That's not Devlin's problem, though. He's too busy worrying about his mission, one that demands he help a scientist fake his death so he can escape France without the Germans in hot pursuit. To do this, he's going to sabotage a bridge, one that the train carrying the scientist is due to cross any time now. So, the first part of the mission involves Devlin planting explosives on hard to reach struts. Now, in true open world style, there are a number of ways he can do this. He can go in all guns blazing - a tactic that will result in death more often than not, French says. Or, he can go in all sneaky like, knocking out a Nazi and donning his garb as a disguise. This is how we do it.
Dressing yourself as a German isn't a get out of jail free card, however. All enemies have a perception range in which they'll spot suspicious behaviour. That includes running about and shooting stuff. So, Devlin needs to play nice, walking rather than running, gun holstered rather than aimed forward. Here, French shows off Devlin's Altair-esque free climbing skills, which enable him to reach the objective markers and plant the explosives. Devlin climbs with somewhat incredible ease, almost like a monkey with super strength - again, it's a deliberate move. Pandemic wont be a slave to reality. "If it looks like you can climb it," French says, "you can climb it".
Despite his disguise and skilled stealth, it's not long before the Nazis spot Devlin doing something untoward and his cover is blown. This gives French the perfect opportunity to show off The Saboteur's cover system, something "every game has to have these days". You'll be able to snap to cover with a button press, but simply moving towards cover will trigger the correct animation. At this point French describes Devlin as "Steve McQueen, John McClane and Indiana Jones all rolled into one". That's one hell of a combination.
With the charges planted, it's time to jump on the train. Here, The Saboteur cleverly forgets it's an open world sandbox and transforms into the kind of scripted, set piece-driven experience the train mission is designed to be. Devlin is hopping from cover to cover as he fights his way to the front of the train. Turrets are conveniently placed on the car roofs - another nod to fun over realism. When used, it's absolute carnage. You're even able to take down Nazi towers set into the French countryside as you whizz by them, something that may be in your best interests, says French. Certain structures in the game are persistent. Destroy them and they're gone forever. These "targets of opportunity" might be search light towers, machine gun emplacements or anti-air guns. Softening them up for later missions will be a tactic skilled saboteurs will want to employ.
With a cool art style, interesting open world mechanics and an Irish lead, The Saboteur could be a surprise hit.
After killing scores of Germans, Devlin makes it into the scientist's cabin. Here we see that, despite everything else being black and white, Sean's eyes burn in bright emerald green. But the scientist is not who he seems to be. He's a Nazi, and a punch up ensues between them. Red blood splatters on the screen - a Sin City moment. The real scientist is tied up in a secret compartment. He throws him out of the speeding train before leaping out himself. The train moves over the bridge. It explodes and sinks into the chasm below. The mission is over, the Indiana Jones, Die Hard, The Great Escape moment is finished, colour bleeds out into the world and birds start chirping.
French promises 20 to 25 hours of main campaign gameplay and five to ten hours worth of side missions for those who want it. As with all great open world games, however, it's the surprises, the stuff simply stumbled upon while out exploring, or the special moments that occur as a result of messing about with the game world, that's most important. We love sandbox games not for what developers expect us to do inside them, but for what the developers don't expect us to do inside them. What scope The Saboteur has for such malarkey remains to be seen.
What our hands-on has revealed, however, is that The Saboteur is an altogether less serious game than its French Resistance/WWII premise suggests. The action is all about sandbox mayhem, as it was in Mercenaries before it, and nothing, not even historical accuracy, is going to get in the way of that design philosophy. We already reckon The Saboteur's setting, art design and mechanics are a mile more interesting than Mercenaries 2. Fingers crossed, then, that the tits and brothels don't get in the way.
The Saboteur is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on December 4.