By anyone's standards, Sean is a versatile gaming hero. He can drive any vehicle he finds, he can punch the crap out of people (using the aforementioned light/heavy/kick system) and he can handle a gun (via a free-aim system that will be familiar to anyone who's played the Mercenaries games - or indeed any other third-person shooter). He can also scale walls and other vertical surfaces using a simple, one-button-does-everything arrangement - think Assassin's Creed, but with slower, less flashy animations. By holding the right bumper, Sean will go into a stealthy crouch that lets him take out Nazis from behind; these silent kills also allow him to adopt his victim's uniform. Once disguised, he can walk straight into heavily-guarded areas - although you'll still trigger an alarm if you behave strangely, or if you let your foes get too close.
On their own, these abilities give Sean a wide range of tactical options when he approaches a job - but these raw skills are further supported by a neat Perks system. By completing trios of pre-set goals, you'll open up further tricks and tools relating to different gameplay aspects: score a number of head-shots with a sniper rifle, and your aim will improve; kill a certain number of foes with grenades, and you'll be able to carry more of them. These tasks start off being relatively simple, but the third-stage perks will usually demand a hefty chunk of gaming skill. Similarly, your rewards increase in complexity until Sean eventually becomes a one-man Resistance Movement - summoning getaway cars and rebel fighters at the touch of a button. It's easy to get fixated on these challenges, and when you do finally get your prize they'll often allow you to try new strategies for dealing with the German menace.
As addictive as the perk goals are, it's the bread-and-butter sabotage that proves to be the real distraction. The world of The Saboteur is divided up into several interconnected areas - Paris takes up most of the map, but you also get quite a bit of surrounding countryside, and even a slither of Germany. In each of these regions there are literally hundreds of Nazi structures and emplacements - from watchtowers to searchlights to propaganda-spewing speakers. All of these assets can be destroyed with a well-placed stick of dynamite, and every time you destroy one you'll earn contraband - currency that can be spent on weapon upgrades. You'll be on your way to a mission objective when you suddenly spot a Nazi fuel deport. You know that you should push on with the job at hand, and yet before you know it you'll be crouched on the floor with a fuse in your hand. Five seconds later there's a big bang, and you're back on the run again. As you gradually clean up a particular area, you'll see colour starting to seep back into the game world, and there are other bonuses too: fewer Germans patrol in these areas, making it easier to escape any pursuers you might have, and some of the locals will even help you out if you get into a fight.
There's something quite affecting about driving from a colourful area into a monochrome district where the Nazis go unchallenged, and it would be easy to spend a whole afternoon clearing out your favourite parts of Paris. That's not to say that the core missions are drab or uninteresting; on the whole, your jobs are well-designed and diverse in their demands. You can often choose whether to go in guns blazing or to take a more sneaky approach, and when the game does ramp up the thrill factor - dumping you in the cockpit of a tank, or forcing you to chase a sworn enemy through the flaming hull of an airship - you'll find yourself getting swept up into the plot, despite yourself.
Indeed, if you were to slow down for too long, you might start to dwell on the game's shortcomings. The phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none," is certainly applicable here, and from time to time you may find yourself irritated by the sluggish driving controls, the dopey enemy AI, or the occasional lack of a checkpoint. But even when something does get on your nerves, it's rarely long before something else comes along to pique your interest again: an amusingly cheesy cutscene, a landmark that demands to be climbed, or a Nazi general who's just aching to be neck-snapped.
If you saw any of the early promotional trailers for this game, you may remember a clip that was cut to the svelte tones of Nina Simone, as she sung Feeling Good. Well, that track has been included here - along with several other excellent jazz numbers that play whenever you enter a vehicle. The thing is, that song was recorded in 1965 - over 20 years after World War II ended. It's inclusion makes no sense at all, and yet the tune itself is a perfect match for the tone of the game. It's this winning contradiction, more than a pair of polygon breasts, that truly sums up The Saboteur. Pandemic Studios may be no more, but at least we can say that the boys went out on a high note.
VideoGamer.com Score8 Score out of 10
- Lots to do
- Varied gameplay
- Good use of an interesting setting
- Doesn't really excel at anything