Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Saboteur (PC)

The Saboteur title screen pc
My selfish stylish sexy sandbox shooter starting with an 'S' series stretches on to its third game: Pandemic's swan song The Saboteur. Yep, this was the final game ever made by Pandemic Studios, which kind of sucks as I love everything I've played by them. Mercenaries was one of the best open world sandbox games to follow Grand Theft Auto 3's lead, and I had some good times playing the Star Wars: Battlefront games in multiplayer. So I've got unreasonably high hopes for this one, and if it lets me down at all I'll be distraught.

The game came out for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but I'm playing the Windows version because... well, it's a lot easier to get screenshots out of it. I've heard that this is a bit of a bad port, especially on PCs with modern processors and an ATI graphics card like mine, but I made it through the dodgy PC version of Saints Row 2 so I'm sure I can handle it.

(Click any screenshot to open up a 1280x1024 resolution version. Yeah yeah I know it's not exactly what you'd find on deadendthrills.com.)

The Saboteur menu screen
That's a beautifully moody menu screen, I could sit here for a while just watching the cars drive past in the rain. Plus the mouse pointer works and the screen's not a flickering glitchy mess, which are both good signs.

The Saboteur redefine keyboard mouse options screen
Oh hang on, this isn't so good. I can't map 'return' to anything, 'backspace' works but it also takes me back out to the previous menu, and mapping 'delete' to anything also makes it want to revert to defaults. Which is funny, because the game is adamant that the 'reset to defaults' button is actually 'X' on my Xbox controller, despite the fact that I've used nothing but my mouse and keys so far.

Man, these actions are getting ridiculous now: there's strong punch, quick punch, kick, remove disguise, stealth kill etc. and they all seem to need a separate button. I've got them scattered all over the numeric keypad and some are even assigned to the function keys... I think I'm going to have to redefine these as I go instead; play through the game and map the actions I end up using most onto the most comfortable keys.

The game starts with a battle of the fake accents, with an Englishman playing a depressed Irishman, and a New Yorker playing a pissed off Frenchman. Luc here (on the right) has come to this cabaret to inspire Sean (the other one) to quit drinking, get out there onto the streets of occupied Paris and do something to fight back. It's not obvious why he chose this guy out of everyone in the club to harass, but Sean seems to be coming around to the idea.

Actually to be precise, the game really starts with a close up of a topless dancer in silhouette, before pulling the camera back to reveal Nazi soldiers gathered around the stage, cheering.

Though for some reason when I step up here they all start booing. I think they're envious of my flat cap. There's no way to customise Sean by the way, he is who he is.

Gamers put off by all the flesh on display here have the option to turn off nudity, but all the option really does is cover up the nipples with pasties and annoy Sean, who asks you to "Put the kiddies to bed already". You can get the same effect by just not installing the official 'Midnight Show' nude patch.

The Midnight Show is actually included as ON DISC DLC on PC, which a practice I normally abhor, but in this case it's entirely free and is installed automatically, so uh... not much to whine about there.

The console versions on the other hand came with a code to download the Midnight Show for free, with the content locked to the account who entered the code. So it basically worked like a nudity tax for people buying preowned copies (though every owner in the UK got the content free whether they bought it new or not).

Oh by the way, this text is from the comprehensive in game glossary, which thoughtfully explains all the important terms in the game. Like 'glossary' for instance:

It may be a gritty, adult World War II drama set in occupied France, but somehow I get the feeling it's not going to be dwelling too much on the horror of it all.

Whoa, that is very grey. I knew the game was going to be a bit desaturated outdoors, but I'm still surprised at far they've taken it. It reminds me a lot of Sin City, but I suppose they would've been more influenced by Schindler's List; those sinister red Nazi banners are impossible to miss, even when half my attention is focused on following the yellow line on my radar.

In the Saints Row games this would be the point where we buy a gun or go clothes shopping, but Luc's got some other scheme in mind. So now I'm driving him down to a Nazi supply depot while he rants about how much it pisses him off to see soldiers marching around his city.

Oh and now he's gotten out of the car and started punching them, so I have to run over and help the guy not get shot.

