The saboteur is an action adventure video game developed by pandemic studios and published by electronic arts in 2009. Set in 1942, it follows the story of Sean Devlin, a Scottish mechanic, who’s forced to flee Italy and come to Paris where he fights German Nazis assisted by a British spy. Critical reception of the game showed mostly positive reviews and it was praised for its art style and story setting descriptions.
The game opens with a bit of throwback in the narrative. Sean goes head to head to against German officer Kurt Dierker in the Grand Prix and just as he’s about to win the race, he is unfairly shot down by the Aryan supremacist Dierker who goes on to win the race. Infuriated, Sean and his best friend Jules sneak into the factory to sabotage Dierker’s car, but they are caught and tortured by Dierker, who proceeds to kill Jules in front of Sean. Sean escapes the factory and is forced to flee Italy, vowing revenge on Kurt Dierker.
Fast forward three months and Sean finds himself living in Nazi occupied Paris, where he is approached by the local resistance leader to join the fightback and help with killing gestapo officers and sabotage their operations. As plots thicken and enemies intensify, Sean is forced to adapt to his new family and city and ultimately avenge Jules death by killing Dierker.
The game reintroduces mechanics of several popular third person adventure games like the driving and running from grand theft auto, the wall strafing and parkour from Assassins creed, and the weapon handling system from Bioshock. This gives players the freedom to play and experiment with a variety of activities, which do inevitably creep up in missions that you can’t avoid doing if you want to progress through the game. Various game-play elements are also introduced only to be repeated in later missions with the difficulty ramped up, or with some sort of twist. These include (and not limited to) sniping, stealth movement, bombing, racing, shooting and item customization. A majority of the game play experience is Sean trying to escape high level alarms, either by patient stealth or by brute force. Another aspect of the experience is the noticeably increasing difficulty of the enemy guards, who just get tougher and tougher as the game progresses. They would be impossible to kill if you haven’t upgraded your weapons by visiting specific ammunition depots. Navigation around different districts of Paris is made simple with a rotating map (with highlighted paths to whatever destination required) which is at the bottom of the screen. All of these factors combined with the narrative course make for a compelling and entertaining experience.
The visual and aesthetic design of the game is one of its most engaging and unique aspects. Since Sean’s missions are set in Paris and its suburbs, the areas can be clearly divided into those districts which are under German occupancy and those which are not. The goal by the end of the game is to free the entire city of Nazi control. The entire game is set in a neo-noir environment, where the only colors are the red or blue arm bands that differentiate the German guards and the French Revolutionaries. By ridding the area of Germans, you restore color to that part of the city; the idea being that Sean’s anti-Nazi Heroics inspire the citizens to stand their own and fight back. So when you are being chased by SS Police Vans and Tanks you get more assistance from the city if you lead them to a colorful area and start a fightback.
The gray/black tone of the game interspersed with moments of vibrant color is a sparkling idea and also a refreshing change from most other action-adventure games which are charged with lots of explosions, graphics and the whole shebang. It also makes sense in the bigger picture of the game as adds to the flow, which keeps itself pretty steady. This is because at any point of the game, you have one primary objective and several secondary objectives, which gives the player a sense of freedom to decide what to do currently and virtually throws monotonous out of the window.
Other minor aspects of the game are also notably mentionable. The sounds and music keep up with the theme of the game and are well thought-out. Tracks can only be heard while you’re driving some automobile, but they are very catchy and also have the Jazz-era vibe, which make you look forward to the next time you get into a car. Fonts used in the Game’s User Interface as well as the objects in the world are delicious to look and interact with. They have also invested a lot of time in the voice actors, as several different accurately delivered European accents waft through the game (they do make sure that everyone speaks English though). Tiny details such as these go a long way into the total entertainment.
If the game has any criticism, it would be about the run and jump mechanic. It is the same key control that we’re used to on other games, but The Saboteur makes it a tad harder, requiring us to jump-run at a very precise point to successfully pull it off. This is frustrating because a regular gamer is used to the intelligent jump-sense in the game which allows a bandwidth of time to press the space bar to trigger the jump accurately. I was stuck at a point of the game where Sean had to leap across a flight of stairs which were on fire, in which timing was crucial. After a good ten minutes I did manage to nail it and was extremely cautious for the rest of the duration of the game.
Overall, this game is an artwork on wheels, as supported by the ratings received by IGN and GameSpot. If you’re a Europe-aficionado or even someone who’s keen on world War 2 history like I am then you definitely must not miss this game. Or, you know, like Sean says, “Just ignore the Mick with the bomb”.