Impressions: The Saboteur

A screenshot from Pandemic's The Saboteur

The Saboteur is an upcoming, single-player, open-world action game developed by Pandemic Studios (Destroy All Humans!, Mercenaries 2) and published by Electronic Arts. You play Sean Devlin, an Irish race-car driver caught in France as it’s invaded by the Nazis. Sean gets tangled up with the resistance in the pursuit of a MacGuffin which his racing nemesis—coincidentally enough, a Nazi—is also after. I got a chance to try it out at a recent Sony press event.

Though The Saboteur is an action game set during the Second World War, it stands out, in screenshots particularly, for its use of colour. Areas under Nazi control are drained of colour, black and white except for occasional red or blue highlights. They remain black and white until Sean is able to defeat the occupiers, after which they become colourful and full of grateful pedestrians. In this way it’s like Ōkami (or Pleasantville), and different from many other brown-and-grey WWII games.

The game is played from a third-person perspective, and consists of shooting, driving, acrobatics, and stealth: mechanics borrowed from other games such as Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto. Much of the game takes place in large sections of Paris, and Sean will have to drive to get around. On foot, he’s no slouch, and can vault over walls and climb up buildings by grabbing ledges and signs. This allows him to escape, explore, and take in the sights from the rooftops.

Though primarily an action shooter, Sean does not always run and gun. He can disguise himself and wander among enemies for a while, as long as he doesn’t act conspicuously. He can also sneak up on and kill Nazis in a bunch of satisfying ways without alerting the other guards, though tossing a guard over a railing or swinging a rifle at his head as if it were T-ball doesn’t seem very stealthy to me. Fortunately, the other Nazis do not hear snapping bones very well. Their awareness and patrol areas are represented on a mini-map, so even when things get hot, Sean can avoid trouble by staying outside of their little circles of suspicion.

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I saw others play through early levels, infiltrating a car factory, running through a burlesque house, and the various elements appeared to work well together. Players went from shooting to driving to brawling and back again smoothly. When I sat down to play, I had not yet seen much experimenting in the open world, and so I played off the beaten path.

I was given a mission later in the game, set in the harbour town of Le Havre. After being briefed, I was given a truck, a Nazi officer’s uniform, and an objective. On my way, I saw a mean-looking tank parked by the road, guarded by four Nazis. I hopped out of the truck, jogged behind the nearest guard, and before he could get too suspicious of my disguise, pummelled him unconscious. I walked over to the other side of the tank and did the same to the other guard. I then found out that I couldn’t get into the tank; and someone had spotted the dead guards from a nearby guard tower. I found cover but was soon overtaken. While I watched Sean die, I thought “Man, if only I’d been able to get in that tank…”

The world was big and pretty, but not as reactive as I had expected. There were some nice details (a woman mourning over a grave in a nearby cemetery), but the focus appears be on the missions and not experimentation (the woman didn’t say anything when I jumped next to and on the grave.) It remains to be seen whether or not that aspect of the game will live up to its looks.

The Saboteur looks good: the black-and-white is moody, and the free areas are bright and colourful. Though its the mechanics of shooting, driving, and sneaking aren’t deep, they blend together and work well in the missions.

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The Saboteur is slated for release on December 8th for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

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