World War II is one of the most overused settings for videogames. It’s easy to see the attraction – black-and-white morality, lots of action, and interesting locations and events. The Saboteur, however, is a far more interesting take on the concept than usual. It’s set in occupied Paris and surrounding countryside (nary a D-day beach landing in sight!) which is a superb setting in which the protagonist, the titular Saboteur, can run, drive and climb his way around in order to vanquish the Nazis.
Speaking of the protagonist, meet Sean ‘Shamus Micky O’Flanagan’ Devlin, winner of the 1940 World’s Most Irish Man competition. He’s got a brogue so strong you could make shoes out of it, drinks more than Yeltsin and eats shamrocks for breakfast. This isn’t an isolated incident; the game is stuffed to the gills with stereotypes. There’s an aristocratic Brit, some comically villainous Nazis’, who seem to delight in evil acts, torture for the sake of it, and speak ‘movie German’, which primarily consists of ‘Schnell!’ ‘Verboten!’ and some other comical phrases. Oh, and there’s the French, who act like… well, French people. They talk about whine and baguettes, and cycle everywhere wearing a beret with onions hanging from around their necks. Not really.
The plot goes something like this: You’re a racecar driver who lost his last race because an evil German driver shot out his wheel. He decides to get revenge, but ends up getting captured by the Germans, and in the process, his best friend is killed by the German driver, who turns out to be an S.S. general called Kurt Dierker . Now, he’s vowed revenge and has teamed up with the French Resistance, who all seem to be a bunch of incompetent morons who can only function when someone is doing everything for them.
Three paragraphs in and I haven’t started talking about the gameplay. Must be some sort of record. Anyway, the game mainly consists of running around (fine), driving (fine), shooting (half-baked), stealth (poorly implemented), climbing around like an Irish Altair (clunky) and brawling (so bad as to be nearly unusable). That’s a succinct summary, let me elucidate.
As you’re a saboteur, you spend some of your time blowing stuff up. You carry dynamite around, with which you can blow up various fuel depots, sniper and guard towers, armoured units and sundry other Nazi accoutrements. This can lead to some interesting emergent gameplay, with your sabotage leading to firefights in the street, and you can call in your Resistance buddies to ruin the Germans’ day. To encourage you to do this, there’s a perks system, which imbibes the player with various advantages if gameplay criteria are fulfilled, like a steadier aim if you kill enough guys with a sniper scope, which is a good way of encouraging the player to do different stuff.
The driving’s OK, and you can steal cars and return them to a garage which adds them to your ‘collection’. Bizarrely, unlike, for example, Grand Theft Auto, vehicular theft and homicide carry no penalty. If you kill enough civilians, you might earn an ‘atrocity’ (the antithesis of a perk, which garners you negative consequences), but this is infrequent, and not forefront in your mind as you blast down the pavement with the Krauts in hot pursuit, a stream of hot lead pouring from the motorcycle’s machine gun. The cars all seem peculiarly immune to damage as well, but that doesn’t really bother me.
The game’s primary gimmick is a system whereby the game world is black-and-white, apart from various points of light, and reds, like the Nazi’s flags, or blood. As you complete story missions, colour begins to return to the world, apparently representing the lifted spirits of the people (or something). It didn’t really make much of a difference gameplay-wise, but it did look cool.
However, the game is littered with problems. The stealth, which involved sneaking up on Nazis, killing them and stealing their uniforms to make it easier to sneak around didn’t work that well, because apparently they get suspicious even if you are disguised. The climbing, especially when compared to something like Assassin’s Creed, just feels dated. The brawling works about as well as a car without wheels, an engine, doors, windows or anything which might make it look like a car. It’s truly awful, and trying to hit a Nazi is like trying to think of another terrible simile to put here. There is one good move – if you climb to the top of a tower, you can grab the guy on top and throw him off. Which is rather good fun.
The main trouble the game has is that if it had been polished just a bit more, all the creases ironed out, all the clipping issues, the pop-in, the terrible cliches that pepper the dialogue, it could have been not just a good game, but a great game. As it is, it’s solid, very enjoyable, but sadly doesn’t fully realise its potential. You should still go and play it, though.