So it looks like a cheeky EA may
have just found their way around certain types of gaming censorship. When you first fire up The Saboteur, you're prompted about some DLC awaiting your activation, which it turns out, is packaged with the retail version of the game. Enter your code, and voila, you now have access to the first lot of Saboteur DLC called "The Midnight Show". Why is it available at the game's launch? Because said DLC offers more mature content in the form of more bare boobs. I kid you not. Bare boobs
In fact, bare bewbage is one of the first things you'll see upon starting the game. It's all tastefully done, as we're introduced to 1940s France, and more specifically, Paris. The "tasteful" presentation of mammary comes in the form of burlesque and cabaret dancing - and it really puts GTA IV's strippers to shame (and yes, in the Saboteur there is plenty of nipple). But enough about breasts - this game isn't just about those, The Saboteur is a rich tapestry of revenge, love, danger, action and war all married into a competent and often times excellent game. It's a fitting swansong for the late Pandemic Studios, and while not specifically a benchmark for robust, consistent open-world play, offers some fresh ideas, a great presentation, interesting characters and a compelling setting.
While the game initially opens in the present (ie 1940s Nazi-occupied Paris), after a very quick stint as Irish hothead, Sean Devlin, we're whisked back some three years before; showing a much different time, with more carefree characters. Sean is a race car driver, recently promoted from mechanic to the driver's seat and it's his goal to take that seat across the finish line from pole position. Unfortunately during a race he's winning, the (clearly) evil German racing champion he's racing against, shoots out his tyre and takes glory for himself. Thinking nothing of the event beyond unsportsmanlike sabotage, Sean and his friend, Jules, set out to get a little payback by driving our Gemran racing champ who turns out to be a high-ranking SS officer's car into a lake. However, their actions lead to grander events and eventually they uncover an insidious plot that leaves Sean's friend and partner, Jules, savagely beaten and killed before his very eyes. Miraculously, Sean manages to escape and we're again whisked back to the present three years later (again ie, 1940s Paris) and the game begins proper.
The touted visual presentation of the game, which offers up only a handful of colours (yellows, reds and browns) against a harsh Sin City-esque black, white and grey is actually a gameplay marker more than an aesthetic tool, and I want to make it clear to anyone who might be thinking of buying the game because it looks cool alone. The idea here is, those areas sans colour are Nazi-occupied areas of Paris. When you perform a certain number of actions within these areas, you return colour to the area. It's a cool concept, but has me a little sad, because like so many others, I thought the whole game would be presented in that cold, dark Sin City style, and to be perfectly honest, it looks so much better with less colour.
That being said, the core foundation for the game stems from the above description: You're essentially playing a strong-arm for the resistance with your own machinations for revenge built into the mix. To this end, and given the game's title, it's definitely a safe bet you're running around as a muckraker, destroying Nazi installations, taking out generals, freeing captured resistance fighters and feeding the black market, among much, much more. And all of this works great on paper, especially given the game is presented as a sandbox title. Unfortunately there are too many lazy portions to what we're given. AI, for one, is absolutely ludicrous in that the crowded streets of Paris must be too much for some denizens to bear; leaping forth from the curb and right into your driving lane. Moreover, running over anyone barely marks a dent in the reactionary process, which sees people with their noses in the air continuing about their business.
Driving cars never feels the way it should, either. There's no specific sense of weight relative to the vehicles you're driving. Trucks are definitely more sluggish, and sports cars faster, but unlike vehicles in the likes of say GTA IV or Red Faction: Guerrilla, the physics here just don't feel
right (or overly artificial).
Sean's other ability, equally borrowed from another game series, has him able to scale buildings and trounce across rooftops. It's a neat little package of driving, shooting, climbing, blowing shit up and boobies, but each of the fundamental portions of the game - borrowed from other titles in the field - are less than their inspired point of origin. Well, with the exception of the motion-captured dances - these are actually the strongest part of the game, I kid you not.
As far as structure goes, you're dished out various missions from various points of interest; helping the resistance and so forth. You can also run about freely on your own without being told to get back into the thick of the game's narrative, which is a nice touch, and there's nothing wrong with creatively killing krauts, but the sum of the game's parts, just don't go together to make a completely consistent gaming experience.
Aurally the soundtrack is actually very good, with an amazing score befitting the time-period (reminded me of classic Indy), while the voice-acting throughout is definitely passable, though at times a little cheesy and over-delivered. And visually it's a mixed bag. Sean's animations are stiff and almost digital like. NPCs don't really seem to have a sense of destination or a goal - they just potter about walking to and fro, or just stand and stare at topless girls feeling themselves up (unlike those in GTA IV). Car damage is also inconsistent, and explosions and environmental damage need a lot more work.
But in saying all of that, The Saboteur is still a very bold undertaking for Pandemic, and given their track record, they've done a great job here. It's a shame they're gone because it's clear this could have become a robust new series for them and EA, with their next update clearly moving in better and more competent directions ("lessons learnt" and all that).
It's not a game to really snub your nose up at, and in this day and age where no mature game is safe in Australia, you'd be remiss to ignore a game with sooo much bewbage (purely because it's something that has never existed like this before), but you'd also be remiss to ignore one of Australia's late, great developer's final works, and an indication they may have been heading in very good directions.