The Saboteur PS3 Review

I’ve been sitting here wracking my brains over something. Possibly you can help. It’s just that I simply can’t think of a single other game that opens with a woman dancing in nipple tassels in a burlesque club filled to bursting with carousing Nazis. In fact, I can’t even think of a movie or novel that opens with nipple tassels and Nazis in the same room, expect possibly for rather specialist materials which I’m not going to comment on. I canvassed the editor on your behalf, dear reader, to allow me to open my review with something similar, but apparently it needs to be a pretty Parisian woman wearing said tassels, not a 24 year old Northern Irish video games enthusiast. Shame.

Anyway, The Saboteur does indeed open with French strippers and drunken Nazis. It quickly throws in an angry gravel-voiced protagonist, a driving section, an Assassin’s Creed-style climbing mechanic, a stealth section and an explosion within…oh…about three minutes of gameplay. It becomes evident very quickly that The Saboteur is not a subtle game. Not by a long shot.

The Saboteur is a game being released into a packed marketplace. Off the top of my head, the game is trying to muscle in between Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, No More Heroes, inFamous and Crackdown. If a completely fresh IP is to make a splash in such waters it needs to be something really special. It’s a shame for The Saboteur that it nearly, but not quite, makes it. That’s not to say it’s a terrible game, but you can’t help but feel that another 6 months in the developer’s studio wouldn’t have hurt. Admittedly, this cannot be, seeing as the developer, Pandemic is no more, but still it’s a shame.

Okay, where to start? How about the driving mechanics? The bread and butter of the Grand Theft Auto clone – let’s face it, most of the missions in these games are of the ‘drive from A to B to kill C’. If it hasn’t got a spunky driving mechanic then it hasn’t got a chance. Well, behind the wheel the game controls quite well. It’s a good balance between Saints Row 2 arcade and GTA IV slide-y realism. However, the World War 2 setting means that most of the cars handle like tubs – a problem that similarly affected the otherwise entertaining Godfather games. The city streets have many sharp hills to climb, which weirdly the camera struggles to cope with. Driving along at speed through such sections causes it to bob up and down rapidly, which I imagine could induce motion sickness with ease and makes actually seeing where you’re going during a chase a surprising challenge.

And once you get from A to B and C is quivering before you, it’s time to test out the combat. Again, it’s nearly there. Without a gun, Sean (the aforementioned gravelly voiced lump you pilot into walls and such) uses a very simple melee combat system. You have a fast punch, a slow punch, a kick and a grapple move. At this point, the game really quite fancies itself as a Batman: Arkham Asylum clone – you can switch between enemies quickly to keep control of the pack. Unfortunately, it doesn’t share Batman’s grace or power, with the blows feeling sluggish and vague when they connect. There’s little strategy beyond hammering buttons at random. Snatch up a gun and the game shows some Gears of War influence with over the shoulder, snap to cover gunplay. On the most part, this part works, though not much distinguishes one gun from the other and Sean has a habit of leaving his head sticking up to get shot when trying to shelter behind low walls and boxes.

The Saboteur is a game that really likes to talk. Despite its love of shooting, explosions and general mayhem, it also has pretentions to a semi-serious plotline. After the first half-mission in Paris (which takes about three minutes as already mentioned), the game catapults you back to pre-War France to establish a few minor plot details – like who you are, what you’re after and why there’s no colour outside the whore house. Minor things like that. Anyway, cue thirty minutes of driving, talking, cut-scenes, sex and a comedy Aryan racing driver arch nemesis who brutally murders your best buddy because you drove his racing car off a cliff. The murder literally drains the colour from the world and you single-handedly drive through the Nazi invasion of France to pick up your other buddies from their farm. No, really. Now, I don’t normally complain about silly plots in games, but The Saboteur really doesn’t know where it wants to be standing. It jumps back and forth across the silly-line without really deciding where it should be. One moment the player is giggling at the evil Germanic thug in his tight leather racing trousers, then the next second you’re having a serious moment over the body of your fallen buddy. In theory, this could be very entertaining, but the transition is too jarring, too much of a disconnect.

What else then? Well, one of the most striking features of the game is its art style, and has proved to be the biggest draw in the promotional material released before the game appeared. Similar to Red Faction Guerrilla, you are fighting not just to kill Nazis but to liberate territory from their evil grasp. Before the Parisian streets are liberated from the enemy, they are rendered in a superb film noir black and white, with the occasional splash of colour in the form of Nazi banners, tank barrels and blood. The game looks at its best in this mode, with a great atmosphere that suits the sneaky bits (with a nod to the Hitman series obsession with stealing uniforms). Once you liberate the area, though, colour returns to the city streets. What you realise then is that the black and white effect was effectively masking the ugly textures of the buildings and the jaggy edges on everything from the cars to the pedestrians. It’s a very strange thing, in that completing the game actually defeats the game’s aesthetic. I honestly cannot think of another game that does the same.

Truly, The Saboteur is a difficult game to pin down. There’s a fair amount of content there for those willing to turn a blind eye to the rough edges, and it does turn up the occasional moment of old-school war-time pulp action sequences that are worth the price of admission. There’s just too many of those damned rough spots that cause friction for the average gamer. Also, the immaturity of the game, with its foul-mouth and enthusiasm for wanton breasts will push away the more conscientious players amongst you. At the end of it, though, The Saboteur suffers from just one major flaw – everything it does has been done better elsewhere. From the superior free-running and climbing of the Assassin’s Creed games to the idiotic action-ness of Saints Row 2, everything it touches is just a step behind its peers. To sum it up in three words: it’s a shame.