The Saboteur: First Impressions

The Saboteur is a game that is very similar to the Grand Theft Auto, Mercenaries, Saints Row, and Crackdown franchises. So far, I’d say the main thing that differentiates it from its competitors is that it takes many of the best elements from these games and combines them all in one place.

There are disguises similar to [Prototype], wall climbing like in Assassin’s Creed, plenty of driving missions like Saints Row and GTA, cover-based gun fights like GTA IV, and destructible environments like Mercenaries.

Overall, my first impression of the game is that it’s very fun but also quite frustrating. The reasons that the game is fun are more obvious (“sandbox” game play; use of color and the lack thereof; and the freedom to beat missions in any which way you can manage them), so I’ll focus on the frustrations — along with providing my “fix” to keep it constructive.

  • There’s an early mission where you have to win an auto race. The first time I tried it, I was getting used to the driving mechanic and controls and ended up falling horribly behind. I may have been half-a-lap or more behind. At the time, I didn’t know you could jump to your last checkpoint. Instead, I spent another few minutes racing to the finish line so that I could fail and try again. When I was suitably far enough behind, the game should have popped up a “Don’t forget: if you’d like to re-try, press [start] and then [y].”
  • From another early mission, I was tasked with using stealth to release a guy named Crochet from a prison. The moment you release Crochet, whether you’re spotted or not, an alarm goes off and everyone is shooting at you from every direction. But you can’t run away just yet because you’re told to open three more cells. What works better? Tell the player that killing everyone on the way in, racing to open the doors, and then getting out of there is the best approach. Or get rid of the other cells.
  • Related to the prior comment, after you open a cell you stash your weapon. At first I thought I was losing my gun each time I opened the door — and I was racing to find a new weapon to replace it while under a steady barrage of fire from the Nazis. Since this is the first time you lose your weapon in this way, the game should have popped up a note to let you know that you’ve stashed your weapon — or, more simply, re-equipped it for you automatically after the door was opened.
  • Whenever you die or fail at a mission, you lose all of your grenades and explosives and any guns you may have just purchased. Bleh. So if you do fail at a mission, instead of quickly re-trying, you first have to track down new gear. I prefer a less penalty-driven approach where you keep everything you had at that last check-point, or at least start out with a pistol and a dozen bullets.
  • The combat is generally fun. Lots of good run-n-gun goodness. But I really miss the inclusion of the ability to lock-on to a target — or, as with Mass Effect, to require only that your aim is “close enough” to your opponent. Unfortunately, like Saints Row, I frequently over-steer my aim when I’m in combat, first firing over a soldier’s left shoulder, then his right, and then his left again as I try to actually hit him.
  • When you perform a feat of terrorism the area around your activity, on the mini-map, turns yellow. It’s now a suspicious zone and if you stay in it when guards are around you’re going to be in trouble. When you do get in trouble a large red circle forms around your character’s position on the mini-map. Every German is now hostile toward you and will attack you until you are out of range. You can try to escape the zone but if any Nazi spots you along the way the circle re-centers on you. It’d be more than nice if, instead of these psychic guards, the system featured a circle that does not re-center on you unless you perform a new suspicious activity.
  • In the first black market mission you’re sent to re-claim a bottle of wine. The moment the mission started the guards immediately went to red alert. The game informs you that the nearby gestapo can see through your disguise, but by then it’s too late. The game should have started me in a safer location so that I could have more easily removed my disguise.

Bottom Line: Like any complicated game there’s a learning curve. Once you get past the curve, a lot of these criticisms disappear. And while Pandemic definitely could have done a better job of easing the transition on some of these points, I don’t want to criticize them too harshly because they have a lot of very helpful tutorial pages as you play.

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