December 8, 2009

The Saboteur: First Impressions

Dale Culp says: When the first thing I see upon opening a game's box is a code to download a patch that unlocks virtual boobies in the game, I know I'm off to a good start. When the first thing I see upon starting a new game is a dancing girl and some virtual boobies, well, that's like 11/10 - and I don't even score games. Pandemic Studios sure knew how to get a gamer's attention.

After a few moments of this distasteful exploitation of the female figure -- which I dutifully skipped past as fast as I could, like a true gentleman -- you meet The Saboteur himself, Sean Devlin. Sean Devlin is an Irish-born mechanic turned driver who hangs out among the racing groups of Paris, France. He likes fast cars and fast women, but not always in that order. His impetus for becoming as big a headache as possible for the Nazis who are occupying France is that they killed his best friend. Also, they're a bunch of jerks. In one of the first missions, you break up a bunch of Nazis harassing some locals. Of course, I chose to do this by driving through them at a high rate of speed -- which may or may not have resulted in the Parisians' deaths, but at least those nasty Nazis are gone. Hey, don't judge... if the game says I completed the mission than what's a little collateral damage between friends and innocent bystanders? Either way, we moved on and never spoke of it again.

After blowing up a few things, the game takes you back 3 months, back to when things were nicer, back to that day when you were in the big race and your best friend got killed. Remember that? And that senior trip to Paris? And that cafe with that waiter... What was his name? Jean-Luc! Ahh, good times. Good times. Killing Nazis and racing cars, that's how Sean Devlin celebrates the moments of his life!

Hopefully, by now, you've figured out how to play the game and are ready to start doing this stuff for real. That is, unless you're still at the beginning of the game, staring at topless dancers. It's OK to move on, really. You come back. You're going to be seeing those virtual boobs again, I promise. You should really see more of the game because it's pretty good.

The Saboteur is probably most notable for its graphics scheme, which has the world in black-and-white with splashes of red and yellow. The lack of color is meant to represent the oppression of the Nazi regime and the hopeless, bleak despair of the citizens of Paris. As The Saboteur, your job is to bring back their hope by throwing a few monkey wrenches into the Nazis' plans, spitting directly into Der Fuhrer's face. Bringing back hope and inspiration to the people of Paris returns the colors of the world. You can actually see how different areas of Paris have color and the other areas that are still under oppression are in black-and-white. Of course, it's more personal for Devlin than simply liberating France. Also, it's a lot of fun. There are plenty of other details, however, that come off as some really nice touches. Like the way music sounds after getting into a car, as though it's being broadcast over AM airwaves and coming out of a tinny, low-fi car speaker, and then it slowly becomes clearer and part of the background. It's an interesting effect that might be easily missed if you're just running and gunning constantly.

Another nice touch is the automatic cover system that plants you square against a wall, or crouching behind a solid surface, simply by running into it. You can vault over obstacles just as quickly and easily by pressing a button, as well. The gunplay could be a little better as the lock-on doesn't always lock-on, but it's pretty easy to kill bad guys while avoiding fire -- as long as you aren't playing on "Feckin' Hard" which is, honest to God, the actual name of the hardest difficulty level.

Now, you might be thinking, "Oh, boy... Here come those pesky Nationalsozialists we all love to hate -- the greatest whipping boys anyone could have ever asked for. Who would we possibly have to shoot at in modern, 21st Century video games if it weren't for Germany's biggest screw-up of the 20th Century?" And, sure, there's plenty of room to make the argument that this is simply Grand Theft Auto with Nazis and a novel graphical style, but I like it. The story and setting is interesting and the gameplay is fun. For once, I'm not playing a criminal, clawing his way to the top, or an immigrant whose only chance at the American Dream is to steal as much as he can. I'm playing a genuinely interesting character with a real motivating factor for the terrible things he's doing. I like that you can either sneak in and out, quiet as a mouse, or throw some gasoline on the hornet's nest and really stir shit up, depending on how you want to play. Plus, the guy voicing Sean Devlin sounds a lot like Chief O'Brien from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I'm getting a real kick out of that. That all said, based on my first impressions, I'm totally digging The Saboteur. So far, good game.