Review: Ooh la la! Ze Nazis go boom, oui oui!
World War II-based games are usually a broad stroke of a greater picture. Medal of Honor and Call of Duty focus on the war and its famous battles, but you never get personal stories of soldier's involvement or of the ?civilians? that get caught up in all the various power plays and aggression. That's what makes The Saboteur so unique. It's about the War... but a very specific battle between one extremely angry Irishman and one Nazi general that ruined his life. Sure, you can screw with the Nazis along the way and ruin their efforts of European Domination, but it's always a tale of revenge. As Pandemic's swan song, EA showed good faith that the game was worth hanging on to and giving it a chance instead of canceling it, and we're better for it. The Saboteur is not "another WWII game" ? it's a game that just so happens to take place during a time period that has been milked more than a few times. Though likely lost in the Bermuda Triangle in that it released after the 2009 holiday rush and before the early 2010 floodgates, fans of sandbox gaming and unusual settings shouldn't sleep on the game, regardless of the fate of its developer.
Sean Devlin is an Irish race car driver, who otherwise wasn't concerned with the Nazi occupation of a great majority of Europe, he just wants to race cars and leave politics and war to others. And he does just that, for a while anyway. After an opening scene in Paris where Sean and his new buddy Luc blow up some Nazi equipment, the game flashes back to the past, when Sean was heading to Germany for a race with his best friend Jules, his sister Veronique, and father figure Vittore. During this race, Sean encounters a German driver named Kurt Dierker, who cheats to win the race by shooting out Sean's tires. As a method of payback, Sean and Jules steal his ride and destroy it... only to find out that Dierker is also a high-ranking Nazi and the duo discovered something they shouldn't. Fully believing Sean to be a British spy, Dierker kills Jules, but Sean escapes, ultimately to Paris, hellbent on killing Dierker for this single act. Discovering that Dierker is there, Sean hooks up with the French Resistance, and becomes an expert at sabotage ? The Saboteur ? all on this quest to gain revenge on a single man.
Pandemic has shown they have a knack for open-world sandbox play, especially when they put in lots of things to blow up. Saboteur has plenty of that. The game is effectively two games ? the story of Sean's efforts to liberate France & kill Dierker, and the whole ?sabotage? game of blowing up Nazi targets to eradicate their presence. The Saboteur can be played a couple different ways; you can be stealthy, or you can be not quite stealthy. If you see a Nazi guard wandering around the city, stealth killing them allows Sean to don his uniform, which makes it easier to sneak around Nazi territory without being detected, though lingering around will eventually tip the Germans off that you're not the genuine article. Naturally, you can also go in guns blazing ? not exactly sabotage work, but hey ? and kill Nazis to your hearts content. Or a little of both, using stealth and gunplay along with some climbing, which oddly enough isn't emphasized much. It's surprisingly freeform in that almost every mission has numerous paths to completion. Completing missions will increase the morale of the Parisians, and after major tasks, the Will to Fight (yes, WTF) grows and is accompanied by a great visual effect, the formerly oppressed black and white territory will become colorized and the Nazi presence will be greatly reduced.
As a Saboteur, Sean's missions always tend to involve greatly weakening the Nazi machine in many ways. Simple missions include driving characters to Nazi offices, only to drop off a bomb, and more advanced missions involve sneaking through a cemetery (oh yes, a nod to the infamous Nazi obsession with the occult) to steal a strange box that, well... does something, or of course, real sabotage. A few missions are all about destruction, blowing up chemical labs, fortresses, etc. Let's just say if this game was 100% real WWII would have been a whole lot easier. The main story is surprisingly brief, at maybe 10 hours, but what's there is a constant array of quality missions with lots of variety, a couple plot twists, and a good handful of side-missions that oftentimes are more fun than the core missions (though there's one where you have to assassinate a female Nazi operative, which might bother you as much as it bothered Sean). The Saboteur doesn't go out of its way to be important, or topical, or any other high-brow commentary ? it just wants to be a fun adventure with a lot of explosions,and it accomplishes just that.
Speaking of explosions, if you spend time away from the story doing the freeplay stuff, you'll see lots of that. There's at least a thousand targets spread throughout Paris and the countryside. An overwhelming number to be sure, but in order to completely drive out the Nazis, destroying them all is a must. Admittedly, this part can get a little tiring; sneak around, set a charge, watch it go boom, run off to hide in case you attracted attention (and by ?hide? I sometimes mean ?find a hot French girl to make out with, which makes the Nazis ignore you?), rinse and repeat. In the countryside, where there's more hiding places and less targets, the process is more fun compared to inside Paris, where there's often dozens of objectives in one spot, requiring you to pick them off a little at a time. That said, there are some fun freeplay targets, like finding statues of Dierker, climbing or finding tourist spots (yes, you can climb the Eiffel Tower, and oh yes, you can jump off the Eiffel Tower and live), and discovering postcards in touristy areas. You could ignore all of this stuff and just play the story, but it does have a function ? the more sniper towers, observation areas, tanks, AA guns, etc. are destroyed, the easier it is to escape Nazi pursuers if you raise an alarm level too high. After all, if nobody is there to detect you, it's easier to lose them.