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The Saboteur (PlayStation 3) artwork

The Saboteur (PlayStation 3) review

"Tragedy makes simple people do strange things. "

Tragedy makes simple people do strange things.

Sean, a once prominent mechanic and talented race car driver, had what seemed to be a normal life. But in 1940s Europe, life for anyone was far from normal. Tension was inescapable, fear was overwhelming and Nazis occupied every patch of pavement. Days before their unyielding assault on Europe, Sean unknowingly travels into the heart of Germany to take part in his first circuit race--alongside his best friend and co-worker, Jules.

All it took was one turn, one bullet from a desperate rival driver to his tire, and Seanís life was changed forever. Cheated out of his imminent victory, the aggressive, impulsive Irish mechanic swears vengeance--despite the pleas of Julesí clear-headed sister. With Jules riding shotgun, Sean takes off in a hot-headed fury to send the driver a message.

Unaware of his ties with Nazi Germany or their massive numbers, Sean heads straight into their war camp, steals the race-winning vehicle and blatantly drives it right off a cliff. And the once vengeance-seeking Sean finds the very act being committed upon him--captured, tied up to a chair, beaten and bloody, with Jules in no better shape. He can only watch as his friend is tortured, garner confusion while the German badgers him with conjectures of conspiracies, and struggle as the methods become more and more violent. Sean is helpless as the ramblings and frustrations continue, culminating in one final act that finds Jules dead and Sean twisting in a web of despair. Through pure adrenaline and brute strength Sean fights his way out and escapes the compund, only to find the entire country overwhelmed with the same desolation as Nazis burn every home, punish every citizen.

And so starts Seanís journey, one that derived simply from vengeance and that will end in the same way, yet on a much grander scale.

It was tense, it was emotional, and a brilliant shift from an over-saturated era and enemy.

But the dazzle and creativity The Saboteur expressed faded as quickly as it surfaced.

Seanís personality gradually wears thin. While playing a brutish, selfish, thick-headed thug has its appeal, one can stomach that only for so long. Most games rooted in tragedy allow their protagonist to grow and mature; learn from their mistakes, accept and ascend in the burdened role theyíve inadvertently been placed in. Or, they reject it, and allow the madness to envelop them--eventually going insane or becoming more evil than that which they were fighting. Either way, it immerses the gamer, attaches them to the character and makes it more enjoyable.

Sean never really experienced this. Never changed. He was the same bullish, negligent, self-absorbed bloke from the first frame to the last rolling credits. Which might have been acceptable. Not every game is required to have some sort of moral dilemma and resolution, yet those that donít make up for it in giving their characters a brilliant personality that makes you ultimately empathize with them--Tommy Vercetti or Solid Snake--whether their outlook changes or not.

Sean was a bland, foul-mouthed thug who constantly spouted ďbollocksĒ when things didnít go his way or gave vague, almost unintelligible metaphors about the violence he was seeking to commit. He was a drunk and a womanizer in the most boring way possible--meaning you never got to see any of it; you just had to hear everyone else whine about it. His attitude was hostile and impatient, even towards those who claimed to be his friends--which were few to begin with. He was the amalgam of previous second-rate, lack-luster characters you would expect to be a brief cameo or doomed sidekick--not one deserving of the spotlight.

Yet--because of its style and promising ideas--I remained vigilant that Saboteur may in the end shine. Even a one-sided character and a sluggish storyline can be saved with exciting game play. Saboteur had all the elements. In truth, it borrowed them from a list of other great games and attempted to combine them into one spectacular experience. But as it was with the story, some things are better left considered, not experienced.

Like Grand Theft Auto, Saboteur allows you to steal any vehicle at any time with the press of one simple button--be it for a chase, or simply a cruise around the streets of Paris. Itís simple, albeit entertaining and distracting. Actually driving the car is where the frustrations lie. The controls are, in the best described way: bi-polar. Sometimes, too sensitive when youíre trying to make a slight turn, forcing you into a civilian or--even worse--patrolling Nazis and ensuing another draining fight. Other times the car will simply ignore any input no matter how hard you crank on the analog stick and go where it wishes--which is never where you want. Itís tolerable on a random drive, but when youíre escaping it can be the difference between life and death. And since thereís no way to tell which of the two faults youíre going to end up with, prepare to die. A lot.

