Tales of WWII resistance fighters are as common as loose change under a sofa cushion. Stories of rolled up notes sewn into grandpa’s arm as he ran across the European countryside from one train station to the next have been the talk of dinner table conversations for the last sixty years. Although Pandemic Studios is officially no more, they managed to go out with another thrill-packed tale of what life must have been like for those who ran against their oppressors during the most pivotal time in world history. With a modern day visual style and a bit of old-school flavoring, The Saboteur endeavors to deliver a thrilling account of one man’s efforts to ruin the Nazis’ day. Since the game is more Casablanca than Saving Private Ryan, will Pandemic’s swan song be able to deliver the compelling, whiz-bang experience today’s gamers demand while at the same time making Victor Laszlo proud? Will Pandemic’s former employees be able to look at each other and say, “We’ll always have Paris?” The communiqué below will answer these questions. Burn after reading!
Players assume the role of Sean Devlin, an Irish auto mechanic turned racecar driver stuck in the middle of occupied France. His past is a bit of a mystery, but what we do know is that he bears a grudge against a man who managed to steal a racing victory from him and then kill his best friend. As our story opens, France is in complete control by Nazi forces who have established an unshakable presence all over the countryside. Soldiers and watch towers litter the streets like sewer rats, and our hero, Sean, has leagued up with the French Resistance. Like Pandemic’s earlier efforts, the “hows” and the “wherefores” are largely up to you, the player, and the revenge-fueled resolve of our hero, Sean. There is a solid mission structure that moves the pace of the storyline along, but how you go about taking out soldiers and destroying their emplacements is your decision to make. The fact that once a building has been destroyed it stays destroyed is a great help in the game, as you can plan your moves three or four steps ahead, and make sure that something that might cause trouble in completing a mission is taken out long before you get into the thick of it.
Graphically, the game creates the mood quite well. The Nazi occupied areas are painted in Sin City styles of black, white and gray, with the “Schindler’s List” reds popping out here and there for dramatic emphasis. As our hero destroys Nazi emplacements, the color and detail begins to return to the area, creating a warm, colorful image of life in France. Much like any sandbox-style game these days, the way to victory lies with both storyline-based missions and side quests that help fill out the details as they are completed. These side missions are marked on the player’s map as white dots and usually consist of blowing something up or killing every Nazi in the immediate vicinity. These missions can also be considered the game’s main shortcoming, as there are many of them and only a limited amount of armament types available as tools of destruction. This means you will either blow up the place or shoot everything in sight; rinse, repeat. There are also a few missions based on racing, but they seem a bit out of place given the game’s storyline, even though your main character’s occupation is that of a racecar driver. They’re fun enough, but there are only a few of them and you being to ask yourself “why am I doing this?” when there are other, more important victories to endeavor toward.
What really can be considered a shame is the climbing mechanic in the game. Devlin is able to climb just about any building in the game, Assassin’s Creed style, but the actual mechanics of doing so are clumsy and not at all fun. A lot of target objectives are found at the top of buildings as well, and this makes certain aspects of the game a drag, and a player could lose interest based on this alone. What is quite fun to play is the gunplay mechanics, and who doesn’t enjoy the constant firefights with Nazis in these WWII themed games. Aiming is a breeze and the weaponry is fun to use, even though it’s of the old-school variety of the time period.
The sound is where things really shine, as the music and sound effects are completely well done and serve to immerse the player quite well in the game’s setting. A special honor should be given to the score’s composer, as all of the music is appropriately paced based on the situation. The voice acting is so over-the-top and silly it would make Vincent Price blush, and just about every Irish and German stereotype you can think of is played up to the Nth degree in the game. It’s almost as if they were going for a time-period parody, character-wise. Take it for what it is, though, and you will have quite a fun time with it.
At its root, The Saboteur is a classic revenge tale with some tasks to perform to distract you from the main story. The fact that the side tasks have little to no effect on that main story is a bit of a shame, as these open-style games tend to really shine when some act you committed causes unforeseen consequences. All in all, it can be said that Pandemic’s last offering is a worthwhile one, especially for the gorgeous visuals and nail-biting gameplay that comes from trying to undermine a Nazi occupation one building at a time. Do yourself a favor and find yourself a copy… perhaps the one Ugarte gave to Rick to hide under the lid of the piano.