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The Saboteur review

Killing Nazis has never been this frustratingly fun

The phrase above borders on cliche. The phrase above has been leveled at GTA and GTA clones for nearly a decade now. Yet the phrase above so perfectly summarizes The Saboteur’s gameplay – both good and bad – that we can think of no other way to begin discussing it.

Here’s a list of everything Sean Devlin can do:

•Shoot Nazis with the usual arsenal of pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles and rocket launchers.
•Sneak up behind Nazis, breaking their neck or pounding the back of their head for an instant stealth kill.
•Disguise himself in various Nazi uniforms in order to access restricted areas and avoid confrontation.
•Hide, or blend, into safe spots when the Nazi alarm has been triggered.
•Climb buildings, run across rooftops and zipline between towers.
•Plant timed explosives in order to sabotage Nazi installations spread across the city: tanks, artillery, radar stations, etc.
•Hijack, then use your garage to collect, any car you see on the street, including Nazi jeeps and motorcycles.
•Race competitively through Paris and the surrounding French countryside.

So that’s Grand Theft Auto, Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, Hitman and maybe even a little Red Faction: Guerrilla… all rolled into one game. In theory? Awesome. In reality? Where a single design team can only do so much with so much money and so much time? Well… still pretty cool, but not as awesome as you’re probably imagining.

The Saboteur’s biggest flaw is that it tries to do too much and, as a result, ends up doing too little. The game borrows the best ideas from the best competitors, but then fails to execute them as masterfully. The shooting is not as fun as GTA’s… Sean can’t lock on to his targets, or easily aim for specific body parts, while the blood is cartoony and the weapons lack oomph. The stealth is not as effective as Splinter Cell’s… once in disguise, you literally just hold down the “walk like a Nazi” button and move carefully around annoyingly sensitive alert radiuses. The climbing is not as intuitive as Assassin’s Creed’s… you have to hit the same button over and over again to move upwards, and Sean’s jumping animation is laughable. Finally, the explosives are not as satisfying as something like Red Faction’s… you can destroy specific targets on the map, but the environment as a whole is not destructible in any way.

Perhaps these comparisons are unfair, but when a game like this is so clearly inspired by others, they’re hard not to make while playing. Each of the described activities is certainly implemented well enough to be entertaining enough; we just wish the design team had limited their ambition and focused on perfecting a few less.

Something The Saboteur does better than the majority of its competition, though, is provide you with choice. Games are constantly promising that players can tackle missions from any angle, and in any manner, but here is one that actually delivers. Of course, you may only discover this truth by dying in frustration so many times that you try a completely different strategy out of sheer desperation… but it’s a truth nonetheless.

Above: That’s one option…

Remember that book-burning general, for example? He’s surrounded by security, but otherwise out in the open. The first time we completed the mission, we stole a Nazi uniform , crept carefully past every guard, planted a bomb on the general’s tank and then triggered the explosion once we’d snuck back out. The second time, we simply sniped his head off from the street. Later, when the game asked us to destroy a base full of radar stations, we originally – and secretly – planted sabotage bombs on every building, running away and returning when things got too hot. It took an hour. Then we reloaded and hijacked a nearby artillery gun instead; it reduced the base to rubble in mere seconds.

Above: Here’s another

The Saboteur isn’t always clear with mission instructions, which can be frustrating, but this is why. You make up your own instructions.

Like any open-world game, The Saboteur also gives you plenty of side stuff to tackle between story missions. There’s a perk system that rewards you for hitting certain milestones (like running over 20 Nazis with a vehicle) or encourages you to attempt new daredevilry (like assassinating 5 Nazi generals while in disguise). Succeed and you’ll receive extra cars, extra weapons, extra gadgets and extra skills. Our favorite is the “touch of death.”

There are also bonus “freeplay” objectives – enemy installations that can be destroyed at any time – scattered everywhere across the map. Driving to your safehouse and notice a propaganda speaker? Jump out, plant a bomb and drive away. Snatching a sniper’s uniform in the middle of a larger, more important mission? Set a charge on his tower’s ladder on the way down and – bam – you’ve taken care of another one.

Blowing these things up is addictive as hell… at least until you realize the sheer, overwhelming, ridiculously stupid number of them.

Above: Yup, all of those white dots are “freeplay” objectives. And that’s not even the whole map!

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The Saboteur is a charming mess. Yes, the unpolished gameplay can be frustrating and, yes, the storytelling can be silly. But as soon as we drove through the gorgeously stylized Paris – then jumped out of our nitro-fueled racecar to snap a unsuspecting Nazi’s neck – we didn’t care anymore. For us, the good overwhelmed the bad.

PlatformPS3, PC, Xbox 360
US censor ratingMature
UK censor rating18+
Release date8 December 2009 (US), 4 December 2009 (UK)


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