My attempt to find a decent way to redefine these keys has utterly failed though, so I'm struggling a bit here. I'm definitely starting to get the feeling that they really want me to use a controller for this. Speaking of controllers, my Xbox 360 pad just went and took a running leap off the top of my PC tower because I forget to turn the vibration off. I guess I just assumed that if I used nothing but mouse and keyboard the game would pick up on the fact that I'm NOT CURRENTLY HOLDING IT.

Okay, I punched some Nazis, kicked some boxes, and now I'm taking a zip line over to an enemy fuel depot, armed with nothing but bad language and an satchel full of stolen dynamite.

Luc grabbed some dynamite himself, and planted it on a Nazi truck down there as a distraction. With all the little red dots on the radar going over to look at what just blew up in the yellow circle, I should be free to sneak around behind them and do a little sabotage of my own.

The Nazis patrol the streets, but they won't attack me unless I do something suspicious like climbing on buildings, sneaking around in plain sight, or trespassing in their restricted area with a bundle of dynamite in my hand. Fortunately the distraction outside really has done its job, as no one's noticed me yet.

Okay, so the fuse is lit, now I just have to figure out how I'm going to get out of here. Crap, every way I turn all I see are fuel drums and barbed wire fences. And Nazis.

Well on the plus side, now I know that an exploding fuel dump in the face isn't enough to kill Sean outright, but he'd better hope that his regenerating health kicks in before the bullets start flying.

Now that there's been an even bigger bang in the middle of their supply depot, the Nazis have a new yellow circle to investigate, and I'm standing in it. That yellow exclamation mark under the radar means that someone's looking at me, and the yellow circle around the outside fills up as they get more suspicious. So I've got about half a split second before they sound the alarm and drag every Nazi into the area to use my iconic cap for target practice.

Uh... to the rooftops!

Man, that's a nice view, nice zeppelin too. Hey, blowing up the depot has brought some colour back to this place! It's still seems to be stuck in perpetual night, but one problem at a time.

Those Nazis did set off an alarm in the end, so now there's a red search perimeter on my radar that I need to get outside of to end the chase, instantly. I've gotten some distance from the depot now, but every time one of those bastards spots me, the circle gets reset and I'm back to square one. In hindsight, I probably should have absconded in one of those fast moving automobile contraptions instead of trying to parkour my way to safety.


A DARING GETAWAY LATER... AND THEN A FEW MONTHS EARLIER.


Uh, is a bit of that hill missing on the right?

Man, I'm suddenly getting flashbacks to playing that bloody racing level in Mafia three months back, which is weirdly fitting as this scene takes place three months in the past. Sean's travelled to sunny Germany with friends to take part in the 1940 Saarbrücken Grand Prix, and that presumably means that I have to win the race for him. Though at least this time around they make a point to reveal that Sean actually has experience as a racing driver and isn't just a taxi driver they've drafted in like Tommy in Mafia.

I've reason to expect I'll do well too, as the cars in this game have absurdly good handling. I'm weaving through these guys easily, and my car hasn't flipped around, flipped out, or flipped over once yet. I'm still stubbornly steering with the keyboard by the way.

Oh c'mon! Just as I pulled into the lead, Wesker here pulled out a pistol and shot out my tire! I have to give him credit for his aim, but I'm sure there must be rules forbidding this kind of unsporting behaviour. Then again I suppose there is a war on... or is there? Seems that they're playing around with history a bit here.

Sean wasn't too impressed by his rival wrecking his car, so after the race he decides to return the favour. So now I've got to sneak into the Doppelsieg Motorworks with Sean's buddy Jules under cover of darkness, steal the bastard's race car, and take it for a joyride... off a cliff.

Haven't quite got the hang of bailing out yet.

Still, I think I successfully made my point, or at least I will have when they finally figure out where the car ended up. That all went pretty well actually, and here was me thinking that something terrible was going to happen to Jules

Wesker shot Jules in the head! Dierker, whatever. So this is the point where everything turned black and white for poor Sean... though the tragedy is undercut a bit by the loading screen that appears afterwards, complete with a gameplay hint. Way to pull me right out of the moment!

