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Comedy Nazis, naked ladies, and fast cars - it's all just a day in the life of The Saboteur's Sean Devlin...
- Varied missions
- Naked ladies
- Good setting
- Uninspiring gameplay
- Annoying protagonist
- Too short
Just when you thought comedy Nazis had left videogames forever, EA pulls them back in. We're talking about the sort of Nazis who run around with a flamethrower shouting, "There iz die Saboteur! Ve must get him!" while wearing an unlikely combination of a trench coat and gas mask. Although this archetype is getting a little old now (in fact, pretty much the only time it's been entertaining is in Raiders of the Lost Ark, [ed. Blackadder has been removed from this list, thanks Post no. 13 on the comments], and 'Allo 'Allo!), life would be fairly depressing if you couldn't mock the most evil people in history once in a while, and what better way to do this than with a Celtic protagonist called Sean Devlin?
As his name might suggest, Sean is a bit of a devil. Not so much of a devil that he won't kill Nazis, but enough of a devil to womanise, drink heavily, and swear a lot. More Irish stereotyping comes from Sean's tendency to break into brawling fistfights, but it's all against the Nazis so where's the harm in that? Never mind the fact that Pandemic and EA has effectively insulted most of Ireland's population with the most clichéd and poorly voice-acted Irish character we've ever come across. He's like a leprechaun crossed with Colin Farrell, crossed with Father Jack from TV's much loved Father Ted (only a lot less entertaining than any of them).
Brief respite from Sean's character comes in the form of partially nude burlesque shows in the game's Belle de Nuit gentleman's club/game hub (it's Pandemic's take on the Moulin Rouge). This is perhaps one of the few positives to take out of the game, not just because there's full-on nudity (giggle, giggle) but also because it illustrates how far games have come in the last fifteen years. We're not suggesting that mild pornography is progress; it's just that a decade ago, a fully clothed image of Lara Croft would've been enough to stir up tabloid sensationalism and thousands of complaint letters from the Women's Institute. At least the mobs with pitchforks are willing to turn a blind eye to virtual burlesque shows being downloaded from Xbox Live these days (The Saboteur's no-holds-barred Midnight Show can only be obtained with a free DLC code from the game's manual, which means that you'll have to buy it first-hand from a retailer to see it).
Beyond this mild titillation though, you'll be hard pressed to find anything else that's entertaining in the game. While we'd usually suggest that comedy Nazis and nudity are enough to sell a game by themselves, we simply can't see this lazy mess of a game managing to field a sequel. Its gameplay has essentially been cherry-picked from a number of other far superior sandbox titles, although Pandemic's interpretation of these features is lacklustre and uninspired. A wanted system much like GTA's is let down by two-dimensional AI that makes the ensuing chases mind-numbingly dull, while the ability to climb across the environment (a la Assassin's Creed) is simply a case of constantly tapping 'jump' to clamber onto the ledges of repetitively designed buildings. Occasionally you'll get the opportunity to slide down a guy-rope, but that's about as exciting as things get.
Where the gameplay becomes unmistakably Pandemic is with the combat, which borrows from the gunplay of Mercenaries 2. However, minus the ability to call in airstrikes or fly a helicopter into the side of an oil rig, this combat becomes fairly uninspiring very quickly (not that Mercs 2 was particularly enjoyable in the first place). More troublesome than all of this, though, is the lethargic development effort that's been put into the game. Glitchy environments, amateurishly pasted together sound effects, and cut-scenes with a distinct lack of joie de vivre are commonplace in The Saboteur.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where Pandemic went wrong with the current crop of consoles but there's something undeniably previous-gen in the visuals and presentation of Mercs 2, Lord of the Rings: Conquest, and now The Saboteur. Perhaps tight development cycles have forced the studio to make creative sacrifices, or maybe it's struggled with new technology. Whatever the case, it's just a shame that The Saboteur wasn't a more fitting swansong for the once great developer of Star Wars Battlefront, Full Spectrum Warrior, and the first Mercs game.
Original thinking has been consistently lacking in the studio's projects since it was acquired by EA, and at least The Saboteur takes a stab at some new ideas. The Parisian setting (which later expands deeper into France) is a breath of fresh air - even if the depiction falls far short of the sort of environmental detail in Rockstar's genre-leading GTA IV - while the contrast between black & white visuals for Nazi occupied areas of the map and full colour for regions that the Resistance liberates is a welcome touch. Stealth gameplay has also been thrown-in to mix things up, but where Pandemic provides players with the option of all-out assault or a stealthy approach, it also falls flat on its face due to poor AI, a wanted system that's all too eager to kick-in, and slap-dash design in the set-pieces.
Nazi disguises and the option of attacking from rooftops can often get you into a set-piece unseen, but many of the stealth sections don't allow you to get out as stealthily as you came in and end up with an inevitable escape from a Nazi wanted circle on the map. This tends to leave you with the feeling that all of your stealthy hard work has been in vain, while the barrage of attack from incoming Nazis is irritating to say the least. The Saboteur's bleed-out health system is also a bit of an immersion breaker, as Sean appears to be able to withstand half the Third Reich's combined firepower before he dies. It makes you wonder why you don't just go into every mission like a bull in a china shop, kill the required target/retrieve the required item, and then swan your way out in a getaway vehicle.
Where The Saboteur does do a half decent job is with variation in its missions. There's everything from sniping targets to stalking Nazi generals in order to uncover an informant, and Pandemic even had time to throw in some motor racing against the much feared Kurt Dierker. Speaking of Dierker (Sean's arch nemesis), he features in one of the best sections in the game. After pursuing him onto a Zeppelin (which then proceeds to burst into flames, as Zeppelin's tend to when you fire guns in them), Sean has to fight through the flames and falling scaffolding to try and catch Dierker. The ensuing action sequence has the sort of kinetic feel of Uncharted 2, although this is the one gaming gem in what is otherwise an entirely uninspiring sandbox experience.