Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Saboteur

Post-Launch Review
The Saboteur (PC)
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Released: December 2009
Played: story complete in 15h


Irish racecar mechanic Sean Devlin is cheated out of a win at the 1940 Saarbr├╝cken Grand Prix by Nazi colonel Kurt Dierker. After an attempt at revenge goes terribly wrong, Sean finds himself in a strip club in Nazi-occupied Paris, where he is approached by a member of the Resistance hoping to capitalize on Sean's grudge...

At Launch

The Saboteur was fairly well received, earning average review scores of 73%. Reviewers enjoyed the black-and-white visuals, the sound, and the general gameplay, but criticized the voice acting, overall visual quality, and technical issues (especially on ATI graphics cards).

Post Launch

Several patches were released to fix major technical issues, especially freezing with ATI cards, though a workaround may still be required.

Quick video review:

This game has the longest prologue ever! Well, actually, it has a short tutorial followed by a long prologue. It does make for a pretty good origin story, though it is a little frustrating to be kept away from the titular gameplay for so long.

Anyway. Graphics quality is okay. The countryside can look kind of rough, but the city is pretty good. But what really stands out about The Saboteur's visuals is the way that the game renders in black and white in areas where the Nazis are strong, and in colour where the resistance is strong. The darkness of the black and white style is imposing - it looks like film noir, except for the splashes of colour on a few key characters and the bright blood red on Nazi flags and armbands. In contrast, the full colour areas help emphasize the beauty and vitality of the city despite the Nazi occupation. It's a really striking visual style, very unique.

(side note, when talking about the visuals, I guess I should mention that strip club. In addition to the nudity feeling completely unnecessary and , the graphical quality just isn't up to the sexiness the game wants to convey)

Mechanically, The Saboteur plays like a hybrid Assassin's Creed / Grand Theft Auto. You've got GTA-style gunplay, heat system, and cars, mixed with Assassin's Creed climbing, light stealth, and territory liberation. And it pulls together nicely under the World War II theme that brings its own twist - explosive sabotage, military occupation, and that distinctive visual style.

So why did I keep putting off playing this game?

I think it's the lack of variation and rewards. The city is huge, but there are really only three things to do: missions, steal cars, or blow stuff up. Collecting cars is more of an occasional pastime, especially since you won't really have access to many of them until late game.

Missions start out pretty eclectic. For a good while you're just doing resistance things because resistance guy told you to. There's not much of a feeling of continuity or investment between missions. This improves dramatically late game when things really start to come together and create a strong narrative thread - but it takes a while to get there. If you already watched the video review you'll note that I didn't mention this because I wasn't quite there yet when I recorded it, but now that I'm done the game I'll say that I was pretty satisfied with the last few missions and conclusion. I didn't expect it to turn out as well as it did after the random disconnected errand-boy missions of the early game, though some of the emotional moments do still fall a little flat.

Other than missions, the other activity is sabotage. Paris and the surrounding countryside are pretty huge, and there are hundreds of targets scattered across the map. The trouble is that, for the most part, the targets are very easy and don't provide much in the way of rewards. You get contraband (money) for each thing you blow up, but that's it. Once you've unlocked everything in the store, money is really only useful for the occasional top-up of rare ammo and explosives. There's little motivation to continue exploring and exploding at that point - I got bored of the repetition pretty quick, and there aren't even any rewards or achievements to grind out. I'm not saying that if the game had achievements it would be fun. What I'm saying is that the moment-to-moment gameplay isn't interesting and fun enough to keep me going for very long, and achievements could have extended that, but not made the game more fun.

All that said, the sabotage gameplay is at its most satisfying when you're tasked with taking down a large Nazi base. Having a large number of targets in a small, restricted area forces you to approach your objective more strategically than when you're simply blowing stuff up in the street. I never managed to fully stealth through any of these - I would usually get halfway through and get caught, with the mission turning into an insane shootout with lots of explosions. At these times I'd usually commandeer an AA gun and turn it back on the Nazis, and when finished I'd have to escape by dodging patrols (and aircraft and tanks if things got really crazy).

Oh, there was also a pretty big problem with the map: it didn't work. Like, at all. The map and the markers are on different layers that don't overlay properly above certain resolutions or with too-recent graphics drivers.

Recommendation: play the story, don't spend too much time on free play targets

As I said above, free play gets boring, and while the story starts out weak, it turns out pretty well. The two unique features of the game - the guerilla sabotage gameplay and the visual style - are both strong. The Saboteur makes some missteps that weaken the game, but it's a distinctive game that's worth trying.

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