The Saboteur Preview (PS3)

We remember seeing The Saboteur for the first time two years ago, being mildly intrigued by the first screenshots and then it seemingly dropped off the radar altogether. Perhaps it was the prospect of yet another game based during World War II that made it so easy to forget about, but having been given the chance to see the game up close, we can confidently report that this is no ordinary WWII game. And nor is it anything like Mercenaries, despite coming from Pandemic, the very same studio that brought us the unsubtle and slightly underwhelming sandbox shooter.

The Saboteur is another revenge fantasy, but is something altogether far more interesting. An open-world adventure that pays homage to great Sunday matinee movies like The Great Escape, The Train and The Eagle Has Landed, The Saboteur revels in bringing to life the fantasy that entails, even if it means bending historical accuracy just a little bit here and there to accommodate its unique world. Based upon the real life of William Grover-Williams, the game’s Irish hero Sean Devlin (who shares his surname with the protagonist from The Eagle Has Landed, Liam Devlin trivia fans) is also a race car driver who reluctantly becomes a member of the French Resistance in Nazi occupied Paris when his family is killed.

Paris looks brooding, ominous and evocative in black and white…
…and bright and vibrant in colour.

As a professional race driver, Devlin obviously has exceptional driving skills, but being a hard bitten, street-tough bruiser has also granted him with some decent fight moves, which also come in handy for subduing soldiers during the more covert stealth moments in the game. ‘Quiet in, loud out’ is the mantra that Lead Designer Tom French tells us the dev team went by when constructing the missions for the game, so sneaky neck-snapping will only serve you for so long until the alarm is inevitably raised, forcing you to perhaps let rip with a Tommy gun. Devlin is a jack of all trades, equally comfortable with his fists as he is with a gun, he can also climb and leap from rooftop to rooftop like a flat-capped Altair. There’s also a dynamic cover system, which automatically snaps you to cover, so you needn’t look stupid by running into a wall. Of course, you can still push in the left analogue stick to entrench yourself behind an object if you want, but if you’re running towards a wall Devlin will always press against it unaided. This looked to be a smooth and useful addition rather than annoying and inconvenient as you might expect such a mechanic to be.

This nimble athleticism enables Devlin to get anywhere, clambering to a high vantage point to launch sabotage – part of the overall fantasy Pandemic has constructed. This is every ‘boy’s own’ movie from the sixties and seventies, boiled right down to the essential elements and distilled into what promises to be videogame gold, if our viewing of the game lead by French himself is anything to go by. Using your sabotage tactics we’re told you’ll be able to destroy bridges, derail trains and demolish Nazi strongholds all in your effort to restore harmony to the policed streets. From on high, Pandemic have made sure that the draw distance allows you to see right to the very horizon, across the entire city enabling you to see the areas you’ve liberated and the pockets of oppression that still exist, so you’ll always know the next place to deal with, without having to consult a map.

Seeing the game for the first time behind closed doors, we were impressed by how striking the game looks and much is being made of its stylised version of Paris with very good reason. Set in an open-world realisation of an oppressed 1940’s vision of the French capital, The Saboteur has a fantastic atmosphere and employs a neat visual trick to illustrate which regions are still under Nazi oppression and which are mustering the ‘Will to Fight.’ Black and white areas are still under Nazi control whereas parts of the map rendered in glorious colour denote that the population is beginning to fight back. As a setting, Paris is incredibly evocative, populated by seedy burlesque joints including the iconic Moulin Rouge, surrounded by rustic, cobble-paved alleyways. The skyline itself is dominated by not just the 1000-foot spire of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, but also by the ominous sight of patrolling Nazi zeppelins. Again, historical accuracy is fairly low on The Saboteur’s agenda here what with zeppelins being decommissioned at the time and all, but what Pandemic has done makes for a genuinely interesting and immersive backdrop, even if it’s not wholly truthful. The layout and architecture of the famous French city has also been adjusted to suit the requirements of the instant action gameplay, with distances scaled down to ensure that exploring the streets is always enjoyable rather than a patience-wearing slog.

Devlin is an acrobatic, tough, hard-bitten man's-man.
He's pretty handy with a gun too.

It’s amazing to see just how much The Saboteur has come along since that initial unveiling over two years ago. What at the time seemed like a fairly uninteresting prospect has bloomed into what could be one of the biggest highlights of 2009. It’s no hyperbole to say that the game looks stunning in motion with the monochrome film noir style punctuated by dashes of red, reminiscent of Sin City’s striking cinematography. Once the world transforms into full colour, the game looks equally resplendent, and what sounds like a superfluous gimmick inspired by Okami is actually a welcome spin on the usual drab and fussy World War II games that we’ve all grown accustomed to over the years. We never thought we’d say this, but Pandemic look as though they’re producing something very special with The Saboteur and we for one, can’t wait to play it.

The Saboteur has yet to be given a release date, but should be out towards the latter part of this year.

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By stuntkid (SI Elite) on May 06, 2009
Wow. First time hearing about this. Looks and sounds great too. Will have to keep an eye out.
By Praetorian (SI Core) on May 07, 2009
This game is going to be very nice
By eloqui (SI Core Member) on May 09, 2009
Hope this is Thief-y. If you're going to sabotage 'em, why not clean 'em out while you're at it?