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It’s A Sabotage

Sean Devlin: Irishman. Race-car driver. Terrorist.

If that last word brought on a tiny bit of a wince, then you’ve just reacted the same way as I did when I first encountered EA Games’ The Saboteur. Sure, the game might be set in Paris during World War II (with Nazis as the bad guys, so killing them is a good thing), but there are still some connotations that don’t sit particularly well, and that’s one of them. To get away with something like that, you’ve got to have a pretty good game, or at the very least, one that’s incredibly fun to play.

But “fun” is an unusual concept for The Saboteur: set in Nazi-occupied Paris, it features an unusual combination of gameplay and styles, checking all the boxes on the driving-platforming-shooting list and attempting to combine them together into something rich and gritty. The game puts players in control of Sean Devlin, an Irish racing driver (with a dubious past, obviously) who finds himself caught up in the French resistance during World War II. He’s not without his own motivations though, with the game beginning as Sean attempts to drown his sorrows over the death of his close friend, which through no small act of fortune happens on the eve of the German invasion of France and at the hands of a German driver.

With the story laid on thick (and somewhat predictably), the game leaves us to explore open world of Paris and its neighbouring countryside and in many ways, becomes a standard sandbox affair: with the Germans as the villains, Sean is taking them down left, right and centre, whether it’s climbing to the top of a building for a sniper mission, simply driving from one section of the city to another, or something far more explosive. There are both story missions and side missions, either unlocking perks or more weapons or vehicles for Sean to use. But regardless of the mission’s content, the goal is all painfully similar, whether it’s assassinating a prominent Nazi , ferrying resistance members from one part of the city to another or retrieving equipment. The story missions aren’t too different, with most of them just increasing the stakes by a small bit, making Sean’s target an entire base to be sabotaged rather than just one vehicle.

Sean’s success in freeing Paris is measured by the game’s unfortunately-named WTF factor, standing here for “Will To Fight. Under German oppression, the streets of Paris are portrayed in muted greys, with Nazi iconography and red flags standing out as the only colours. But as Sean’s actions restore Paris to the French resistance, hope is also restored, with the colours returning to the streets and even affecting gameplay by encouraging some of the bystanders (or nearby resistance members) to help Sean if he runs into a bit too much trouble.

There’s very little in terms of actual variety or complexity to The Saboteur, which is unfortunate because it could easily prove the game’s saving grace: while driving, fighting and shooting are all important parts of the story’s progression, all are incredibly simple to execute, and the game doesn’t really provide a learning curve or increasing levels of difficulty, and in some cases, the game even appears to contradict itself. While there’s an emphasis on sneaking in the game’s mechanics, both by wearing disguises and not indulging in any illegal activities when guards are nearby, it’s often frustratingly inconsistent: some things can only be done in plain view while others expect the suspension of such disbelief that Sean can’t be seen around  the edge of a car.

Equally frustrating is the game’s method of transportation: with vintage cars a-plenty on the streets of Paris, the game is a car-lover’s dream, although driving is rarelyanything other than a means of getting from A to B, making an escape, or maybe setting the car on a collision course to take care of a tank. Usually, similar games offer an alternative means of travel for those of us whose video game driving is as bad as our wheel control in real life, but The Saboteur provides no such out: there are no taxis (as in the uncomfortably similar Grand Theft Auto series) and while Sean can take to the rooftops to get around Paris, you’ll probably get there faster just walking directly.

Stylistically, the game provides some beautiful scenery, with the WTF aspect providing a really intriguing and beautiful noir-element (both literally and thematically.) The musical choices for the game add to this, but then there’s the downside: the black and white colouting just makes it too darn difficult to see what’s going on at times. And yes, that even goes for seeing the goddamn road when driving out in the country!

In theory, The Saboteur is a must-have game, but in execution, it needed just a bit more work before it hit consoles. Similarities to Grand Theft Auto IV will abound for anyone who’s played in Liberty City, and the setting alone isn’t quite enough to set the game apart. But hey, who doesn’t like killing Nazis?

Zombie Rating: B-

The Saboteur is available now on Sony PlayStation 3, XBox 360 and PC.

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