I can’t stand it, I know you planned it, That’s sabotage!
It’s easy to lambaste The Saboteur. With hindsight, it has all the trappings of yet another triple-A title rushed for a December release. It’s all even more predictable, given that it was developed by the now defunct Pandemic Studios, which has been thoroughly assimilated by the living machine known as
the Borg EA (I think I’m about to be terminated). All of the signs of mimicry are present and accounted for, but it may surprise you that I hope you don’t take them at face value, or you’ll miss a perfectly decent title for the holiday season.
[image1]In fact, I am surprised to say those words as well, because if there’s anything that The Saboteur hits, it’s the one nerve that runs deep through every critic: clichés. By slapping together everything that’s hot in open-world gameplay, The Saboteur hopes to be safe and unique. But it’s like having your best friends tell you that the curry on the plate in front of you was prepared by using all the ingredients they have ever liked in their entire lives, as they stare at you waiting for your reaction. It would seem that Mystery Food X will strike once again (score 10 points if you know the reference). [I had to look it up ~Ed.]
Aside from its 1940s Paris setting and rich pastel art style, nearly every element in the world of The Saboteur has been borrowed more or less from another popular title – Assassin’s Creed climbing, Grand Theft Auto car-jacking and wanted system, The Godfather brawling, Uncharted third-person running-and-gunning, and Okami color metaphors for environmental health. That’s right, by destroying Nazi strongholds, you restore districts that have had all their life and color stomped out of them, like a scene out of Schinder’s List, back to their former Parisian glory.
All of that, though, pales in comparison to the obvious use of titties. When the game’s press release that was sent to us has a burlesque dancer on the second page, when the first image you see in the game is a pair of jiggling flesh bombs, and when a pop-up window appears before you start a new game about the free packaged “The Midnight Show” DLC – which removes any, let’s say, opaque obstructions over the nipples and grants you access to an in-game basement lounge where you can view four unique burlesque dances – it’s not hard to guess how the game is going to
smother your face between them get your attention. (Wait, where are you guys going?)
Even the characters and story don’t reach far beyond the regular stereotypes. Really, all I have to say is that the plot is about an Irish race car driver who has turned into a resistance agent for the French and the British in order to exact revenge on the Nazis. And he has a love interest who he has always liked from the beginning but can never seem to impress. That’s it.
[image2]Are the Nazis cold, mean, leather-loving jerks? Check. Is the Irishman Sean Devlin an aggressive, burly Boondock Saint who loves whiskey and has a vocabulary rife with “wankers”, “arseholes”, “bullocks”, and “fuck you arseways”? Check. Does the charismatic French resistance leader Luc have a thick Parisian accent with an appreciation for fancy wine and literature? Check.
If there was ever such a thing as formulaic gameplay, The Saboteur would be the one drinking it. But as much as a critic can moan about how unoriginal it is, at the end of the day, it’s just not bad. Its open-world interpretation of 1940s Paris is filled with iconic landmarks that stretches into pastoral landscapes which highlights the differences between rural and urban France. The soundtrack doesn’t have that many tunes, but the music is light and carefully chosen, with a special nod to “Koop Island Blues”. The characters, despite their cliché personalities, have well-delivered dialogue and are comfortable with who they are.
And who doesn’t like messing with Nazis? For as overly suspicious and unrealistically dumb as the Nazis are in the game, it almost turns the violence into a sitcom. If they see you climbing the side of an apartment building, holding a trenchgun in their face, trespassing on a Nazi encampment, or sneaking around in their presence, they’ll blow the whistle and force you to find a hiding spot or run outside of the red circle without being caught. But the instant you stop doing any suspicious behavior, they stop caring. So if a Nazi sees you climbing down a water drainage pipe, sprinting down the street with a scoped carbine, staring into his eyes for an instant before tucking the gun into your jacket, you’re totally fine. Not suspicious at all.
This means that you can easily become a pest to the Nazis by blowing up their towers, turrets, and tanks, because they might as well be goldfish with swastikas for eyeballs. Even if a Nazi sounds the alarm, all you have to do is run away for about ten seconds before they forget who you are and then come running straight back to poke at them. It’s not realistic in the slightest, but dare I say it’s fun. And if you kill some Nazis in some specific ways, you’ll even be rewarded with cool perks and new gadgets and cars.
[image3]However, the limited variety of each type of weapon, the fact that Nazis can see through disguises too easily, the lack of auto-targeting for melee combat, and destroying Nazi property with dynamite over and over again does make boredom set in faster than it should. Any resistance allies you call tend to disband far too quickly, and the strength of the resistance as you chip away at the Nazi defenses could have been given more impact. For all the talk about the resistance, it feels like it’s just a one-man army most of the time.
You can spend hours ranting about The Saboteur and its questionable design merits, and you wouldn’t be wrong. If Pandemic Studios were able to see the light of day for the next few months, The Saboteur could have been given the time to make a more sizable impact. Still, it’s hard to argue with driving through the streets of Paris and the French countryside in a slick classic car and blasting away the Nazi military machine, piece by piece, as you slowly walk away. Because cool guys don’t look at explosions. Oh, and titties.