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.)
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Actually, there is something that this is all working towards now that I think about it...
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.
If anyone ever says that video games can't be art, just point them at this.
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.
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.
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.
If I was going to list my three main problems with this game so far, they'd be:
- Climbing is relatively slow.
- I can't restock on dynamite easily.
- I can't see my optional sabotage targets on the map or radar.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.