And in tribute to Assassinís Creed, Sean can climb almost any building, blend in with his surroundings and stealth kill his enemies. Lame, lame and lame. Yes, theyíre good ideas but no forethought was put into any of them. Climbing a building is great when youíre trying to escape, but weíre talking about an Irish mechanic here, not a trained killer-for-hire. Sean climbs a building like an Elephant would do a ballet. Clunky, slow and all over the place. And again, the controls are to blame. Heíll drop when you donít want him to, move sideways when you wanted him to go up, and hang idly when youíre desperate for him to climb. Most times, this is done out of survival, while on the ground youíve got two dozen Naziís gathered around with machine guns blasting away at you. Even if you somehow manage to get him to go the direction you want, heís too slow to ever do it before heís pumped full of lead. Without the ability to fire back while hanging, you can either drop down and fight them, or wait to die.

Blending in was another great idea, and Saboteur tried to do one better by allowing you to steal an enemies uniform--so long as thereís no blood or bullet holes (meaning a stealth kill is required). Theyíre easy enough to acquire, but a fair amount of time can be spent until you find a lone soldier to kill without attracting any attention. Once youíve obtained it, you find its use is minimal at best. Strange behavior--climbing, sneaking, or attacking soldiers--will attract attention and thatís to be expected, but even when youíre walking in form, Nazis will take notice of you if within their line of sight. Theyíre suspicion is gauged by a circular bar around your map. Let it fill up (and it does it at inhuman speeds) and every Nazi is alerted to your presence and your disguise is rendered useless and automatically removed. You know, because each Nazi had a unique uniform, and psychic powers to immediately alert all others that said outfit has fallen into the enemyís hands. You can always stray away from the guards but that sort of defeats the purpose. Itís supposed to be used to sneak past patrols, or into heavily stationed areas, but they detect you so quickly--even when youíre doing nothing to draw attention--that itís pointless. And a good many missions require you to get close to your target to whisper some cryptic warning before killing them. They see through your cover long before that ever happens. Again, thrusting you into a gun fight when you may not have wanted one.

It wouldnít be all that bad, and may provide you with a needed break from sneaking around, except for the fact that Saboteurís shoddy controls once again ruin an otherwise entertaining aspect. Sean canít target an enemy automatically. The player must move the crosshairs from one to the next in the same fashion as they would a first-person shooter, but Saboteur lacks the speed and consistency of other games with this requirement. In line with the driving controls, the crosshairs either give you too much or too little--with no prior warning. Sometimes they move too quickly, and you scrape right past your target. Other times not fast enough, and your enemy has drilled you to the point of near-death before you can even dream about returning fire. And by that time, the remaining enemies have finished you off, leaving you frustrated and back to the loading screenÖagain.

But at least that looks goodÖ

Saboteurís one highlight is its design. Cutscenes, and basic free-roam is originally depicted in a gritty, stylish ambiance lacking color, yet clearly defined, obviously paying homage to Sin City. Liberate a portion of the city by destroying propaganda-spouting speakers or Nazi guard towers and the color returns to it, yet maintains the same flawed filter. Itís a nice touch, and adds to the few portions of Saboteur that can be defined as unique, but in the end itís too little, too late.

I want a game that plays well, not one that looks good. Saboteur just wasnít it. And in a way, itís a touch sad. With so many entertaining aspects deriving from excellent games that came before it, it should have worked. But it succumbs to the same curse that all fusions suffer: It took a lot of aspects, but never the time to consider if they would mesh together. Like taking pieces from random puzzles and trying to make a picture out of it. All you end up with is a jumbled mess.

Well, at least they got the tragedy part rightÖ

Just, itís in playing it.


True's avatar
Community review by True (December 30, 2009)

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