It’s a damn shame about Pandemic. 2009 has cost us a lot of great studios and Pandemic is the most recent (as of this writing, who knows what has happened since) in a long line of casualties. What makes this one that much more tragic is that their swan song, The Saboteur, is actually a pretty solid game. At least they got to go out with style but I still feel for them.
I also feel sorry for the game itself because it’s coming out on the tail end of so many other huge releases that I won’t be at all surprised if this one gets lost in the fray. Again this is too bad, because Saboteur is a fun title that I really hope doesn’t go ignored.
I could probably end my review there but I feel obligated to continue so won’t you join me?
In The Saboteur you play Sean Devlin, the most irish-y Irishman to ever walk the Earth. All the man does is talk about drinkin’, fightin’, and arses. Granted I have never been to Ireland so perhaps this is a realistic depiction? I’ll go ahead and assume that yes it is.
So Sean is quite the stereotype but it’s ok because the game itself is pretty damn silly. You see Sean is a racecar driver who seeks revenge on a German opponent who shoots out his tire during a race. In a story as old as time, the German race car driver is also some sort of Nazi Torture Doctor who kills Sean’s best friend. Now you are out to get revenge and kill a whole ton of Nazis along the way.
I can’t accept that’s not a true story so the game gets credit for being historically accurate. It also gets credit for starting the game on a shot of a topless woman (assuming you have the DLC). So if you are a rational human being, this game will have you hooked and intrigued within minutes.
If that doesn’t do it, then I’m sure the unique style of the game will. The Saboteur has a very cool gimmick where if you are in an area of the city that is heavily occupied by the Nazis, then everything is in black and white. Once you drive them out of the area, everything switches to full colour. You know, like Pleasantville. Even though it’s how to win the game, it’s kind of sad when you start making everything colourful because god damn this game looks sleek when it’s all in black and white. Makes the Nazi blood splatter that much more satisfying.
The game is a mix of shooting and stealth and it does a much better job with one of them than the other. I’ll give you one guess as to which one that is. Give up? I’ll give you a hint….it’s not the stealth.
The shooting is a hell of a lot of fun. The controls feel tight and the shooting mechanics work well and are immensely satisfying. The game is also pretty forgiving with health so you can often survive by just running in and blasting every Nazi in sight. Also you know how in most open world games when a vehicle starts to smoke you bail out before it explodes? Well here you can actually survive that. Luck of the Irish perhaps.
A great deal of the missions focus entirely on completely leveling an area. This can mean blowing up chemical tanks, taking down radio towers, and firing rockets at zeppelins. These missions were my personal favourite and it is damn, DAMN, satisfying to watch a zeppelin explode and hurl towards the ground. I love when a game lets me do something I have never done before, and that certainly qualifies.
I also feel I should mention that as with Assassin’s Creed, you have the ability to climb most of the structures that you see around the city. Unfortunately this does not work nearly as well here as it does in Creed. In that game everything felt very fluid. Here it’s not nearly as smooth and requires you to constantly be tapping a button in order to keep scaling the building. I promised myself I would not compare this game to AC, but in this case it’s almost impossible not to.
While the action based game play is a pleasure, the areas of the game that focus on stealth however, I did not have as good a time with. There is some fun to be had with planning out how you will accomplish a mission without getting caught but often the actual execution of the plan is not a great time.
One thing I learned from the stealth portions – Nazis never run. Ever. Let me explain.
You can steal a Nazi uniform by knocking out an officer and taking it. Then you can walk around disguised. The problem is that the faster you move, the bigger your “suspicion area” (possibly not the actual name) becomes. This is a circle that appears around you in the mini-map. Any Nazis within the circle will get more and more suspicious of you, causing a meter to fill. When it fills up, your cover is blown.
That means in order to stay in disguise, you have to walk really, realllllly slow whenever you are near Nazis, which as you can imagine is quite often. If a Nazi sees you running, he immediately knows you can’t possibly be one of them. I get when they see you up close (kind of) but you’re telling me they can tell I’m an imposter if I’m jogging 150 feet away from them?! Crafty sons of bitches those Nazis.
Even walking slow sometimes doesn’t help you. More than once I’ve been trying to walk slowly by a Nazi and he just kept following me, managing to always stay in my small suspicion circle. I obviously can’t speed up to get away from him because as we know, Nazis don’t play that. So eventually they figured it out and boom, fail. Not so much with the fun.
I also think I’ve hit a point where I don’t want to play any more games where you have to escape from anyone. In Grand Theft Auto it’s the cops, in Assassin’s Creed it’s guards, and here it’s of course, Nazis. You know the drill. The more destruction you cause the higher the alert is and the harder it becomes to get away.
Maybe I’m burnt out since I’ve been playing a ton of open world games lately but I just have no interest in doing this anymore. I’m sick of being halfway done a mission (or sometimes on my way to the next mission) but then having to spend 10 minutes running away and hiding because I accidently started running or climbing a ladder. A lot of missions in this game require you to escape the Nazis at the end and I started to get really, really sick of it. In all fairness though, this isn’t as much the game’s fault, as me simply being tired of this gaming mechanic.
I shouldn’t completely rag on the stealth missions because as frustrating as they can be, some of them are very satisfying. For example, one mission asked me to assassinate someone at a book burning. This person was in a tank that was also absolutely surrounded by Nazis. I tried running in and shooting everyone, I tried picking them off from the distance, driving a car into them that was equipped with a bomb, all sorts of stuff.
Finally I managed to grab a uniform and walk in undetected (which I admit took a couple of tries). I discovered an area off to the side where nobody was around, and took aim at the guy’s head. Unfortunately he was wearing some sort of armour so I couldn’t kill him fast enough. On the next try, I whipped out a quick firing pistol, and just unloaded on the guy’s head, killing him faster than it took for people to figure out it was happening. Boom mission complete! You probably had to be there.
Complaints aside, I do think this is a good game. There is a great deal of variety in the missions and if you want to get 100%, you will get a lot out of this title. I hope this one ends up as a sleeper hit because it’s obvious a great deal of work went into this and original IP’s simply aren’t getting the attention they often deserve.
So good job Pandemic, you went out with a bang!