It turns out that Dierker is more that he seemed to be, and so is this factory. The guy's convinced that we're British spies, and he's far more pissed off about that, than the fact that his prized race car is currently a giant fish tank ornament. It'd be fair though to say that he's not even half as angry as Sean is right now: the guy tears his arms free of the chair, snaps a Nazi's neck, and then rushes out the door looking for someone else to kill.

Hey, they've put lights on all of the handholds, that's pretty thoughtful of whoever built this sign. It's basically a training frame to practice climbing on, not that's all that tricky to do. Climbing is slightly slower and more involved than in the Assassin's Creed games, as I have to choose which ledge I want to climb to each time, but Sean can make his way to the top of pretty much any building if I can spot a good path.

Ah, now I've finally got a gun in my hand and I can see what the shooting is like. Well it's like a typical third person shooter with a cover system really. Sean automatically gets his back against a wall like this when appropriate, and he'll pop out if I pull the trigger or aim down the sights. I can carry two guns, enemies go down in a hit or two if I aim my shots well, and... it's working out just fine with my Xbox controller, so I'm going to switch over from the mouse now. There's no auto-aim or lock-on option, but I never use that anyway.

Oh now I see why I was having so much trouble with the fist fight earlier: holding down left trigger without a gun equipped switches Sean into brawling mode, with the face buttons becoming different attacks. See, I didn't need all those extra buttons, I just needed a way to map more than one thing to the same key! I played a couple of the Saints Row games just fine with mouse and keys, but this really really wants you to use a controller.

Damn, I'm out of France for a couple of days, and when I get back I find the Nazis have begun invading in force! Hang on, these troops came here from Saarbrücken? I thought the army moved in through Belgium and Luxembourg to avoid the Maginot Line fortifications along the German border.

Not that I know anything about World War II that isn't basic common knowledge; like how the Hindenburg disaster pretty much ended the use of Zeppelins, leading to them all being scrapped by this point in 1940, for instance. Also Paris wasn't black and white, so they've gotten that wrong too.

By the way this particular shot is from a pre-rendered video cutscene, so you can't blame my PC this time for any graphical weirdness going on.

Anyway, now we've established why Sean hates the Nazis that have occupied his home and oppressed his friends, we've jumped back to the present day so he can get on with the business of revenge.

Oh did I mention that the reason that he hangs out in a club is because he lives in a secret room behind the dressing room? I was curious to why the game brings so much attention to this place (besides the obvious), so I did the bare minimum of research and discovered it's basically standing in for Paris's famous Moulin Rouge cabaret. The game loves its landmarks you see, though you'd have to go down the road a bit to find the red windmill and giant elephant associated with the real Moulin Rouge.


SKIPPING AHEAD A BIT.


The game might be open world, but my options are pretty closed off right now. I can either sneak inside this prison disguised as a Nazi to rescue resistance members before a British air raid destroys the place, or I can... go for a walk and then come back and do it later.

But this gives me a chance to show off some new stuff! I can swipe and wear enemy uniforms as long as I don't get blood on them (so I can't use bullets when acquiring one), but my disguise doesn't work if I walk too fast or too close to a Nazi. So sneaking around like this is basically a game of 'avoid the red dots on the radar', or at least the ones that can see me. That yellow shine above Sean's head shows that someone's getting suspicious, and which direction they're at, which is handy. It also comes in red for when I inevitably end up getting shot at.


SOME MISSIONS LATER.


Speaking of colourful shines, check out the aura on the Nazi over there standing next to that AA gun. Nazis glow white if they don't care about me, yellow if they're suspicious of something, and bright red if they're out to get me, and this is a FANTASTIC FEATURE. Seriously, I'm giving 100,000 bonus points to The Saboteur for always making it easy see who I'm meant to be shooting at. These idiots have no comprehension of cover, so they're never that hard to spot, just as long as I remember to look up occasionally.

