by Brendan Griffiths
previewed on PS3
Former racing car driver, Irishman Sean Devlin, is out for revenge against the Nazi's after some of his friends are murdered. He is not trying to save Paris, but his actions are certainly going to help the city. The citizens are endeared by him and the resistance call on him for a favor or two. Expect a noir inspired adventure rather than your traditional overly-patriotic WWII story.
Paris and its countryside borders are your war time playgrounds in this open-world game. The city itself is a sensible, tightened-up version to suit a game. There are plenty of historically accurate streets and landmarks, but they have been pushed together a little to avoid having too many similar looking streets. If you played any of the Getaway games that had almost every London street included this is obviously a much better idea. It should help the player learn their way around more and not get sick of looking at identical areas.
The main point that has everyone talking about the game is the visual style. Occupied Paris is drained of all color, save for the harsh red of the Nazi insignias. But the more you manage to loose their grip over the French capitol the more color will return, raising comparisons with games like Okami and films like Pleasantville and of course, Sin City. Rather than use the term 'liberate', Pandemic have said that you 'inspire' areas of the city. Inspiring them to fight back and regain their pride is what Devlin is doing on his road to revenge.
As you drive, in your gorgeous blue race car, through the grayed out occupied areas of Paris at night, you can see lights at windows being switched on as you pass, as if the people are trying to catch a glimpse of you. This is a part of the aspect of you inspiring them. After you have completely liberated or inspired an area, full color will return. The main way of inspiring areas though is wiping out the Nazi occupiers.
The game fits into the third-person sandbox genre, like Grand Theft Auto; Lots of shooting and driving, often with missions allowing you to approach them from more than one angle. There will be Assassin's Creed-style climbing sections too, so you can take in the sights of Paris or more importantly take out snipers that might hamper your next mission.
Pandemic has opted for a natural cover system that doesn't use a 'snap-to' button. A brave but perhaps costly design decision as precision is key for such gameplay elements. Just think about how well the snap-to functions work in games like Gears of War and Uncharted 2.
In The Saboteur you move towards a wall edge or a crate for cover and Devlin automatically digs in. Nudges of the analogue stick will make him lean out to shoot. Leaving cover can be a bit cumbersome, especially if you want to quickly nip back there when a fresh wave of soldiers burst into the room and you have to wait for the animation to kick in. Pumping Nazis full of lead is made all the easier in the black and white surroundings by the red glow surrounding them. Will this make it too easy though?
There will be stealth sections too, helped by Devlin disguising himself to sneak into Nazi areas. Inevitably they will discover you, or you will mess up which is where Devlin's Irish brawling skills come in. Rather than a bland one-button punch attack, a fighting stance can be activated, with the four face buttons all getting involved to dish out the beatings.
The driving feels solid enough which is a relief as we imagine you will be doing it quite a bit especially for the racing missions. The mission tested involved escaping the pursuing Nazis down country lanes, smashing through barricades and avoiding farmers. There is a map in the corner with a GTA4-style line showing the best route, even when you miss a turn. 1940's Sat Nav, you can't beat it.
The open approach comes into play here too as after taking a bit too much Nazi gunfire I dived out of my flaming, speeding vehicle into a nearby ditch. Not fancying my chances on foot with the roads I was pleasantly surprised that the game allowed me to climb over a wall and leg it through a field, over another wall into another field and again for a few more making an undetected beeline to the next shootout.
Pandemic could do with a hit after the disappointing Mercenaries 2. The early signs are encouraging, as long as the game does not fall into the trap of repeating generic sandbox missions. The visuals add a unique style to the war game genre that has plenty of competition and the tight map design is a refreshing approach of quality over quantity while still maintaining that a non-linear approach to the missions is still available. If that doesn't have you interested, you can shoot giant zeppelin's down with rockets in a colossally flaming spectacle. Über-awesome.