Me play Sandbox game 2/2: The Saboteur

5 Feb

What’s the gist? Angry but generally likeable Irish fella Sean Devlin gives up on his motor racing career and tries his luck in the Nazi-murdering industry in occupied Paris after a particularly nasty Aryan kills his buddy. Fortunately, the life of a WW2 expat has granted Sean impressive proficiency with every gun in existence at the time, as well as explosives and any car on the city’s streets. It’s Mercenaries (also by devs Pandemic Studios, who sadly closed after development wrapped) but with burlesque houses and even more stereotypical accents.

Is it any good then? Definitely. Unlike Borderlands it feels every mission and location has had oodles of care and attention put into it. Sure, the pedestrians are French clones and the lip synching is on par with music videos made in GCSE media studies, but the various assassinations, races, deliveries and infiltrations are varied enough to not get stale and fun enough to discourage ragequitting upon failure. This mainly die to the flexible nature of the missions – on my first attempt to destroy a riverside German encampment, I tried using a carbomb to blast my way in and then gun down the Nazis inside before planting my charges. I was shot, a lot. (Sean’s double-hard bastardness extends to hurling himself out of speeding cars and escaping burning Zeppelins, but not a wall of MP40 bullets). On my second try I parked up, used my car as a platform to climb over the wall, quietly punched out the nearest Nazi like he nabbed a sip o’ me Guinness and used his uniform to sneak in. I’d say overall, sneakiness is more rewarding than Rambo-ing through, but the bits where gunfights are unavoidable don’t feel intrusive or awkward.

One clever way of motivating you to complete all the side-missions rather than coasting through the sotry mode (which, though well-written, gets a bit too grandiose towards the end – the beautiful and sombre finale itself notwithstanding) is Will to Fight. Anywhere with a lack of WtF (lol) is rendered in moody monotone, with only the red armbands and frequent explosions providing colour. Upon clearing an area of things to do, an explosion of colour erupts around you or the target, restoring hope to the Resistance and civilians, and thinning out the enemy presence. It’s a gorgeous effect and the transition from liberated to oppressed areas is seamless, but it’s great that it has an impact on how easily Sean can do business there.

Plus, you can do this almost whenever you want:

Buuuuut?…Like Mercenaries 2, it’s not blessed with an abundance of polish. Some of the animation, which strangely flips between mo-capped and ragdolls, is as much a threat to immersion as Sean is fragile sniper towers – I can’t take the game seriously when, upon leaping from a speeding roadster, Sean’s head spasms against the dirt whilst his arms and legs flail madly and helplessly – only for him to slip back into a scripted animation, dust himself off and carry on as he was. What, he can’t roll?

I’m also not a fan of the weird German/English hybrid language the Nazis speak. “The saboteur ist hier”? Really?

How’s the future looking? The fact that Pandemic have closed their doors means what’s on the disk is probably all we’ll see of the Saboteur universe. That said, it’s a huge game – every street has something to blow up, someone to silently murder, cars to collect, caches to find – and a perk system, which wasn’t needed but I’m very thankful for, gives some neat challenges for character-progressing unlocks. It’s great game from one of the best open-world game developers in the business, and knowing this is the last one they’ll produce makes me want to savour it all the more.

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