Games for Lunch: The Saboteur
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date: Dec. 8, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site
0:00 I've been interested in this game since I first heard about it back in 1995. Seriously, I feel like I've been waiting for this stylish period piece forever, and now it's finally here just in time for the studio that worked so hard on it to shut down. This is all coloring my perceptions going in.
0:01 A red fleur-de-lis shimmers in the light a bit, then the game tells me I need "1021 MB more free space on the hard drive." It's always something with these PS3 releases...
0:02 The Bourne Conspiracy is taking up 4.68 GB on my hard drive? Good lord, why?
0:03 "The Saboteur needs to perform an initial setup process. This will take about 7 minutes." Well I appreciate their warning me, at least. Let's see how accurate their estimate is...
0:10 The install is done ... almost exactly seven minutes after it started. That's pretty impressive.
0:11 Logos, then a painted red line morphs into a woman's tight-pantsed backside. The line shifts goes down to the title. Fade to a black-and-white Parisian skyline, focused on the Eiffel Tower. Faint sirens in the background. Cut to an old car rumbling down a cobblestone street. There are red lights on some signs, but everything else has a noir-ish grayscale palette. I love the sensuous old French accordion music in the background.
0:12 The difficulty defaults to Hard. I can also choose Casual, Normal and "Feckin' Hard." Normal is feckin' fine by me...
0:13 Apparently there was a ticket in the box to download The Midnight Show DLC for free. The game tells me it adds adult content like nudity, a VIP room and new hiding spots. I decide to put it off, since this hour isn't getting any longer. Still ... adult content!
0:14 ELECTRONIC ARTS Presents ... a PANDEMIC STUDIOS production. THE SABOTEUR. A pastie-clad showgirl is silhouetted in bright white light. She dances semi-seductively/semi-robotically to whistles and cheers from the crowd. Zoom out to show a rowdy crowd of drunk Nazis, groping the waitresses and falling off their chairs. The camera trains on a guy in a brown coat and an old-fashioned cap. "Is this seat taken?" says a stereotypical Frenchman. "I'm not looking for company," says the thick Irish accent of the sitter. "You're in Paree, my friend. In this city no one drinks alone." After some tension, the French guy (Luc) continues: "I've been watching you these past weeks. I've seen that you have no love for the Nazis. How many more will die ... while you sit their cowering like a sick dog." The Irish guy argues that it's "not my country," but Luc ain't having it. "You can hide here and leave the fighting to braver men ... I intend to do more than talk. ... There is a courtyard around the corner. Meet me there when you are ready to stop hiding." The camera focuses on a photograph of Sean with ... his brother. He looks wistful. Decent writing so far, and delivered very well. The awkward animation is actually growing on me.
0:18 "Prologue: Spark One Up." I'm supposed to head to the yellow pin on the mini-map, but instead I run around the club a bit. Sean's run animation is unsettling ... he goes from standing to a full sprint without anything in between. When I get up on the dancing stage, I'm booed by the crowd. Cute. Still liking the French music.
0:20 Outside, everything is a crisp black and white, save for the yellow glow coming from a few windows and those neon red signs. It's a powerful effect, makes everything look like an old-time photograph. I go to the alley to talk with Luc. "I see you're a man who'd rather die on his feet than live on his knees." There are 5,000 barrels of petrol being guarded by drunk soldiers, he tells me. "Are you prepared to kill if necessary? The way I see it, the Nazi bastards bought their own ticket to hell. I'm just laying out the welcome mats." It's not quite "Inglourious Basterds," but it'll do for anti-Nazi catharsis.
0:23 We get into Luc's car. He's surprisingly OK with my insistence on driving, despite his not knowing me from a hole in the wall. We're off to get fire-starting supplies, following a crisp yellow line on the mini-map. Quote of the moment: "I handled a bombshell once. Turns out she was married."
0:24 We make it to the supply depot, after driving through a few blocks of what I assume are semi-accurate Paris streets. The handling is kind of loose, and I have to restrain myself from driving like a madman and ramming into the few pedestrians and other cars around. There are a few Nazi soldiers walking around too ... their red armbands really stand out in the black and white ... maybe I can run THEM down.
0:25 After we stop, Luc sees a woman getting backhanded by a Nazi and he can't take it anymore. He cries out in unconvincing French and goes bounding off to help with some awkward animation. Welp ... looks like it's brawling-tutorial time...
0:27 Hold L1 to get into brawl mode, then three face buttons for punches and kicks. The kicks are all little dinky taps to the shins, yet they still draw blood, somehow. Weird. Luc apologizes. "I lost my temper. It won't happen again."
0:28 The bomb-making materials are in a "restricted zone" where the alarm will sound if the Nazis see me. Looks like it's stealth-climbing time. Luc asks if I can handle it. "It's a piece of piss." "I do not know the phrase," Luc responds. "It means yes," Sean says, resigned. Heh.
