Jun 222011
 

Major gaming outlets fight to get their reviews published on the day of a game’s release and often can’t play a game to its entirety, particularly for RPGs or sandbox games. The “No Rush” Gamer is what I hope to be a regular series of articles about older games that are now out of the spotlight but still deserving of your attention.

In the past few years, I’ve become a fanatic of two types of games – sandbox, where you can do whatever you want in any order, and parkour, where you climb and jump from building to building as well as walk through the streets. Sandbox games often take place in large areas to allow you to progress through the game as you wish. Arguably, the most popular examples are Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, the Saints Row series, and more recently L.A. Noire. The most popular parkour games are without a doubt the Assassins Creed series. One of the best mixes of these genres is the swan song The Saboteur from the now-defunct Pandemic Studios.

Set during World War II, The Saboteur is a third-person game in which you drive through the streets or run along the rooftops of a Nazi-occupied Paris as Irish race car driver Sean Delvin, who is modeled after real-life racer and Special Operations Executive William Grover-Williams. After losing a race thanks to sabotage courtesy of a rival racer Kurt Dierker, Delvin and his best friend Jules Rousseau get some revenge by pushing Dierker’s car over the edge of a cliff. Little do they know that Dierker is Nazi colonel. After being captured, Dierker kills Rousseau during interrogation. After escaping to Paris, Devlin joins the French Resistance as he bides his time to get revenge on Dierker.

Unlike the vast majority of World War II games, The Saboteur doesn’t involve mercilessly gunning down Nazis while ducking under cover with your fellow soldiers while continuously under fire on the front line. Whereas you certainly can (and do) get into plenty of gunfights with the Nazi occupiers, The Saboteur takes a different approach by making climbing on just about any building and running stealthily along Parisian rooftops your weapons of choice, hence why this is a game for just about any Assassins Creed fan, as you attempt to rally the Parisian people to resist the occupiers.

That’s not to say that there are no action sequences. In fact, the main campaign has you getting into plenty of gunfights in various locations – caves, makeshift prisons, even out in the open. You also have to deal with several car chases and even a few races through the streets of Paris or into the Parisian countryside.

Typical of sandbox games, you can engage in several different side quests, including finding postcards of various landmarks, driving in some races on their own tracks, and even playing an homage to the original Nintendo Duck Hunt (without the dog that you often want to shoot more than the ducks). All of these have their own perks associated with them when completed.

The most fun of all of the side quests for me is the destruction of various Nazi fortifications and equipment including propaganda speakers, sniper towers, and fuel depots. Hundreds of these are scattered throughout the map, and I found myself getting diverted from the main storyline on multiple occasions to blow these up whenever I saw them. There is something satisfying in setting a timed charge at the base of a tower, running a safe distance, then watching the whole thing come down, Nazi guards and all.

 

As you cause disturbances or if you’re caught in secure areas, the enemy’s alert level goes up, which causes more Germans to come after you – even onto the rooftops. Eventually, you can end up with the Luftwaffe sending zeppelins and other aircraft after you. If you can’t get outside the alert area without being seen, you can always duck into one of the many hiding spots that are scattered about until the alert clears.

As you progress and achieve various successes, you can unlock different perks to help you along your way. For example, if you successfully assassinate several Nazi colonels stealthily, you gain the ability to do a quick stab, which will silently kill Nazis in the open while giving you a few seconds to get away before he falls to the ground. Other perks include additional ammo, more destructive weaponry, extended delays on time bombs, and for forth.

One of the most intriguing parts of The Saboteur, however, is the graphical style. Although Paris is completely controlled by the Nazis, areas where the Resistance does not have influence are displayed in black-and-white; areas with high Resistance influence are in full color. The Nazi soldiers who walk through the streets are more brazen in the black-and-white areas, often found lining up innocent Parisians to be shot or to be taken away as prisoners, and the skies are dark and foreboding. In areas with Resistance influence, the Nazis walk along the streets and don’t bother anyone, and the skies are always a brilliant blue. As the campaign progresses and sections of Paris and the countryside gain Resistance influence, the cutscene shows color enveloping the surrounding area in an outgoing ripple as though the Nazi influence is being washed away. While driving or walking, the transition from one section to another is gradual so that you might not even notice the change until after you’ve made the transition. The effect is quite satisfying.

The environment is loaded with the music and sounds of the times, with the radio playing songs of Big Band era greats like Ella Fitzgerald; however, it’s pretty evident to a tuned ear that the majority of music is performed by contemporary artists. I don’t understand why they didn’t license more authentic music from that era. I can’t imagine it would have been that expensive. Still, the music fades to the background when I see another Nazi sniper tower that’s calling out to be blown up.

If you buy the game new for PS3 or Xbox 360, you will get a code that can unlock “The Midnight Show”. For those who get the game used, the DLC is available for roughly $3 on either PSN or XBL. The PC version should get this for free. This bit of DLC gives extra brothels and hiding spots as well as the ability to render all of the women topless in the brothels and in the theatre that acts as your hideout.

The game isn’t perfect, though. Car chases through Paris are frustrating because it’s very evident that the game puts Nazi vehicles directly in the path that you’re expected to take, meaning that you can’t simply outrun them with some smooth driving. You must take side roads to avoid your pursuers, but even then the game still intentionally puts Nazis in your path.

Because of another goofy bug, you will learn which wall textures you can and cannot climb. I ran into a few incidents when climbing various buildings where the section that I wanted to climb only went up to Devlin’s chest, but he was still unable to climb it. After a few moments of frustration I noticed that the texture wasn’t that of walls on which you can climb. After moving to the section right next to it (which was higher) I was able to get on the roof.

Even though most Americans can’t tell the difference between the various accents on the whole of the UK, my ear is more adept at such things. A discerning ear will find that Devlin’s accent screams “I’m good enough for Americans!” Irish natives will probably end up rolling their eyes. At least it’s not nearly as bad as Dick Van Dyke’s so-called “Cockney” accent!

Although not a flaw in and of itself, once all objectives are achieved all Nazi emplacements are destroyed, and all tasks are done, there’s really nothing left to do. I suppose that’s the case for most open-world games, but even Red Dead Redemption gives me plenty of gorgeous scenery to ride through and plenty of casino games to play. The only thing to do with The Saboteur when you’ve accomplished everything is to shelve, sell, or restart the game.

These relatively minor flaws do not tarnish a very unique-looking and fun game. It’s just too bad that Pandemic couldn’t survive long enough to make a sequel or some DLC for it. I’d love the opportunity to blow up more German emplacements.

A lot of open-world goodness exists in The Saboteur. Fans of the Assassins Creed and even Splinter Cell series will find a lot to like in this unique take on WWII games.