The build I played of The Saboteur this week was a month old, so if I had fun and was impressed, what does that mean?
I'd only previously seen the game played by a developer and that was in mid-Summer. Back then I wrote a positive preview based on the number of interesting ideas the game's designer conveyed to me. The open-world adventure would put the player in control of Irish race car driver Sean Devlin who circumstances would transform into a fighter against the Nazis in occupied France.
The game world, drained of color, represented the blight of a Nazi presence. Liberating areas of the world would restore color, in a scripted manner. I liked the little things I heard about, like the ability to take cover from pursuers by running up to a urinal or stealing a kiss from a woman. I liked the idea that guard towers and other objects in this world would stay destroyed, making missions set near them easier.
None of this changed when I got the game in my hands on Wednesday. I played the PS3 version. Controls were standard for an open-world game. Running and camera were on the control sticks. The triangle button got my guy into a vehicle. Shooting was straight-forward. Various Achievement-like accomplishments unlocked upgrades in weapons shops or new abilities for my character, like a stealth kill move.
The game ran well, controlled well and looked impressively large-scale. I played a level called The Zeppelin, which introduces the player to the Nazi nemesis they will chase throughout the game. The mission involved stealing a truck, bringing it to a castle occupied by the Nazis, and then either sneaking or shooting my way into it, before ascending to a docked zeppelin for the second phase of the mission.
The Saboteur uses a disguise system, and fills in a circle of color around the circular lower-left mini-map to show how close the Nazis are to recognizing that you're a freedom fighter up to no good rather than one of their own. Until your cover is blown, your character, Sean Devlin, might be wearing a Nazi uniform. It's gone when that meter fills. To avoid that, the player needs to act calm — with the caveat that the Nazis won't be alarmed if you run over French civilians — and not bother the enemy forces. Blowing up the gate to their castle or just walking around in civilian clothes while brandishing a weapon, however, does alarm them. As with Prototype, an icon near the mini-map shows whether Sean can be seen by any Nazis at a given time or not. So stealth is an option, albeit a tricky one.
The most arresting thing about the game is its graphics. Development studio Pandemic has produced a game that looks like nothing else. As you can see in screenshots, it's not purely black and while in its black and white stages. Color seeps in: Red armbands on the Nazi uniforms, yellow muzzle flash and orange explosions. Devlin himself has a little bit of an illuminated outline to make him stand out. Enemies exude a red glow to show they are angry and on-rushing.
I eventually handed the controls over, partially because I wanted to take some notes and partially because I wanted to enjoy the look.
The jury is out on whether the gameplay will hold up in The Saboteur. That's the kind of thing you can't judge without a full playthrough of the game. I do think, however, that the art style can be declared a winner. If you're looking to look at something different, this is a good game to keep an eye on.
The Saboteur is scheduled to arrive on Windows-based PCs, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 in North America this December.