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The Saboteur
Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Pandemic
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Free-Roaming/ Third Person Shooter/ Mission-Based Driving

Graphics & Sound:
Ah, Saboteur... it brings me back to the days when videogames were all in black and white. Okay, maybe that was movies, but The Saboteur uses color saturation skillfully to manipulate the feeling of areas, portraying a sense of hope (color) springing out of hopeless oppression of Nazi occupation (black and white), in a very "Game Noir" manner, if you will. As you complete missions and take out German military installations around France, color will return to France, and even the "chatter" that you hear on the streets will change from despair to having some hope and empathy for the Resistance.

If you've heard anything about The Saboteur on the interwebs, you've probably heard about the nudity. Believe the hype. Your first "base" is in the back room of a topless dancing establishment and the only door out is through the girls' dressing room, where they're all checking their makeup, adjusting their skimpy outfits and primping and posing, basically. Hell, the game opens up with a topless woman singing and dancing on stage. (How you gonna keep third person shooters down on the farm after they've seen Paris?) If you decide to turn off the nudity, you will get a disapproving remark from Sean Devlin, better known as "The Irishman," and the nude dancers will have star-shaped pasties covering their nipples. There is a code that came in the game that unlocked "The Midnight Show," which is supposed to be additional nude content, but sadly, since I used this code immediately, I don't know what, specifically, it enabled.

The sound is well done, from the jazzy and French music that fits the time period, to the extensive voicework and the sound effects of the weapons and engines. If you stop and pay attention to the voicework, it's actually fairly impressive, with comments being contextual and based on the general feel of the area (oppression vs. hope), the specific characters that are around and actions that The Irishman takes ("Is he climbing buildings again?"). There is a fairly constant amount of chatter that goes on in the game, making it feel more realistic and "lived in," if you will, whether it's Devlin commenting on his displeasure at being shot at again or German soldiers roughing up French civilians in the streets.

The production quality of The Saboteur creates a believable, immersive, free-roaming environment where a gamer can play for hours, losing track of time and just enjoying the world around them. While there are missions to accomplish and several storylines to progress, there are also "Free Play Targets," which are German installations located throughout the country. If you destroy these, you are rewarded with "Contraband" - the currency used in the game to buy, well, anything you're going to buy, such as weapons, ammunition and car repairs. Simply working out exactly how the physics of the game works or figuring out how the German soldiers respond to your actions can account for hours of fun and a lot of the challenge of these Free Play Targets. For example, the soldiers are trained to check out explosions and gunshots. When one of these occurs, a "Suspicion Zone" appears on your radar, and nearby soldiers will head to that area and check it out. More often than not, this is undesired behavior, since I find myself to be typically close to where the explosions and gunshots are coming from. However, if planned carefully, a gunshot or grenade can provide a useful distraction, making German soldiers move from their current post, allowing you to sneak by or sneak up from behind and perform a stealth kill (which is feckin' awesome) and "voila!" - now you have a German soldier uniform. Is handy, oui?

How you play The Saboteur is up to you. Sometimes a stealth approach works wonders. Sometimes appropriating a German soldier uniform can make things much easier. Other times, you might want to take to the rooftops, working your way across the city wreaking havoc to propaganda speakers and guards in towers with a silenced pistol and a scoped rifle. Almost never will you want to run headlong into the enemy forces tossing grenades, but you're welcomed to try it and see why that doesn't work so well. You can set dynamite (or even better and more powerful, RDX) charges on things to blow them up, or rig a vehicle with dynamite and ditch it before it plows into the enemy resulting in a ball of flames. Sometimes you may want to wander around fighting the Nazi oppression when you find it, but I found I prefer to use maps that I could purchase from a weapons' smuggler that indicate all of the Free Play Targets to help me work through "cleaning up" an area.

There are four difficulty levels to choose from: Casual, Normal, Hard and Feckin' Hard. I started the game out, and played mostly, on Normal Difficulty. However, I found that, while some of the missions were "a piece o' piss" (which is, evidently, an Irish slang meaning easy), certain missions are darn near impossible. After a few frustrating hours of trying to work my way through the Citadel and onto a docked Airship, when I was just about to simply give up, I realized that I could change the difficulty level to Casual. After doing so, I was able to complete this level. Well, more accurately, I was able to get through this mission with the assistance of Psibabe and J.R. Nip. Luckily, the game is as entertaining to watch as it is to play, so when you find that you need someone's help, there might very well be a small crowd available.

