.
In the open world, twice, I saw variants on Nazi soldiers doing what real Nazi soldiers did: the first rounded up a man and forced him into the back of a truck. The second was a group of three, holding two civilian women at gunpoint. I hear one say “Please, you don’t have to do this,” just before the Nazis shot them both. Any personal revenge quest pales in comparison to taking action against these sorts of routine atrocities.
This game is totally worth playing. By now it’ll be a bargain at retail, though I guess I’d suggest trying it on the XBox 360 to (maybe?) avoid some of the bugs I found on the PS3 version. I've heard a lot of others saying they had no bugs, so who knows.