Review | The Saboteur
Format: Xbox360/PS3/PC | Genre: Action adventure | Publisher: EA | Developer: Pandemic | Release date: 04/12/09 | RRP: £34.99-£49.99
By Daniel Lipscombe
There are times when the work of a videogame critic is difficult. We are, at heart, gamers like everyone else. We read the news, we watch the trailers and occasionally – in all innocence – we get swept up by the hype. There are the times where we do these things and fall in love with a game before it’s even released, only for such a love affair to be cut short by a game that fails to deliver on its own promises. Three hours into semi-open-world action-adventure The Saboteur, Pandemic Studios’ final breath before its closure, this is exactly how I felt.
From the opening scene, it’s clear The Saboteur is little more than a trashy work of exploitation that longingly aspires to the works of others. With a script that feels like an early draft of Inglorious Basterds penned by a soap opera writer, action inspired by James Bond’s weaker moments and plot twists that seem to be lifted straight from Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s hard to fall in love from the off. The opening shot begins fixed on a topless woman, the camera zooming out to reveal a strip club, which is to be your base of operations. Put it this way: we’re never going to find ourselves mentioning The Saboteur in a conversation of whether or not games are art.
That’s a real shame, as the one thing that The Saboteur has over many releases this year is a wonderfully definitive art style. At the beginning of the story, almost everything in Paris – the streets, the people, the cars – is black and white, with only a few flashes of colour here and there – Nazi flags, people’s eyes, a cross hanging from a chain over a nun’s habit. The black and white represents the oppression of the Parisian people after the Nazi invasion, and as our main character Sean Devlin completes missions for the resistance, the world is brought back to colourful life, representing the liberation of the city’s various districts.
When playing through these dreary areas, The Saboteur becomes incredibly cinematic, like a Sunday afternoon war film brought to life. Passing between areas of Nazi rule and freedom sees the colours slowly fade into existence, bringing with it a real sense of pride for the player. And it’s certainly easy to develop such a sense of pride when dealing with one of the world’s most evil enemies. The Saboteur holds that emotion in its grip and passes it on to you as you punch the air after blowing up an airship or derailing a Nazi train.
//Le sexe et la violence vendent
But it’s hard to tell whether The Saboteur takes itself seriously or not. There are some genuine moments of emotion and feeling as the plot takes off, but it tends to be bogged down by a spectacular overuse of sex. It’s particularly highlighted in one scene as Veronique, our companion, who we all know Devlin probably fancies but holds back as she disapproves of everything he does and is very straight laced, bounds across to us. Her animation is extremely wooden. Except, curiously, that of her breasts, which seem to have a mind of their own. Here we have a young French woman, who aspires highly in the resistance, passionate about seeing Paris free, bouncing around as if it were the opening scene in a porn film.
This sort of incongruous ridiculousness carries on through the entire cast of the game, but none more notably than our protagonist, Irishman Sean Devlin, who feels the need to make himself known wherever he goes. At one time he can be heard calling somebody a “motherless, arse-faced knob jockey,” and at another claims that he “could eat the arsehole of a nun through a convent gate.” You thoroughly expect him to pull a pint of Guinness from his bag, down it, headbutt a Nazi and dance a merry jig.
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