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Video Game Review: 'The Saboteur'

Not as polished as the games it draws from

Posted: December 31, 2009 1:24 p.m.
Updated: January 1, 2010 6:00 a.m.

The "Saboteur" box art. Reviewer Kesten said, "This is the last production of Pandemic Studios.... It feels unfinished, like the developers could have used a few extra months to iron out all its annoying little kinks. I wanted to like it, but the more I played, the more disappointed I felt. It could have been a blast, but 'The Saboteur' fizzles."

 
World War II has been the setting for so many video games that playing them all would probably take as much time as the war itself.

So it's surprising when someone comes up with a fresh approach to such a familiar conflict - a feat Pandemic Studios has pulled off with "The Saboteur" (Electronic Arts, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99).

Forget about the grunt's-eye-view of "Call of Duty" or "Medal of Honor." The hero here is a free agent, a cocky Irishman named Sean Devlin who's more interested in auto racing than fighting. But after a Nazi kills his best friend, Devlin ends up in Paris, where he's recruited by the French Resistance. So much for saving the world from tyranny - Devlin's motivated by simple revenge.

That entails raising hell all over Nazi-occupied France: stealing German supplies, blowing up their installations and assassinating their leaders. It's like a cross between "Inglourious Basterds" and "Grand Theft Auto."

"The Saboteur" borrows very freely from other, better games. Its open-world mission design is straight out of "GTA." Devlin's uncanny ability to scale buildings is reminiscent of "Assassin's Creed." And the stealth sequences owe a debt to the "Splinter Cell" series.

Unfortunately, "The Saboteur" is never as polished as any of the games that it draws from. The stealth element is particularly disappointing, especially if you think an effective saboteur should keep a low profile. It's almost impossible to maintain cover through an entire mission, and you usually end up having to blast your way out of trouble.

Sneaking around on the rooftops is a bit easier, but climbing the walls is so slow and awkward that it's rarely worth the trouble. And forget about hand-to-hand combat: It's so sluggish that by the time you land a punch, your target will have sounded the alarm and brought all his Nazi buddies running.

And then there's the protagonist, a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed Irish stereotype. Devlin is supposed to be a charming rogue, but he comes off as a boorish knucklehead. Other cliches, from the duplicitous Frenchmen to the cold-blooded Germans, don't fare much better.

There are some things to like about "The Saboteur." With the Nazis in charge, Paris is literally colorless, presented in evocative black and white. As the enemy's influence wanes, more parts of the city come alive with vivid color. It's a clever means to show how much you've accomplished, and the City of Lights looks gorgeous either way.

This is the last production of Pandemic Studios, which Electronic Arts largely dismantled last month. It feels unfinished, like the developers could have used a few extra months to iron out all its annoying little kinks. I wanted to like it, but the more I played, the more disappointed I felt. It could have been a blast, but "The Saboteur" fizzles.

Two stars out of four.

On the Net:
http://www.pandemicstudios.com/thesaboteur/

 

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