There's boxes up on the rooftops with ammo, cash and sometimes dynamite too if I'm very lucky, so if find myself something explosive I'll need to remember to come back and take care of that gun. Just because it's there really, it's not like it's shooting down any Allied planes.

Oh shit, I can use the AA guns myself! This is the best thing: I'm blasting every other tower I see on these rooftops, and everyone who drives up to stop me. Nazis can't climb buildings and my Wolverine healing factor takes care of stray bullets from the streets, so I'm practically invulnerable up here.

Man, there really are a lot of towers up here and none of them are marked on the radar, so it's going to be a nightmare to find them all.

Things are looking more interesting now that I've gotten some jobs done and boosted the morale of inhabitants. The area I haven't visited yet looks like it's under a storm cloud, while it's sunny skies over on the north side of the city. It's a great looking effect in my highly subjective opinion, and it means that the game world can dramatically change appearance over time as I make progress.

That blimp isn't going to look so cool in the harsh light of day though. I wonder if there's anything I can do about that.

The majestic airship plummets down from the night sky as fire erupts out of from its shattered hull, melting the framework and breaking it into fragments of flaming debris that rain down across the streets... man, how come this never gets old to me? An extra 50 contraband for my violence will do nicely as well, not that I have anything to spend it on.

Actually, there is something that this is all working towards now that I think about it...

The Saboteur perks screen
Ah, I need to be destroying more Nazi towers to get the next upgrade, I see. I'm sure that finding the things won't be a problem even without them showing up on radar, as they're towers, but I'm going to need more dynamite first.

These character upgrades are called 'perks' (which has to be borrowed from Fallout), and there's some interesting stuff in here. There's no 'better armour' or 'better accuracy' unlocks here, most provide new combat skills, more weapons, new vehicles... oh plus an ability to kill a Nazi by touching them, though I'll have to pull off some serious mayhem to unlock the higher tier rewards like that.

I should probably save the game while the menu's up now that I think about it. Loading always puts me back at home base, but I can save anywhere and any time I feel like. Fortunately the missions have checkpoints, to prevent me having to drive all the way back every time I screw up.

The Saboteur came out after TWO Saints Row games, and they still decided to go with a fleur-de-lis as the logo. Takes some balls for a rival sandbox game to steal the Saints' symbol like that. Though Sean has at least taken it upon himself to make some improvements to the design.

If anyone ever says that video games can't be art, just point them at this.


EVENTUALLY.


Hey, it's taken a while, but I've finally got a bit of choice regarding what mission I want to do next!

This is almost (but not quite) the entire game map, showing that France is mostly made up of Paris, with a few small towns scattered around the north (plus I can return to Saarbrücken in Germany, just off screen to the north east.) See how many famous landmarks you can recognise just from their footprints!

I don't even know of that many famous buildings in Paris myself so you'll likely get way more than I have. Though there is ONE Parisian landmark that I'm pretty well acquainted with, well enough to pick it out of a skyline anyway, and I don't see any reason why I shouldn't just take a car down there now and climb the thing.


A FEW GETAWAY CHASES LATER.


Oh fuck, that's not small is it? How am I supposed to get all the way up that thing?

I really am supposed to be climbing these landmarks by the way; the game gives me a spinning aerial shot and some bonus cash if I manage to make it to the top.


EVENTUALLY.


Yeah, I'm starting to regret this plan a little now. I found a working elevator that got me up to the first level, but it looks like I've got to make it up this section by hand, one beam at a time. Isn't this thing supposed to have stairs? Well at least I can say I'm a proper video game tourist now, seeing as I'm hanging off one of the world's most famous landmarks.

I'm pretty impressed actually that the developers actually constructed an entire replica of the Eiffel Tower and went to the trouble of making sure it was climbable too. I also love the way water drips down the metal when it rains; it's a great looking effect and I don't remember ever seeing it in a game before.


LATER.


Man, you know how the Assassin's Creed games let you take a leap of faith off tall buildings into carts of hay? Well The Saboteur doesn't generally do that, so you can imagine how long it took me to get back down from the Eiffel Tower afterwards.