0:30 Climbing combines the frustration-free point-and-jump structure of Uncharted with the highlighted platforms of Mirror's Edge. Pretty satisfying.
0:31 The rooftop guard somehow sees me as I take him out, and he sounds the alarm. Down below, two guards attack Luc so I drop down to help him with the brawling. I get the "Fightin' Irish" perk for knocking out two Nazis, unlocking a Haymaker attack. Whoo!
0:32 I bust open the crates, grab the dynamite, and head back to the car. During the drive back, there's some light expositional storytelling ... I tell him I'm a mechanic, he says the resistance could use a guy like me. I run down a Nazi, which drives up my "provoking" meter. Wow ... they really are aping GTA here...
0:33 "The Nazis are trained to investigate the sound of gunshots or an explosion. Use that to your advantage." Interesting. Luc lays out the plan: I'll climb a building, he'll dynamite a truck as a distraction, I'll use a telephone line to zipline over the gate, then set the TNT on the main fuel depot tank. See ya on the flipside.
0:36 So I wait patiently as the truck bomb is set to go off, then slide in and set the explosive. I thought I ran a safe distance away, but the huge orange fireball engulfs me in a sea of blood. I still get a nice cut-scene view of the explosion and get to see the color return to a nearby part of the city before I die a bloody death. "Mission Failed: Sean has died," the game helpfully informs me.
0:41 I evade the explosion this time, but some straggler guards spot me as I'm leaving through the fuel depot gates. A big red circle appears on the mini-map and I'm told it will re-center on me every time a Nazi spots me. I sprint through a hail of gunfire and finally escape the circle a few blocks away. "Get back in the vehicle," the game tells me. The car is now blocks away! Grumble.
0:42 Great ... there's a yellow "suspicion zone" between me and the vehicle. Just getting near it raises the suspicion meter until I back up and it slowly lowers. I like the dramatic music and effective, tense sound design.
0:43 One of the Nazis peeled off from the group and has trained his gun on me. He actually pushes me with the butt, drawing a bit of blood, but I don't retaliate, for fear of raising the ire of his companions. It's a surprisingly affecting scene ... a good demonstration of the casual oppression of the Nazis.
0:45 Aw f*** it ... I run through the suspicion zone and actually make it out safely on the other side just before they start firing. Because that wasn't suspicious at all. I get back in the car and the mini-map gives me a yellow line that tears right through some Nazis. I plow into them and drive off. Suddenly, the game pops up with a message: "Mission failed: You've abandoned your follower." I KNEW I was forgetting something.
0:46 Wow ... I'm reset all the way back before the fuel depot blows up. Hopefully this time I can escape detection.
0:48 This time, before setting the explosives, I go looking for a better escape route. I find a crate full of ammo for my nonexistent gun in the process.
0:49 I avoid the explosion by hiding in a corner of the base, but then I get quickly spotted as I inch toward the gate to get out. I'm killed in a flurry of gunfire. ARGH!
0:51 I swear, If I hear Sean say, "That's my cue ... time ta leg it" one more time...
0:53 OK, I'm almost sure I was completely hidden behind a fuel tank after this last explosion, but it doesn't matter, the Nazis still find me. That's OK though, because even though I get knocked down once or twice, I still manage to sprint through their fire and get out to the car. Despite the continuing gunfire on my convertible I manage to pick up Luc and get out of there. "We did it. Tonight we changed the course of history, my friend," he cries. As we get back to the club, he tells me to "Get some rest, my friend." "If by that you mean a sweet brunette and a glass of whiskey..." Sean replies. Hey-o! Luc says he owes me a drink. Hey, I just said I was having some whiskey! Lousy cheap Frenchman.
0:54 "Sean shows a careless disregard for his own health and safety ... especially when he's smoking cigarettes," says the loading screen. I can't tell if this is clever or just over-concerned.
0:56 I walk back to my room, which conveniently takes me through the topless girls' dressing room. I have a short conversation with one of the buxom dancers, but the accents are so thick I can't make out a word, and the subtitles have turned off for some reason.
0:58 Fade out to "Three months earlier." What, really? There was just a big explosion, and you're going to cut to three months ago? It's not like there's some big mystery about how we got the Nazis occupying Paris. Anyway, I'm working under a blue sports car when some guy tells me to get out. "The Aurora is my girl now, Sean. I will not have another girl peeking up her skirt." A girl snaps our picture. She's Veronique is coming along for the race to take pictures. An Italian named Vittore comes in and tells us to load up the car in the trailer. We're gonna drive her across the border, but it'll have to wait until hour No. 2.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? The writing's gotten a little flat, and the gameplay is a little clunky, but the concept and the presentation might be enough to keep me keeping on.
This column is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Want to know more about Games for Lunch? Check out the FAQ here.
For more Games for Lunch, visit the official GfL blog.