The lights are on
As we approached its December 8th release date in 2009, I remember talking with several other editors in the office about the curious timing for the launch of The Saboteur. With fondly remembered games like Full Spectrum Warrior, Mercenaries, and Star Wars: Battlefront in Pandemic Studio’s back catalog, it had a strong pedigree. But here we were in the dead zone after Black Friday where game releases are few and far between, and before The Saboteur even launched Electronic Arts announced the closure of the studio. As you would expect in these circumstances, the public paid hardly any attention
to its swan song. After all, why would EA close the studio if the game was good? The problem was this open world game was good, and it deserved a better fate.
The Saboteur places players in the role of Sean Devlin, a roguish race-car driver who stays out of politics in favor of wooing ladies and pounding whiskey. One thing he doesn't stand for, however, is getting swindled. When a Nazi officer steals a race from him and kills his best friend, Devlin takes up arms with the French Resistance.
The most immediately recognizable feature of this open world game is the distinct black and white presentation. The only color found in the streets of Paris is the bold, red swastika banners and the yellow light emanating from windows, which effectively conveys the sense of oppression the Nazi occupation has placed over the Parisians. As Devlin learns the ropes of reistance fighting and takes down German installations, the vibrant colors the city of light is known for return in full force. As you complete liberation missions around the city, you gain access to perks that improve Devlin's shooting, driving, and brawling skills.
One of my favorite qualities about The Saboteur is that even though it takes place during World War II, the game isn't about winning the war. Devlin's quest for revenge against a specific Nazi officer drives the plot, and this centralized approach keeps the game from hitting the same overused notes as the myriad World War II games that dominated the market in the years leading up to its release.
The Saboteur's open world is by no means as lively or engaging as Grand Theft Auto's Liberty City or Red Dead Redemption's new frontier, but the gorgeous European setting gives the game a distinct vibe. Other open world games have better driving mechanics, gunplay, and climbing systems, but The Sabotuer's charismatic protagonist and the revolt you see on the street as the French regain the nerve to take their city back made for an enjoyable experience.
Pandemic's swan song may lack the refinement of the open world games it mimics, but any fan of the genre who hasn't already should take the trip back to 1940s Paris.
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