If I was going to list my three main problems with this game so far, they'd be:
  1. Climbing is relatively slow.
  2. I can't restock on dynamite easily.
  3. I can't see my optional sabotage targets on the map or radar.
But I just unlocked a shop, so cross off problem #2, and the shop sells maps of targets so cross off #3 as well! I'm going to have to look for some more problems now.

Holy shit that's a lot of targets! This is just a fraction of the game map as well, so take this and multiply it by five, and that's how many things I have to blow up. Wow, I can see this being kind of an issue.

Well okay I don't have to blow them up, but it's not easy to drive past a Nazi fuel station, tank, guard tower, AA gun etc. without doing anything about it... or the other one just down the road. There's no Saints Row style activities showing up, no property to buy, no races so far, so playing around in this sandbox is 99% about blowing shit up, and it's a massive distraction from the main storyline. Whether that's good or bad though, I'm not sure yet.


LATER.


Oh for fuck's sake, please get out of the way when I'm doing an extreme high speed getaway in a stolen Gestapo car. I really wish these pedestrians would automatically jump out of the way instead of running all over the place like idiots, as it's hard to feel like the hero of the French resistance when I accidentally hit five people on the way back to base. At first I was reloading my last save every time I inadvertently clipped someone, but it's not really practical to do that.

To be fair I can afford to slow down a little, as cars in this can take a serious amount of punishment. In fact Sean himself can survive a head on attack from anything short of an army on Normal difficulty, though annoyingly the Nazis have had the forethought to bring an army here with them, so sadly Sean hasn't always walked away from the shit I've gotten him into.

By the way, check out that red logo on the back. Now scroll down and see how it looks in sunlight.

The logo turned to chrome! The game doesn't just bleed out all the colour, it transforms specific materials for effect. The chrome bumper for instance was grey in the black/white zone, while the yellow licence plate and red lights above it lost their colour. Man, I am never going to get tired of that trick.

Anyway, I've finally got my own garage now, so I've got a place to stash my latest find. I say 'finally', but this is probably really early in the story. It's hard to tell because I've spent hours distracted by AA guns and Eiffel Towers. If I bring a car to the garage I get to keep it forever, and the game encourages me to grab every car I can see with new perks, but the thing is... most of those cars belong to innocent French civilians, and I don't much want to rob their cars just to unlock the ability to store tanks.

Sean's not an asshole, he doesn't turn on people unless they piss him off first. To be fair that happens in half the conversations he has, but he mostly sticks to smart-ass comebacks and threats rather than grand theft auto. I wouldn't say I've been finding the storyline all that engrossing, but some of the things he comes out with in cutscenes are amazing.


MUCH LATER.


By the way, this game isn't all about blowing up towers and sniping traitors in the city. Sometimes I get to do it out in the countryside too! It's just a bit of a shame that the view can look at bit crap at times, even with the settings maxed out. Maybe it just doesn't like my graphics card, I'm not sure.

I finally found an activity though! Took a bit of free roaming to come across, but I've successfully located... a duck hunt minigame. Oh, also there's a race flag marked on my radar too, so I can do that now as well.

By the way, when I decide to write about a game, I always end up with a folder full of a few thousand screenshots which I have to go through and cut down to just the ones that best demonstrate my experience of playing it...

...but there's no way I'm not including this shot. It's a statue of a Nazi perched upon a giant eagle, grasping fire in his hand, on a rooftop surrounded by flaming torches, and I caught the scene at the exact moment that lightning lit up the sky behind him.

And then I blew it up with dynamite, because screw that guy. You know, I bet it was actually of the same bloke who shot out Sean's tire and killed his friend during the Grand Prix too. There's no way we're going to kick the Nazis out of Paris by the end of this game, but the story is really about Sean's personal vendetta against Dierker and there's the potential for a bit of closure there.

Even with its exaggerated take on World War II, there are sympathetic and heroic German characters in the game, but Dierker has been 100% asshole from his first appearance and it'll be a pleasure to... resolve his plot line when the time comes.


A FEW HOURS LATER.


Well fuck, I see to have dropped out of the Matrix. I've seen a few cars fall out through the road from time to time during my travels, but I didn't think it'd ever happen to me.