If you find yourself stuck on a mission, remember that trying an easier difficulty setting as an option. Before doing that, though, you may want to rethink your approach. If you're trying a frontal attack, maybe try a more subversive, stealthy approach. If you can't seem to make a getaway, try swimming out into the ocean. I have, on multiple occasions, made my getaway by swimming away from shore until I escaped the Alert area, then simply swam back in and resumed making havoc.

The biggest annoyance which increased The Saboteur's difficulty is that you can't save progress during missions. Some of the missions are long and difficult, and it can become very frustrating to work through a series of silent kills, long distance shots and waiting for Suspicion Zones to go away only to die and find yourself right back at the beginning. Mind you, there are checkpoints, but often it seemed like there weren't enough checkpoints. More than once, I would get fed up with a mission and give up on it and go take out my aggression on Free Play Targets, only to return to the mission later.

Game Mechanics:
The Saboteur is a great game. As long as you like nudity and violence, that is. And cursing. Lots of cursing. And, of course, smoking... Hell, Devlin quips in the game that he'd probably go "t*ts up" without his smokes. Charming. So, expect the characters in this game to be very rough around the edges, but the game itself is very well done. I haven't experienced a game freeze or wonky physics or A.I. that can't find its way through a door; everything seems to work about like you'd expect it. In fact, I have found several places in other games where thinking out of the box meets only with frustration, since the games are designed for you to only do what they expect you to do. If you end up finding a back way in to some area, bypassing some enemies, then you'll find that the enemies in the area you're in aren't "activated" and you can't open the doors, etc. all because some flag in the room you skipped wasn't tripped. The Saboteur is running a very well developed physics simulation and, as such, it doesn't matter which way you choose to get in somewhere, because when you get there, the game reacts appropriately.

One mission involves getting to a certain point in a compound, placing explosives and blowing a big gun away. Completely. This big gun is protected quite well by a large number of highly armed guards as well as guards in towers around the perimeter. After Psibabe and I took several turns at working our way through the gauntlet and even getting right up to the gun before dying, I tried using those missions as "reconnaissance" and, now that we knew where the big gun was located, I raced around to the far side of the complex, climbed the building and planted the explosives directly under the gun while a single guard in a tower across the street shot at me. That's the kind of thing I pull when I play videogames. The only difference here is that it actually worked. I dropped down the building, ran a bit and then pushed the plunger and took off the corner of the building, and the big gun along with it. I was surprised, as were Psibabe and J.R. Nip - I thought it was worth trying, but I had serious doubts that it would work. It would have worked in real life, given the setup, and it worked in the game. To me, that is awesome. This, alone, makes The Saboteur a game worth picking up for those of us who played GTA and found ourselves spending most of our time trying to get a car to drive up the stairs or to jump a motorcycle from one building to another.

The black and white to color thing is mentioned above, but it really does work well to portray the overall mood of the area, as well as acting as a "health indicator" or "progress meter" of the area, letting you know how far along you are in completing an area not simply at a glance, but implicitly. It's not merely an indicator somewhere on the screen; your view of the world is directly affected based on this factor.

I wouldn't recommend this game for children. Videogames that are rated as "Mature" get that rating for a reason. The Saboteur gets a "Mature" rating for pretty much all of them. If you aren't offended by smoking, drinking, whore-mongering stereotypes and lots of blood and violence, then I highly recommend The Saboteur. Completest bastards will especially like the insanely huge number of Free Play Targets that can provide hours and hours of fun roaming the countryside and blowing stuff up with huge, nasty 'splosions.

If you're on the fence on this one, then I would suggest watching a friend play it or borrowing it from a friend. It takes some time to get fully comfortable with the game - you have to let it grow on you a bit - and, as such, it might not be the best "rental." Of course, if you use GameFly or a similar service and you can keep it for as long as you like, then, by all means, try it out.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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