‘The Saboteur’ Review – Boom Goes The Dynamite

Releasing mere weeks after the closure of its development house, “The Saboteur” is a literal post-mortem for Pandemic Studios. And while it lacks the polish of open world games like “Assassin’s Creed 2″ and “Infamous,” its unique art style and sandbox-style gameplay make it one of the developer’s strongest releases.

The Basics

“The Saboteur” is set in and around Paris during World War II. You take on the role of Sean Devlin, a car mechanic turned race car driver turned freedom fighter. After a nasty run in with the Nazis, Sean has a big time chip on his shoulder, and takes on the mission of bringing down the Third Reich, piece by piece. All of this goes down in an open world, GTA-esque landscape which gives players the freedom to explore and explode at will.

The Highs

A New Look For World War II
Contrary to games like “Call of Duty: World at War” or “Medal of Honor,” “The Saboteur takes a very different stylistic angle on World War II. The game isn’t very realistic, with buxom blonde spies, evil Nazi race car drivers and over-the-top airborne zeppelin escapes. It’s basically a comic book take on the war, and it adds a lot of charm and newness to a genre that’s been played to death. Also, the concept of going from color to black and white when you enter occupied zones works flawlessly and really gives you the a great sense of oppression, and a greater sense of reward when you bring the color back to the world.

Sean is able to unlock perks throughout his adventures by completing certain tasks. Blowing up 5 German vehicles with dynamite in under 300 seconds, or killing 5 Nazi generals without an alarm sounding, will unlock new abilities and equipment for Sean. It’s extremely clever in that it gives players a reason to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, beyond just getting achievements. A reason to bring the Nazis to level 5 alert and escape (which unlocks the ability to hide much easier from future alerts). Oftentimes I found myself ignoring the main quest line, just trying to nab as many perks as I could get in one shot.

Free Play Targets
The name is a little misleading, but Free Play in “The Saboteur” basically indicates that there are objectives you can do at any time, whether you’re in a mission or not. These include blowing up sniper towers or anti-aircraft guns, assassinating generals or simply hitting super sweet jumps in a car. There are about 1,000 of these free play missions, and completists can purchase maps at the black market which add a white dot at every free play target. Like the perks, I found these targets more compelling and enjoyable than the structured missions of the game, which is good news, as it’ll take you way longer to finish all of these than it will to complete the story.

The Lows

Structured Missions
“The Saboteur” succeeds when it’s not directing you by the nose. Unfortunately once you start taking missions from people the game feels more like a “GTA” knock-off and less like its own creature. There are some incredible set pieces, but the gameplay within them often devolves into mindless shooter territory, and the shooting mechanics in the game simply aren’t that great. And sure, you can use stealth, stealing Nazi uniforms, but that usually results in a slow, plodding walk to your target as you desperately try to avoid dozens of guards.

Core Gameplay Mechanics
Like “Mercenaries 2,” this game’s mechanics are serviceable but never great. Shooting, running and driving feels floaty, and climbing up the sides of buildings feels like a chore (especially coming off the incredible fluidity of “Assassin’s Creed 2″). That’s not to mention the dumb-as-rocks AI, which tends to stand still as you snipe them in the head. These elements generally just act as stop gaps in between the joys of blowing up Nazis.

Final Word

It’s strange that, despite these seemingly major issues, I still feel compelled to play “The Saboteur,” even after writing this review. There is a lot that works in this game, especially the world they’ve created and the open-ended nature of the free play missions, which offer up enough gameplay on their own to justify at least a rental, if not a purchase. It’s definitely a case of this game being better than the sum of its parts, even if it will probably be overshadowed by bigger releases this holiday season.