I get the feeling that this is because I forgot to set the games's processor affinity to two cores in Windows Task Manager. Like I said earlier, the game doesn't like Radeon graphics cards or modern processors all that much, but the only real issue it's been causing for me is that the car I'm driving can outrun the level, with massive gaps in buildings and roads appearing ahead of me. I've never fallen through any until now, but it's kinda hard to know when to take a corner when the building in front doesn't appear until the last second.

Anyway, setting the processor affinity seems to tone that way down, and either way I wouldn't say that the massive obvious graphical glitches have ruined the gameplay for me. I'm at the point now where the game would have to try much harder than this to put me off.

Plus here I am at full speed in the country and it looks perfectly fine right now! Oh hang on, there's some artillery over there, I just need to park this thing and go sort that out. Should I try sneaking over, maybe steal a uniform this time? Or should I snipe them from a distance and try to get my demolition work done before the alarm brings a squad of backup troops over? That's what I love about this game, I've got the option to handle things any way I feel like.

Oh I finished the storyline hours ago by the way, I'm just taking care of some of those thousand other dots on the map. 25 hours it took me in the end, if you're curious.


CONCLUSION

Is The Saboteur any good? Well if you're after historical accuracy you might be disappointed. I don't remember seeing many guard towers on photos of occupied Paris, I've seen even fewer blimps, and I'm absolutely certain that Parisians weren't really listening to 'Feeling Good' on their car stereos, seeing as the song was written in 1964.

But you know it kind of works. The city feels incredibly oppressive, with towers and searchlights across the rooftops, tanks parked in the streets, and propaganda speakers informing citizens that "Bad civilian hygiene will not be tolerated," and it's cool to drive around listening to jazz and bringing some colour back to the world. Though if I were going to give the game a pointless subtitle, it'd be The Saboteur: Rooftops of Paris, because I spent a fair amount of it on foot, running around far above the streets.

The in-your-face nudity at the start was a bit of a warning sign, but I get the strong feeling Pandemic were going for 'sexy' rather than 'sexist', and the two main female characters are definitely far more than eye candy, with one of them basically being a gender swapped James Bond. Speaking of characters, I might not have been impressed by the accents at first, but Sean Devlin definitely grew on me as a protagonist; he's likeable, fiercely loyal to his friends and an absolute bastard to anyone who gets on his nerves. Half the fun of the story for me was the lines he'd come out with in conversation, which is good because the game wasn't letting me pick any myself. The game very much follows the Grand Theft Auto 3 blueprint, putting gameplay firmly over roleplay, and even though the fist fighting isn't all that, the gunplay and driving more than makes up for it.

Stealth on the other hand... seems fine; there's no vision cones on the radar, but you're given time to react if anyone spots you. It's entirely optional though and is often the slowest way of getting the job done. The only reward you get for staying unseen is your own satisfaction and fewer holes in your only coat. Some might be disappointed to find that this is a game with stealth as a feature rather than a stealth game, but on the plus side shooter fans will surely be happy that there's no instant-fail sneaking missions to endure.

Can I give my highest award to a game that was literally falling apart at the seams on my PC? Honestly, I wouldn't even hesitate, I loved playing it regardless of the glitches. Though it does mean that it's kind of hard to recommend it to others wholeheartedly.

    

Also be aware that the PC version includes...

The game uses SecuROM DRM, limited to five activations per machine, and if I'd realised this beforehand I never would've bought it. This, combined with the graphics problems and keyboard issues, means that the game might give you a better experience on one of the consoles.


One last third person sandbox action adventure game beginning with 'S' to come, and I have a feeling you'll be able to guess what it is.

Anyway, leave a comment if you feel like it. I read them all, even on articles I wrote years ago, and I can almost guarantee that someone else out there will be reading them too.

1 comment:

  1. I was a bit disappointed to discover that this wasn't a remake of the excellent Spectrum ninja stealth-em-up but then I remembered that I'm a grumpy old sod and I would hate it for being a remake of a beloved classic.

    All of which is to say I haven't played this.

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