World War II. An occupied Europe. Masses of crazy Nazis busy oppressing and murdering the locals. Epic vigilante gunfights and explosions. Lots of explosions. Sound a little too familiar? That’s probably what Pandemic Studios, creators of The Saboteur thought as well. So instead of simply retreading the same territory as the multitude of previous World War combat games and placing the gamer in charge of a fresh-faced marine recruit or grizzled army vet, you instead find yourself in the shoes of Sean Devlin, an Irish race-car driver with a dodgy past. After being cheated out of a race victory which leads to the murder of his best friend at the hands of Nazi agent Kurt Dierker, Devlin vows revenge. Upon meeting French Resistance leader Luc Gaudin, Devlin is recruited to aid the Resistance’s fight to retake Paris and eventually France from the hands of the Nazis.
After also becoming embroiled with the British Secret Service through one of Devlin’s old romantic interests, the player is taken on a tour de force of Paris through the life of a Saboteur; you’re essentially charged with causing as much trouble and mayhem for the Nazis as possible, all the while getting closer to exacting revenge on the increasingly powerful Dierker. As you meet more important members of the Resistance and Allied war effort and start giving the Nazis some serious grief, you are given larger and more difficult missions. While elaborate, they often boil down to either assassinating a prominent Nazi or blowing up something important. This doesn’t stop many of them from being thrilling and very enjoyable, and along with the hair-raising, GTA-like getaways from Nazi alarms, they add much to the game’s excitement. As well as the main story missions there are numerous side missions available and a nifty free-play target system that allows for all aspects of the Nazi presence to be destroyed, rewarding the player with precious contraband, the game’s currency.
Devlin’s escapades allow the player to discover and explore The Saboteur’s heavily stylised version of 1940s occupied Paris. It’s a beautifully imagined open-world environment full of iconic architecture, narrow, winding streets and blotches of peaceful countryside (that is, until you get there). Reflecting the downtrodden mood of the oppressed Parisians, the game environment is a gloomy black and white, with never-ending thunderstorms complete with whipping wind and rain. It all adds to the feeling of a city in despair, with the only colour present the blood red of Nazi insignia. However, all is not lost in the City of Light, as you gradually erode the Nazis’ influence in an area by destroying installations and taking out infantry. Doing so will see colour burst back into the area, relative to the locals’ improved morale, or ‘Will to Fight’. The use of colour as a measure of progress is an inspired piece of art direction, and it is incredibly satisfying to drive through an area that visibly shows your success, while suddenly finding yourself confronted with greyscale scenery; a stark reminder of the work still to be done in a particular region.
Unfortunately, the attached storyline sadly leaves much to be desired. While deserving kudos for its boldness and flashes of panache, it often seems to be unsure of how seriously it wants to be taken. The controls, especially for driving and fighting, can be clunky and difficult, and it’s frustrating that at times the game seems to make no real strive for realism. Devlin is seemingly invincible at times, despite falling from massive heights or being shot at from all angles. It’s also disappointing that, while much is made of the stealth gameplay elements, they are often ineffective and the best way to complete a mission is usually to go in all guns blazing.
Despite these flaws, The Saboteur can be a very entertaining and satisfying game if you simply enjoy the swaggering romp through Nazi-occupied France. And with a decent- length main story, the numerous side missions and freeplay target system, there is plenty of content to get stuck into.