In November of this year EA put the final nail in Pandemic Studios coffin with the announcement of the complete closure of the studio. One would hope that their last hurrah, The Saboteur, would go out on a high note. Sadly that wasn’t the case, instead while The Saboteur may have impressive ambitions it was clearly rough around the edges. Unfortunately, not unlike previous Pandemic games. Taking place during World War II, The Saboteur will bring you from the early days of Germany’s invasion of France to occupied Paris. You take on the role of Sean Devlin, an Irish mechanic turned race car driver, who gets drawn into the fight between the French and Nazi’s when a close friend of his is executed for inadvertently learning too much. The story is actually quite interesting and engaging, but the gameplay suffers greatly and at times makes the game rather boring. Being an open world sandbox game you’re always going to have a balancing act between a players freedom to move about unhindered and a storyline that pushes them towards the games objectives.
Thankfully Pandemic got it right with this part. The more you progress, the more people you’ll meet that will help you achieve future goals. From the French resistance to black market profiteers and British agents, they’re locations are marked on the map with blue icons that will lead you right to them. The locations, or characters that will help move the story along are marked with yellow icons. This way you always have clear objectives and can choose to explore or head on to your next meeting. Various missions will require various weapons, which must be purchased from one of the black marketeers. In order to buy the weapons you’ll need money, which is obtained when you perform various tasks. Whether it’s completing a tasked mission or one of the repetitive side missions, like destroying guard towers, fuel depots or Nazi encampments. Various side missions will net you various paydays, save enough up and you can upgrade or purchase new weapons. Grenades and explosives are given for free, out of the generosity of the resistance.
Where the game really falls flat is the gameplay. It’s repetitive, bland and at times rather difficult to control accurately. Playing as Sean, you’re an experienced brawler who can take down Nazi’s with one punch, a bonafide sniper and explosives expert. He’s a one man wrecking crew that can easily take out 20 Nazi’s without breaking a sweat. Yeah, seems a bit unrealistic, even for a video game. To make matters worse, the gun play and driving feel clumsy. Aiming is easy enough, but at times you an aim directly at an enemy only to watch the bullet hit everything but him. Also frustrating is when you find yourself driving around Paris and having your car feel like a tank. Lastly there’s the antiquated climbing mechanic, where you have to constantly press the A button as Sean attempts to climb up a building. It’s not as intuitive as other games, such as Assassin’s Creed.
The campaign will take roughly 12 hours so there is some benefit to that, and if you’re a glutton for punishment there are all of the extra side missions you can attempt to endure. From car races, to destroying various Nazi installments you’ll be spending a lot of team doing side missions for nothing more than gaining achievements. One positive to the game is the approach they took to the games visuals. Every area of occupied Paris is saturated in rain with drab colors, there’s a lot of grays being used here, with the exception of the red armbands flags of the Nazi regime. As you liberate various sections of the city the color returns to Paris and the sun becomes visible and it looks rather nice. Though to be honest, the black and white portions of the city are more visually striking, with the splashes of red. While the majority of the characters look great, the environments do suffer a bit from some muddy lighting and texture work. Another thing Pandemic got right was the sound of the game, from the songs of Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone to the jazz music used when you’re driving around. Unfortunately they repeat so much that it gets a little old, quickly. Then there’s the original score, which is so generic that it feels out of place. Hmm, maybe they didn’t do a good of a job as I thought. Thankfully the voice casting redeems them. Listening to Sean spout Irish insults and verbally spar with his British partner made for some funny moments.
Overall, The Saboteur was rather disappointing. For a somewhat dry month of December I was hoping I could get a game that would entertain me for hours, not bore me for hours. For being a studios swan song, it doesn’t bode well for Pandemic’s legacy. If you must play this then I’d recommend a rental, otherwise save your pennies.