The Saboteur

Sin City. Grand Theft Auto. Inglorious Basterds. Moulin Rouge. Indiana Jones. Daniel O’Donnell. All these things seem to inform Pandemic’s World War II-set open world kill-’em-up.

It’s German-occupied Paris as a big-budget action movie: explosions, preening Nazi race drivers, base-jumping off the Eiffel Tower and sexy secret agents. By which we mean it’s trashier than a gossip magazine. But that’s not necessarily a kiss of death. A freely-roamable re-creation of 1940s Paris is the game’s heart, soul, star and redemption; a blend of the iconic and (to games, at least) the unfamiliar: a place.

Nominally, Irish racer Sean Devlin is the game’s hero, an unconvincingly accented cheeky chappie out for revenge, who finds himself lending a hand to the French resistance in the process. We’re not convinced he’s as hyper-cool as the developers may think, and he’s upstaged by the streets and sights of Nazi-flecked Paris. Again, this is no bad thing. The more of a cipher he is, the better: no-one wants Sean Connery interrupting their sightseeing tour of this incredible city.

What Devlin does do, is provide the means to interact with this place of gothic spires and looming iron art-towers. He has a repertoire of skills that sprawls far beyond open-world games’ traditional shoot/jump/drive/punch. He’s a man of stealth, a baby Agent 47: sneaking, silent, hiding until trouble passes, and even borrowing uniforms from his victims. Vast swathes of The Saboteur can be conquered without engaging in a direct firefight – it’s a game that wants you to play as you choose. You’ll win stealth-specific upgrades for going consistently unnoticed, for instance.

Whether your preferred form of Nazi humiliation is direct or silent, there’s a vast choice of how to travel to it. Walk the streets, drive a selection of ’40s gas-chuzzlers or traverse the rooftops – Assassin’s Creed is another highlighted member of Saboteur’s complicated family tree. Exploration is the key draw, and if somewhere’s absolutely locked down by the Nazis, it’ll appear black, white and gloomy. But if you’ve caused enough carnage to help the people largely win it back, it’s rendered in over-saturated, almost impressionist colors. Visit one of these locales and you can expect help from the liberated locals, rather than being a badly brogued lone gun.

So The Saboteur’s simultaneously tickling us in all the right places and putting us off with all the boobs and banality of its presentation. It’s hard to judge which element is going to win out, but Pandemic (with the Mercenaries series) have a fine track record of making games that are no-brainer giggles, even if they’re not masters of tasteful, shiny surfaces.

Nov 20, 2009