The Saboteur

Not too long ago, I started up Pandemic’s (rest in peace!) The Saboteur and posted some thoughts about the game.

My first impression was that it seemed good, a blend of all the action/sandbox games out there that I love like Saints Row, Crackdown, and Assassin’s Creed, but seemed to be missing something. I couldn’t put my finger on it and I probably played for about 4 or 5 hours before I figured out that, truth be told, the game is not missing a thing.

As such, I’d say my initial uncertainty is more properly attributed to the learning curve. The game does a lot to make it easy for new-comers to figure out how to control the game, but it also misses some basics. To elaborate a little, some missions are so easy if you just shoot everything that moves. Others are simple if you stealth your way through and snipe a single target from a distance before sneaking away. The game also employs various systems, such as stealth, that take a little time to master. Once you do, you get a sense of what the game expects and how to proceed. And then everything is much easier and more enjoyable.

So was it perfect from there? No, not quite. My biggest criticism seems to be the same as the critics: the awareness radius of the Nazis. The fact is that the alarms are occasionally fun for short stints and serve a purpose, but they ultimately end up disrupting your experience and preventing you from getting back to playing the game — and that only serves to punish we the players.

I’m surprised it wasn’t picked up on during development since Pandemic is really good about honing in on “fun”. And while it’s too late now, I think the simple solution would have been to provide alternative ways to escape the alarms. Instead of forcing you to move outside an ever-increasing radius rimmed by more Nazis without being seen, to name a few they could have also let you remain hidden for a specific duration, provided more “safe houses” in the form of kissable girls and the like, and auto-ended an alarm at mission completion. They also could have added a transitional stage to the alarm, similar to the currently implemented yellow alarm — giving you a few moments to kill the whistle-blowers and escape before things became serious. And if they could have come up with even more than that, I’d have been fine with that as well.

Anything else, aside from the alarm? Or was this a near-perfect game with an Achilles’ heel? I guess I do have a few random comments.

  • I was really surprised there weren’t more racing missions. I think there were three or four races throughout the game. For a game that has you spending so much time driving, has really cool race cars, and a great driving/racing physics/system, you’d think there’d be at least a couple dozen races. I would have begged the devs to add races all over Paris. I also wonder why they didn’t consider races on foot, i.e. courier/delivery missions, since you can not only run, but climb.
  • Even as I got near the end of the game and grew comfortable with the general process, I found myself in missions where I didn’t understand what the game wanted me to do. For example, I can think of two separate occasions where jumping across a pit was the only solution. However, both times my characters failed to make the jump on the first try and so I assumed it was not the correct solution instead of thinking I had simply missed the jump. Journal entries or on-screen tips would have been a great aid for those non-intuitive moments.
  • The game had many places where you could cheap out the system. In other words, the perk you get for blowing up 20 Nazi vehicles without losing or leaving your own vehicle appeared to be an impossible one to earn. But there are plenty of places the enemy cannot access. And some of those places have gunnery stations — which leave you nigh invincible. For example, I found a surface-to-air artillery station in a park with only one access point available to the enemy. So I hopped in and fired round-after-round at that one access point. 20 tanks later, the perk was effortlessly earned. I’d rather see perks a little easier to come by so players aren’t looking for exploits like these. Or maybe they could have implemented para-troopers at alarm four/five who land at your location to keep you from cheesing the game.
  • I had a lot of trouble with the controller sensitivity early on, finding that I would shoot to the left of the enemy, then to his right, then to his left again as I tried to center my aim. By turning down the sensitivity, I was able to overcome this problem — but it would have been a more elegant solution had they incorporated a target-lock system. It likely also would have fixed the occasional problem where you try to “sucker punch” a Nazi to prevent him from triggering an alarm, but cannot properly target him. Oh, the frustrations I had with trying to stop those whistle-blowing Nazis!
  • Some of the missions seemed to never end. You’d think you had finished a mission and then you’d see “checkpoint” — suggesting you weren’t quite done. Although the game said it had saved, I was always nervous that if I turned it off I’d have to start over from the beginning of the mission when I resumed play. As a result, there were times where I kept playing beyond when I wanted to quit for the day. True, I could have trusted the game or tested it to see how it worked, but I wasn’t keen on potentially losing progress.
  • I know most people will say “seriously?”, but there were too many little white dots on the map. The white dots represent “free play” locations and range from propaganda speakers to guard towers to weapon crates and so forth. It’s really hard to ding a game for too much content, but the truth is that the content is the same two or three types repeated ad nauseum. There’s a sort of mindless enjoyment to it for a while, but eventually you hit a point where you’ve taken out two or three hundred and you still have maybe seven hundred to go. I fully understand it’s content to keep you busy, there for those who want it, and completely unnecessary to the game and its story, but the more white dots in the area of a mission the harder the mission. And it takes away from the thrill of beating the game to feel like you’re not even half-way done liberating the city.

While I wouldn’t say it was perfect, it was damned good and well conceived. And while we could theoretically get a Saboteur 2 somewhere down the line, it won’t be a true sequel. That’s sad. But for this game, the bottom line is it’s a game you have to play.

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.