Gamers can’t escape World War II. We’ve stormed the beaches of Normandy, fought the Battle of the Bulge, and liberated Stalingrad a hundred times over, yet developers keep dangling Nazis in front of our gun muzzles. Thankfully Pandemic isn’t interested in making us relive these historical triumphs again. Rather than trying to encapsulate the drama of the entire European Theater, The Saboteur earns points for concentrating its efforts on a specific location with a specific storyline.
Sean Devlin wasn’t always a revolutionary fighter. The smarmy Irish race car driver would rather spend his time in bars and bedrooms. But when a Nazi officer steals a race from him, kills his best friend, and aids the invasion of Paris, he puts his leisurely pursuits on hold and takes up arms with the French Resistance. That’s not to say he’s carving a new identity for himself – Devlin still makes time for the occasional race and romp, but instead of hanging out at bars in between exploits, he’s hanging off Nazi towers planting explosives to drive the Wehrmacht back to Germany.
As befitting its brash leather jacketed protagonist, The Saboteur bleeds cool. Like Sin City, Parisian neighborhoods stifled under German occupation have no color save for the yellow light emanating from building windows and the bold red banners of their Nazi oppressors. With German soldiers harassing Parisian citizens and even lining up impromptu execution squads on the streets, the oppression is palpable. As Devlin rids the area of Nazi tanks, watchtowers, AA guns, and encampments, color comes back to the area and its citizens will start openly defying the German squads stationed around the city. While much of the joie de vivre Paris is well known for is stifled above ground by barbed wire and Nazi propaganda, the underground is full of life, with sexy showgirls at Parisian cabarets who take you into hiding, wily black marketeers eager to sell you new weaponry, and intellectuals turned revolutionaries in need of Devlin’s help to drive the Germans from their homeland.
The Saboteur isn’t afraid to borrow concepts from its contemporaries. An amalgamation of the open world sandbox of Grand Theft Auto, the chaotic freeplay of Crackdown, the climbing of Assassin’s Creed, and the zipline and rooftop traversal of Infamous, the game wears its influences on its sleeve. While these game mechanics work, like the French resistance they seem to have been done on the cheap. The sluggish car controls seemingly turn on an axis in the middle of the vehicle, which takes practice to master. Climbing frustratingly requires you to jam on the A button for each movement up the building. The gunplay has a sketchy auto cover system and the weaponry lacks the punch of more visceral shooters.
Other areas of the game also lack the polish of a groundbreaking title as well. Pandemic questionably buried the map three clicks into the menu system, which is a major faux pas for an open world game that requires you to place waypoints to navigate the large city. Cars take damage from bullets, but you’ll need to run over an entire city block of benches before you start seeing any wear and tear on the chassis. The Germans were bold enough to overtake Paris, but given the braindead and lackadaisical nature of their infantry, it doesn’t take much to drive them from individual posts.
The Saboteur may lack the polish of the contemporaries it boldly mimics, but protagonist Sean Devlin’s quest for revenge and an alluring 1940s Paris make this a World War II memory worth making.
In The Saboteur, World War II games get a much needed dose of style.