Ahhh, Paris in the spring. The sites, the sounds, the street vendors displaying their wares, the wine flowing for the enjoyment of visitor and countrymen alike, and let us not forget the beautiful women fluttering their lashes for the inquisitive mind. Yes this is what Paris is to all who bask in its laid back approach to prosperity.
But this is definitely not the Paris we experience in The Saboteur; instead we get the, sometimes cliché, WW2 film noir epic based on the true story of William Grover-Williams along with the, oft inspiring, game play weve come to expect from Pandemic Studios.
Pandemic Studios has delivered some of the most exciting games since their inception in 1998 (Star Wars Battlefront anyone) and The Saboteur would have been of similar scope except that Pandemic Studios was completely absorbed in 2009 (EA held onto a handful of employees to wrap up the development of this title and, hopefully the future Mercs Inc. game). Although this title seems to have had the foundation to be one of this years big hits the aforementioned absorption and its effects are, unfortunately, evident in the minor (though glaring) issues in the game.
The story is new in that our hero Sean Delvin, an Irish grand prix motor racer finds himself in Paris at the start of World War 2s German occupation. Sean becomes a part of the French resistance to avenge a friends execution (the details of which are played out in a great, playable, flashback sequence). As Sean progresses through the rank and file of the French underground, making many unique and often helpful friends, we find ourselves offering the kind of justice commonly found in a Michael Bay Transformers movie, or as I like to say; big *#@!%ing explosions.
The game play really echoes the GTA IV feel (which is both a blessing and a curse) but with an over the top mature theme that would make even Niko Bellic blush. The opening shot of the game takes place in a gentlemens club (make sure the kids are deep in slumber land before settling in) and quickly shows its clichés; this game doesnt even try to hide it, in fact it often revels in its own campiness. The voice acting is reminiscent of that of Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York with just a hint of Russell Crowe thrown in for balance. From the Priest that has become disenchanted with his calling to the sadistic Nazi soldiers, you are never at a loss to identify stereotypes. The game is rife with suggestive undertones; the half dressed ladies at the club are one thing but Seans relationship with Skylar and the willingness of Paris women to assist you in hiding when pursued by the Germans is a whole different matter.
By far the biggest achievement that can be attributed to the development of this game is the introduction of the foreboding atmospheric look to the game. When the Germans take over, the city of Paris is literally cast to the shadows, even during the day the buildings, people, vehicles, virtually everything is portrayed in a gloomy black and white; everything that is except for items belonging to the Germans, be it banners, lookout posts or soldiers, they all stand out in a deep, foreboding red. The color does return to areas but only with your help; as you complete missions, collect contraband or thwart the deeds of the Nazi regime you bring color back to the streets of Paris. As you complete missions and destroy enemy emplacements the color returns and you will inspire the locals to form resistance groups that will slow any pursuing Germans and periodically join you as you endeavor to bring light to the hearts and souls of the restless French.
The Mission based system isnt new but the implementation is interesting. Throughout you can utilize disguises by 'borrowing' the clothes off of a recently deceased German soldier (tip: bullet holes in uniforms will give you away, use stealth or melee to dispose of someone before taking their uniform). There are assassinations, jail breaks and just a general sense of reeking havoc for the fascist regime. The ability to scale the buildings and utilize rooftops in the game is a nice twist but somewhat cumbersome at times, although, being able to scout a mission does make the actual implementation much more satisfying. The mission based game play will take an average gamer up to 14 hours to complete on normal difficulty, add to that the side missions and you will spend more than 20 hours on this open-world action/adventure title.
There are a lot of side missions; blowing up reserves, blowing up various propaganda, blowing up lookouts, blowing up German vehicles, (youd better enjoy the sites of pyrotechnics to truly appreciate the scope in which you pursue the many side missions; virtually everything is destructible). The sound really ramps up the value on the title. The voice acting, while stereotypical, is clear and befitting the genre, the music features songs from the time period and the effects are among the best Ive heard; the sounds of the explosions are enough to create a sense of anarchy (why do I get the feeling explosions were the earliest and most worked on development in the game?). Throw in the great use of an arsenal of weapons and vehicles, as well as, the theft of vehicles (made famous by the GTA games) from both the Germans and the Parisians and you have the a great 'last dance' from Pandemic Studios.
But this is where the 'absorption' issues come to play. Clearly, the developers where in a frenzy to deliver this title for a holiday release which creates a rushed offering that just barely missed its full potential. The story although somewhat interesting fades towards the end and wraps up far to quickly and you will encounter some of the most questionable AI ever (and this is coming from the person who watched, for 5 minutes, a zombie try to eat a piece of wall as my player stood right beside it). Snapping a German soldiers neck is easier than any form of limb distortion Ive seen in a video game and short of jumping to your death from the Eiffel Tower you will feel virtually bulletproof. The driving missions have an arcade feel that, in games like this, I actually enjoy but will leave many wanting more.
In all, The Saboteur is a very enjoyable game; for me. Some may be disappointed but given the chance you'll find the game play features (of which I've only touched on in this review) are comfortable, if not revolutionary. So grab a glass of your favorite Merlot, relax and enjoy a veritable joyride of boobs, bullets, rooftops and explosions.