After playing The Saboteur, I can safely say one thing. EA sent this game out to die. There is simply no other explanation why something that is dripping with so much atmosphere, innovation, and quality managed to slip so far under the radar that I hadn't heard of it until a year after it's release. It seemed like the ultimate last slap in the face for Pandemic... a studio that had managed to pump out Star Wars Battlefront, and Mercenaries, and a sequel for each. So what the hell happened? If The Saboteur is any indication, then I simply don't know.
There no lack of great ideas at play here. The Saboteur operates under a glossy coat of film noir paint, and does a damn good job of making you feel like a slick 1940s cabaret frequenting bad ass. And for the record, I don't get to write sentences like that often enough, so kudos to the game for making that possible. The most gripping thing that the Saboteur manages to pull of is the use it's environment, which is dripping in so much style that it's disgusting. With the game taking place in Nazi occupied Paris, the portions of the map that are under German control are black and white, which also means that the game world in those areas will be black and white. Kick enough Nazi ass in an area, and color will be restored to the world around you. If that wasn't cool enough, the game puts you in the shoes of Sean Devlin, a fast talking Irish race car driver who happens to live in a strip club. As Sean you'll quickly make loads of neato black market friends, and meet some equally cool resistance fighters. You'll be able to arm yourself to the teeth with era accurate guns, and explosives, and take down the Nazi war machine piece by piece. You'll also get to earn perks by completing various challenges, with each perk enhancing, or unlocking Sean's abilities. It's not outright RPG stuff, but it's enough depth that it adds a certain level of motivation that would otherwise be missing.
In true Pandemic fashion, you get to do all of this stuff in a free roaming environment. But what's even more engaging is the fact that you can romp around the Paris rooftops, and pull off some very cool 1940s style parkour. Couple that with a surprisingly intuitive stealth and detection system, a robust selection of period weaponry, and some very destructible chunks of the landscape, and you have what is probably the best combat that Pandemic was ever able to create. Though you may not be able to outright level buildings like their Mercenaries titles, you will create plenty of chances to smile, just in your sheer ability to devastate your opponents with nothing more than a few handfuls of dynamite, and a silenced pistol. And it never gets old watching the splashes of red against a black and white backdrop, as you drop Nazis for their evil, it's utterly stylistic.
So what in the hell happened? If you ask most people about The Saboteur, they'll at most give you a blank stare, and ask for a snack. But the reality is pretty obvious when you start to think back on Pandemic's bizarre track record. While Pandemic had some very real accomplishments under their belt in the forms of the Star Wars Battlefront games, and The Mercenaries Franchise, they we're also responsible for one of the biggest blunders in the history of games. What follows is my opinion... The Dark Knight game killed Pandemic. And not just Pandemic, it hurt Warner Brothers. To the tune of 100 million dollars to be exact. Now while it's true that The Dark Knight was wildly successful on it's own, and also the single greatest sequel since The Empire Strikes Back, it didn't change the fact that Warner Brothers had invested a significant amount of money, and faith into Electronic Arts to create a game based on the film. Pandemic was never able to deliver a game on time, and as a result, a significant amount of trust was lost. In their defense it was an offshoot of their studio, Pandemic Brisbane that was pinned as being responsible for the failure, but it was something they never completely recovered from.
While EA gave Mercenaries 2, a healthy marketing push, they left The Saboteur out to die. And because of the poor performance of the game, Pandemic never recovered financially. At least not enough to be in a better position when EA threatened to make their jobs obsolete. And that's the true definition of irony isn't it? Releasing a game called The Saboteur under a publisher who once supported you, but is now actively sabotaging the success of your latest title. Want even more proof of that last statement, then look at how they shut down Mercenaries' coop service after only 18 months of the game being released, and offered no alternative for players to keep playing together. Simply “thanks for buying the game, but it's old now, so go play something else.” While EA claimed that the numbers of people still playing the games online were relatively low, it's still a crappy thing to do. Was all of this punishment for The Dark Knight never materializing? It's impossible to say for sure, but I want to point out, that most of this happened between November of 2009 and February of 2009... after Batman Arkham Asylum was released. Maybe EA saw the insane amount of money Warner Brothers and Eidos were making and decided they had enough, or maybe it was just coincidence, but there is enough evidence in place to support either theory.
Ultimately The Saboteur was not without it's own problems despite being at a disadvantage out of the gate. The game takes a wonderful opportunity to tell a gripping World War 2 occupation story in a non traditional fashion, and instead goes for the good ole “Hitler worshiped Satan” jazz, and doesn't do it nearly as well as something like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. What's even a sort of insult is that the real life story of the character the game purports to be based on, is even more gripping than the half baked story that is concocted for the game. In fact do yourself a favor, and Google William Wally Wallace after reading this, and try not to be moved. Had they made that story into a game, they may not have only broken ground, but they may have created a masterpiece. Instead we get a glimpse into greatness, a half finished painting that could have been the single greatest thing that this studio ever made, but was a victim to itself, and horrendous circumstance. The story of The Saboteur is almost a direct parallel of the Parisian Film Noir it evokes, in that they both end in beautiful tragedy.
So what's the verdict? I say buy it. It's not the greatest game ever made, but it might be the greatest game Pandemic ever made, and for that reason alone it's worth the price of admission.
Do yourself a favor, and skip the console versions of this if you can. The PC version has the clear visual edge this time, but that also comes with a fair warning that since EA cut support for this title off fairly quick, you will almost certainly need to update some drivers. Also, GamersGate seems to be the only reliable place to find the game, so get on there, and grab a copy right away.
The Saboteur is available for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC
it was developed by Pandemic Studios, and published by EA
This review was made possible by
Editor in Chief