System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date: December 8, 2009
One of the most criminally overlooked games to come out in the last couple years.
The Saboteur is a Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox adventure game that is set during World War II in Nazi-occupied Paris, France. It also happens to be Pandemic’s last game before the studio was shut down for good. You play as Sean Devlin, an Irish racecar mechanic who gets cheated out of a race and subsequently becomes involved in a serious revenge plot against the Germans. The story revolves around a number of ethnic stereotypical characters, but this never becomes an issue since it is presented in an easygoing “adventure movie” narrative. Some liberties were taken with the realism factor, but it is all done in the name of making this a fun video game.
Other than the 1940’s France setting, which is really freakin’ cool, what sets this game apart from other sandbox titles is its style. The Saboteur utilizes both color and black & white to its full advantage. In areas of heavy Nazi occupance, the game’s world turns black and white. As Sean helps areas of the city fight back and resist the Germans, color slowly starts to seep back into the locales. This transformation is so simple, yet so utterly brilliant. I can’t think of any other games that do something like this, and it’s amazing that merely a different palette can evoke such power in a video game.
Whether you want to play through the story missions or just blow up Nazi installations is entirely up to you. You have the freedom to do whatever you please, and you are given the entire city of Paris (as well as some of the countryside) to do it in. The game takes pride in the fact that you can play through guns-a-blazin’ or opt for a stealth route by sneaking around in Nazi gear. While this option is nice, it is much more fun to run around Rambo-style than it is to sneak past guards. The stealth mode is actually a lot more difficult than it should be, as the enemies are often way too quick to sniff you out and blow your cover. It’s possible to get through the game this way, but not really optimal.
In terms of pure gameplay, The Saboteur is a blast. The 1940s setting is perfectly encapsulated with music from the era, classic vehicles and old-style fashion. Devlin has free reign and can steal any car he wants, climb any building (with slick Uncharted-esque controls) and purchase weapon upgrades from a number of black market dealers. When you tack on the side missions and hundreds of “freeplay events” scattered around the game world, it could take a good 40 hours or so to 100% the game (it takes roughly 10 hours to complete just the story on its own). In a world like The Saboteur, it is easy to get sucked in and not want to leave.
It amazes me that this game flew under the radar when it was released in December 2009. I didn’t know anything about it until just recently myself. The Saboteur is an all-around fun game with a good amount of depth, and it excels partly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While the stealth features could have been polished up a bit, this is still one of the best sandbox games I have played. Definitely a steal at the $20 or so it runs for these days.