Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review // The Saboteur

I'll say this--The Saboteur is an ambitious game. It tries a host of different gameplay mechanics, none of which it does particularly well. In fact, The Saboteur often feels like it's trying to impress you with how flawed it is in every way, with each new mission highlighting why a particular mechanic fails miserably.

Just A Clumsy Assassin

I've always wondered what being a saboteur would feel like, but if this game is anything to go by, it just feels like being a very inept and clumsy assassin. In a world where Assassin's Creed exists, the acrobatics of The Saboteur are simply embarrassing both to watch and play. Controlling Sean Devlin as he tries to climb buildings, jump small gaps, or simply go down a ladder is consistently nerve-wracking in a "get ready to retry this mission for the fourth time" kind of way.

Even if he can't go over the opposition to get to his objective, Sean can at least try to sneak through it. Well, maybe if he wasn't so terrible at acting like a Nazi. Every single Nazi you come across while in uniform can out you if you do anything remotely suspicious, like hop over a small fence, go for a jog, or just stand there. Somehow they can just tell. What this does is make any task that you'd think should be easy for a guy dressed up like a Nazi, like passing another Nazi on the street, a chore.

Therefore, most missions in The Saboteur play out like this:

  1. The game tells you to play it stealthily.
  2. You spend about ten minutes trying to figure out how the hell that's even possible given how good the Nazis are at spotting you.
  3. You spend half an hour trying and retrying to execute carefully orchestrated plans to play it stealthily.
  4. You realize that by "play it stealthily," the game really meant "just shoot everybody."

But it turns out that not only is Sean terrible at moving on foot, he's not very good in a car, either. Which is ironic what with him being a race car driver and all. Cars just don't handle very well, so while you speed away from trucks full of pissed off Nazis, you're inevitably going to run into another car or a pole or a leaf. Most of these barely budge when you plow into them, giving the Nazis plenty of time to catch back up. It doesn't help that there's nothing offensive to do to shake them off since apparently the concept of the drive-by hadn't been invented yet.

No Driving Force

I'm a sucker for a good story, so I'll usually be willing to slog through a bad game as long as I've got enough motivation. The Saboteur offers no such motivation. What could have been a gripping story of revenge, redemption, and whether you can put aside a personal vendetta in favor of a greater cause is promptly shelved in favor of a bland, paper-thin excuse to blow stuff up. There are only about three story moments in the game I would classify as "good" or "interesting" or "not awful," and they all involve Sean's nemesis, Dierker.

Unfortunately, you only run into Dierker about three times in the entire game, one of which is almost completely ruined by the sloppy controls and poor execution of basic gameplay mechanics. The Saboteur does, however, have one of the best endings in years, completely sidestepping the video game tradition of a shoehorning an unnecessary boss fight at the end, trying so hard to be climactic that it does just the opposite, by opting instead for a satisfying narrative conclusion. Imagine that.

The only other good thing I can say about The Saboteur is that its art style is brilliant, even if it is shamelessly ripped from Sin City. It's just too bad that they didn't set the whole thing in black and white since it's the single best aspect of the whole game. It's a little difficult to see where you're going sometimes, but for the most part, it works well and looks really good.

There's a permeating sense of mediocrity in The Saboteur that's only ever interrupted by moments of frustration and missed potential. It's a shame to see a game with this much style and at least a couple good ideas fall so far below its promise. Don't waste your money.

The Saboteur / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360, PC

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