Considering the sheer amount of games released that take place during World War II, it’s hard to believe that there’s still some new ground to be covered. The Saboteur, Pandemic’s final game, was hoping to bring something fresh to the tired WWII game genre by placing you in the shoes of a resistance fighter in an open world Paris. By combining aspects of GTA, Assassin’s Creed, and Prince of Persia, The Saboteur aims for the fences right out of the gate. Unfortunately, Pandemic’s efforts to combine so many different aspects into a cohesive game never quite pan out, and The Saboteur becomes just another “coulda been.”
The Saboteur puts you in the role of Sean Devlin, a racecar driver with a troubled past, who finds himself in the employ of the French resistance during the Nazi occupation of Paris. On a quest for revenge and redemption, Devlin will stop at almost nothing to rid the city of the Third Reich. The game’s story is pretty engaging as long as you can forgive the clichés The Saboteur abuses. Whether it’s the hotheaded, alcoholic, ill-mannered Irish lead character, or the giant Nazi castles full of soldiers, wearing gas masks and clad completely in black, there isn’t much new or different about Saboteur’s story. Luckily, the game’s pace is spot on, the mission structure has a great balance of story and side quests, and the action set pieces do deliver, making it easy to forgive the narrative’s shortcomings. The dialogue often tries to be too clever for its own good, and characters often overact to the point of ridicule. Had the characters been allowed to grow more naturally, rather than having their machismo or sex appeal jammed down our throats at every turn, they may have been a bit more memorable. Sean never feels like he could be the everyman the game pretends he is, mostly due to his braggadocio, and how he must reinforce at every chance he gets that he knows more than a dozen ways to cuss. While it doesn’t ruin the game by any means, chuckling or groaning at the game’s more personal moments will at times take you out of the experience.
Saboteur’s gameplay boils down to a few key components: climbing, shooting, driving, and sabotage. Pandemic’s Paris may not be exact down to the very last detail, but its size feels right, particularly when you consider the amount of cityscape you’re able to scale at the press of a button. Climbing is extremely easy to do, but it doesn’t feel as fluid as it should. There’s plenty of reason to run across rooftops, whether you want to take down a sniper tower, find an alternate route to an objective, or escape from a Nazi pursuit, but Sean’s movement feels awkward when compared to other games that do parkour better like inFamous or Assassin’s Creed. While there is a lot of ground to cover both at the street level and atop buildings, the city’s layout isn’t that easy to follow. Buildings seem to be placed haphazardly, with no regard to actual architectural probabilities. Aside from the landmarks that make an appearance, like the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame Cathedral, which are a lot of fun to climb, much of Pandemic’s Paris seems thrown together based on what would look cool, rather than practicality and ease of navigation.
The game’s shooting mechanics aren’t anything to write home about, and feel much more arcadey than you initially expect them to. Sean is bursting with so much machismo, he’s able to absorb an insane amount of damage, to the point where charging into a run guns blazing is never your worst option when trying to complete an objective. The aiming is too floaty with some guns, and too accurate with others to provide any kind of consistency weapon to weapon. Saboteur’s cover system isn’t bad, but it certainly won’t have you hoping that more games take inspiration from this one. In areas of the game with more corners to hide behind, you’ll actually find yourself sticking to cover way too much, and the system will slowly start to grate on your nerves. Enemy AI is also extremely unbalanced, with some soldiers able to hit you from hundreds of yards away, while others could be standing right in front of you, but be shooting at some mysterious object behind you, and a little bit to the right. If the game’s hand-to-hand combat wasn’t so pathetic, the shooting might not be as bad, but since you rely on your guns so heavily thanks to the poor punching controls, the flaws are more apparent.
For a game based around a character whose profession is racing, you would think that the driving aspects of the game would be a strong point, but any time spent in a vehicle is arduous. If the map wasn’t so large, it would almost be more beneficial to run everywhere, but you will have to spend a lot of time in cars getting from point A to point B. It’s true that many of the cars of the era weren’t known for their spectacular handling, but the car physics are way off. Hitting the emergency brake sends every car into a power-slide, the only difference being just how far each car is able to slide. I know that driving segments in sandbox games have never been all that great, but the automobile portions of this game are barely passable. What’s worse, aside from the required story races, which you can only lose if you actually try not to win, you’ll never feel motivated to try the optional racing side-missions unless you’re an achievement seeking completionist.
Despite the game being called The Saboteur, the sabotage aspects of the game are extremely unfulfilling. All you have to do to sabotage something is walk up to it and plant dynamite. There’s a modicum of stealth involved, but even sneaking up on a guard to kill him and steal his uniform to move around unnoticed isn’t worth the effort since you can escape from nearly any situation by simply running away as fast as you can. Not to mention that the stealth mechanics are really nothing more than walking up to a guard whose back is turned, and snapping his neck. It’s fun for a little while to steal their clothes and waltz around unnoticed, but the closer you get to a Nazi, the higher the chance of your cover being blown. Once that happens, all hell breaks loose, and you’ll end up in a shootout with the entire base. It’s almost more prudent to shoot first and ask questions later every single time. While eliminating the hundreds upon hundreds of Nazi influences around Paris will earn you cash to spend on upgrades at the Black Market dealers, the sabotage is almost completely unnecessary to completing the game since you can just pick up whatever weapons and ammo you need from dead Nazis. In fact, the only time I really spent any money at the Black Market was during required story moments when I needed new papers to pass through road blockades without an issue.
Check Out The Nudity In The Saboteur In This Burlesque Video.
The game’s most prominent selling point, restoring the color of the world from the drab black and white tones that indicate Nazi occupation, isn’t as gratifying as all the hype would lead you to believe. Those moments only occur during story-based missions, and ape the latest Prince of Persia so blatantly it’s a tad underwhelming when it finally happens. What’s more, the game actually looks better in a film noir style than it does in Technicolor, so you’re actually doing the game’s visuals a disservice by completing your objectives. Surprisingly, the transition when moving from a Nazi section to a freed section is practically seamless. For the most part, the game’s graphics are decent, but fall prey to extremely obvious and distracting pop in, poor draw distance, and an overall lack of polish. Characters are rendered well, but facial animations like mouth movement aren’t all that terrific. Perhaps if less time was spent on making sure the naked women looked good, and they do look good, more effort could have been put into making the lengthy dialogue sections more engaging, and less uncomfortable and stiff. Both the voice acting and score are well done, but don’t do anything to stand out from the pack.
The Saboteur could have been one of the year’s most impressive games. Sadly, Pandemic tries to do too much, and players are left with a game that never becomes more than the sum of its parts. While it’s certainly not a terrible game, there’s nothing remarkable about it either. It’s truly a shame this game couldn’t do enough to set itself apart from other mediocre open-world adventure games, but at the very least, Pandemic can say they tried.