|System: X360, PS3, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Pandemic Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Dec. 8, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Pandemic Studios was simply too expensive for EA to maintain. At least that's the corporate line. Speculation persists that the recent closure of the development house was because they couldn't deliver a true AAA blockbuster despite being given ample budgets and timeframes. Whichever side of the argument you feel is correct, one thing's for sure, The Saboteur is a high note to close on. Taking the tired WWII setting and making it totally fresh was always going to be difficult, but Pandemic managed to make their game world both interesting and gorgeous. Combine the unique visual scheme with an expansive open-world and gamers can look forward to hours of quality gaming despite its utterly conventional gameplay.
Unfortunately, the timing of the closure of Pandemic Studios seems to have tarnished the release of The Saboteur. This is evidenced by the lack of buzz amongst gamers and the less than ideal reviews springing up across the Internet. While The Saboteur certainly doesn't have as sophisticated gameplay as is expected from a top title, it is still quite fun and will undoubtedly garner a rabid following; this is one game that will certainly be rated higher by consumers than by journalists. Rather than getting bogged down by its missteps and unpolished minutia, know that there's a quality gaming experience to be found here. The Saboteur is a fun, mature experience you'll likely enjoy in spite of its flaws.
The Saboteur has players don the tweed cap of Sean Devlin, a hard-drinking Irish race car driver caught unexpectedly in the midst of the Nazi invasion of France during WWII. Hiding out in the seedy side of Paris, Sean secretly longs to exact revenge upon the occupying force that tortured and killed his best friend and turned his simple existence as a mechanic-turned-race car driver upside down. Joining the Parisian resistance, Sean uses his unique talents - fighting, shooting, demolitions, racing, climbing, and blending in - to become the city's (and later the frontline's) most prolific saboteur. Throughout the game, you'll take on missions to destroy petrol depots, save citizens from death squads, disrupt Nazi communications, derail trains, steal contraband, and take out key targets. An extensive black market and resistance network will aid you with loads of era-specific weaponry, explosives, safe houses, and intelligence briefings. The story spun along the way isn't particularly convincing, but it certainly provides for a lot of entertaining objectives to accomplish.
As you complete these goals, the heavy police presence is greatly diminished. This essentially liberates the zone, giving the citizens hope and the urge to resist the invaders. This is a designed game mechanic known as the "Will to Fight". The game features a Film Noir-like filter that makes occupied zones dour in black and white. Once you succeed in liberating the area, this section of the city pops with brilliant colors. The stylized visual approach not only makes things easy for you to see the progress you've made, giving you a deeper sense of accomplishment, it also gives you're character and the resistance a stronger foothold; citizens will begin to fight back, evading Nazis becomes easier, and the resistance movement begins to spread.
Gameplay in The Saboteur, for the most part, is utterly conventional, lacking any semblance of creativity. Jacking cars, climbing buildings, third-person gun fights, and running from one objective to the next with the aid of an unerring mini-map are gaming mechanics we've encountered time and time again. Disappointingly, The Saboteur doesn't do anything substantial to make these tired tropes fresh or even standout. This open-world action title obviously models itself after GTA and Assassin's Creed (in addition to the copycat gameplay, mechanics such as zones of suspicion and alarm levels are simply mildly-tweaked versions of recognition and wanted levels found in Assassin's Creed and GTA, respectively), but the game can't hold a candle to either of them. Despite the formulaic nature, The Saboteur was competently made, and there's something about open-world, third-person action titles that draws gamers in regardless of the genre's overused nature. I just wish more care was taken to make the gameplay feel refined and unique rather than routine and mundane.
Controls in The Saboteur should have been a lot better. The only aspect that I felt was really good was the sticky cover. As long as you have a weapon out, the game will automatically get you into good positions. If you're unarmed (like while sneaking), you can tap the shoulder button and snap to cover all the same. Outside of cover, everything else is little more than sufficient. First of all, the driving controls, of which you'll be using constantly, are identical to those found in GTA IV, but you'll be driving one-ton hoop-dees from the 30s and 40s. Needless to say, driving is excruciatingly sluggish. The third-person shooting, outside of cover control, is wonky at best. If you've been playing Modern Warfare 2 lately, you'll think this game's broken.