Some games aren’t worth the $60 release price. Or half as much, for that matter. How many times have you bought a game and told yourself that if it’s terrible, it was only five bucks? This brings us to the “Bargain Bin” realm of gaming, a second glance at games far enough down that they don’t see light. Guilty pleasures are a blast — so long as no one’s watching.
There was a period that lasted for a couple of years where EA was actively encouraging new franchises. I know, it’s hard to believe, but it was true. Mirror’s Edge one year, Dead Space and Boom Blox the next, The Saboteur the year after. It’s not an experiment that lasted long, but it did manage to get some good new titles out of a publisher best known for their undying love of reliable franchises. The Saboteur was one of the last games from this period, and it’s a gloriously mad romp through the streets of Nazi-occupied Paris, starring a foul-mouthed Irishman itchin’ to kick all kinds of kraut arse.
Sean Devlin is a race car mechanic promoted to actual racer, and in his first race he has first place stolen from him by Kurt Dierker. The plan for a little light revenge not only goes horribly wrong, it also also coincides with the Nazi invasion of France. Sean escapes with his life and little else. A few years later he’s washed up, living in the back room of a burlesque club, and doing very little other than drinking and smoking. The spirit of Paris is broken by the Nazi occupation, and everyone is properly miserable. It’s a bit of a mess, really.
Fortunately a job offer with the resistance comes Sean’s way, at which point it’s becomes time to start climbing out of the hole. After a few basic tutorial missions and a flashback to Sean’s recent past, Paris opens up and a whole city’s worth of open world explosive mayhem becomes available.
Like all good open world games, The Saboteur is divided between missions and free-play targets of opportunity. Completing both story and side missions frees sections of Paris and nabs new guns and goodies for Sean, but there’s also a ridiculous amount of Nazi fortifications cluttering up the cityscape. Sniper towers, anti-aircraft guns, searchlights, propaganda speakers, and a whole lot more are marked on the map with a white dot, and Sean has a large supply of dynamite that turns out to be quite useful for urban beautification. Removing the fortifications not only earns a nice chunk of cash, it also makes it that much easier to escape when the Nazis are breathing down your neck.
It’s the missions that really bring Paris to life, however. At the game’s start, Paris is a black and white world submerged in a gloomy noir depression. Color is a rare thing, with tiny splashes of yellow, garish bursts of oppressive Nazi red, and the rare spot of rebel blue breaking through the dour scenery. As Sean successfully completes missions, though, sections of Paris regain their spirit, and color bursts forth again. It’s an interesting sight when perched on a building top, looking across the city and seeing blue skies above bright districts and low-lying heavy clouds oppressing the black and white sections still beaten down by Nazi occupation. No matter how successful Sean is at his missions, though, Paris is a city in the hands of an enemy, and even the most vibrantly colorful areas will see the heavy tanks rolled out against him if he causes too much trouble.
Thankfully, Sean is more than capable when it comes to handling himself. The usual variety of guns makes an appearance, from rifles to pistols, shotguns and rocket launchers. Hand to hand fighting is great for taking out an enemy silently before he calls for help, although a stealthy strike from behind is more efficient than walking up and punching. For proper stealth, though, Sean steals a page from Assassin’s Creed and can climb just about any building in Paris. Why walk in the front gate of a compound when you can climb a nearby building, shimmy hand-over-hand across a connecting wire, stealth-kill a guard on the roof, steal his uniform, and carefully walk downstairs hoping nobody notices you aren’t the uniform’s original owner. Or you could just throw a few grenades in the front door and head in guns blazing, making careful use of cover. Either will do for most missions, depending on which your in the mood for at the time.
Like most open-world games, the choice of what to do and how to do it is the part that keeps the experience fun. Shot enough Nazis in the face recently? A little stealth mixed with high explosives offers a nice change of pace. Or maybe you feel like tearing through the streets in one of the large variety of lovely 1940s cars, driving them back to base to add to the growing collection. Explore the countryside, climb a few buildings, snipe some Nazis from hundreds of feet away, or clean up the endless points of interest on the map. It’s a formula that’s been being refined since GTA III, and so long as there’s plenty to do it’s hard to screw it up. The Saboteur is a solid take on the open-world genre, with a little extra life breathed into it by its 1940s setting and the black and white/color contrast. It’s not perfect, of course, due to some mild control issues that can pop up while climbing and health that regenerates nearly instantly, but these are hardly deal-breakers. If you’re leafing through the bargain bin and come across it, The Saboteur can offer a huge number of hours shooting, exploding, and neck-snapping some of the best bad guys the world has ever seen.