I remember one night when a friend of mine was the last clone in his squad on Star Wars: Battlefront. We skipped seeing a movie and were instead beholden to his Spartan-like struggle against the enemy. Sure, drinking was heavily involved, but I like to think the experience would have been appreciated just as much if we were sober, too. Destroy All Humans and Mercenaries was incredibly fun, and brought some cool takes to the world-destruction genre that Rockstar had cornered for years. Okay, so that being said, I am really bummed out that I have to give a review like this to a treasured studio’s swan swong.
Because I could not stand The Saboteur.
The game is set in World War II, and you play Sean Devlin, a sneering Irish race-car driver on a revenge path laden with death wishes and whiskey. He is after Dierker, a high-ranking Nazi official who tortured and killed Sean’s bucket-seat buddy, Jules. On his road to vengeance, Sean is unwillingly recruited into the French Resistance, which he supports and observes with about as much enthusiasm and begrudged quipping as Statler and Waldorf watching “The Muppet Show”.
For the most part, the design is cool, and plunges the player into the black-and-white world of Nazi occupied Paris. Every time Sean completes a significant mission that delivers part of Paris back to the Resistance, color is restored to that area. It is a neat effect, if not a bit hokey, and the first time I saw it I thought someone had opened the arc of the covenant. I covered my eyes, and subsequently ran my snazzy buggy into a wall.
The controls, actually, are at their best when you are driving in this game. And ya know, the cars are more unique than most of the characters, which does not bode well for, oh, character arcs in the long run. Anyway, each one demands a certain touch on the controls, and reflect the weight, design, and abilities of the car being deftly maneuvered and muscled for rank.
However, step outside the car, and the controls mess with you. Not the best button layout, but you do get used to it. This is if you can get through the unresolved bugs and denied feature requests that could not be totally addressed as Pandemic started closing its doors. The resulting finish for the game is rushed and rough on the gamer.
So, all bugs and unable-to-save-during-missions aside, I still have trouble with this game. I do understand that Sean Devlin is based off a real figure that was very involved with the French Resistance, but I sooooort of wanted to see a French person in the French Resistance game? Sorry, I’m being unkind. What I mean to say is… I wanted to see more than three French people in the French Resistance game. Everyone else was Irish, Scottish, British, German (duh), Italian, African, or Spanish.
I know all of these nationalities were involved in some way with World War II, but I really would have been interested to see the culture of the French in the French Resistance. I was bummed out by the clumsy batch of ethnocentric jokes and Sean Devlin’s brand of likening things to vessels for his dick. Usually, these sort of things don’t bum me out, but this game could never really decide if it wanted to be cheeky with moments of drama, or dramatic with moments of cheeky, it just sort of waffled.
There were some ideas and elements that did come together, though, aside from the whole bringing rainbows back to the land of Nazi corn-holed Paris. Driving your getaway car into a mob of French freedom fighters, only to tear ass out of that vehicle to stand with them against your Nazi pursuers was engaging and incredibly fun. The races you can compete in are a rush, and infiltrating Nazi bases did tease the stealth nut in me.
But elements like sloppy highlights indicating where you can climb, and Nazis with super-sensory perception of how much you reek of “final solution” just dragged things down for me. Surely, the voice acting helped cope with – surely, it did not! Wow, that was rough. Wow. I could not get on board with that either. In a game where everyone uses accents the way most people use your mother, I clung to my in-game car radio to take me away. And god…. DAMN if I had to go back to Santos of Mexico-Spain one more time for transit papers I was gonna choke a bitch.
Pandemic produced some really fun games back in the day, games I would be more than happy to throw on right now, but The Saboteur is just not one of them in my book. Games can be multiple things to multiple people, but this game never quite hits that sweet spot for me. There are great ideas mulling around in the concept, but it never quite comes to life. When a studio shuts down, it can be a slow death or an abrupt end, sometimes even a slow death that leads to an abrupt end. Regardless, it’s always depressing, and it’s sad that Pandemic didn’t have the time to get this game where it needed to be.
Gameplay & Mechanics 1
Total: 4 transit papers out of 10
For all its prettiness, the story is a touch flat, and drags. Shoddy voice acting is eclipsed by a decent sound track. Fun driving mechanics spin circles around an otherwise shot control scheme. The Saboteur pulses with potential embers that never quite sparked for me. Pandemic, you deserved more than the time you got to give us this game, and we miss you.