The Saboteur Eyes-On Preview

It’s strange, but no one ever seems to create a game set within WWII-era Europe unless it’s some kind of battlefield shooter. Pandemic Studios–creators of the Mercenaries and Star Wars: Battlefront series–aims to fix that with their upcoming release, The Saboteur.

Set in the early 1940s, The Saboteur sees its protagonist Shawn ridding the world of Nazis throughout the greater part of Eastern Europe. The interesting thing about this character is that he’s not in it for the greater good of mankind, per se. Shawn is on a personal quest for revenge, though Pandemic has remained tight-lipped about what the impetus for this is. This makes the story rather compelling, as Shawn is inadvertently making the world a better place and doing good for the wrong reasons. He likes fast guns, fast women, and has a history as a macho race car driver prior to getting caught up in the world of war. Furthermore, Shawn is not an action hero, instead preferring to complete his objectives the stealthy way.

The most instantly noticeable thing about The Saboteur is its unique sense of style. In a bold move, a majority of the game is portrayed in glorious black and white. This indicates that an area is currently under Nazi occupation. There are still bits of color around–which can be seen in the red Nazi flags and armbands that make enemies much easier to see, as well as the faint yellow lights in windows that illuminate the glorious, climbable architecture–but most of what you see is monochromatic. If you complete a Nazi-clearing mission in said area, things will go back to being in full color.

The first mission that we were shown had Shawn trying to take down an anti-air cannon in Paris. Anything that looks climbable is, so Shawn took to the clustered rooftops of the city to slowly stalk his way to the target. If you go in real slow, your character can get all the way to the cannon by just hiding in the shadows and snapping necks. Sadly, the PR rep who demoed it for us was spotted fairly early on, so he had to resort to the game’s polished third-person shooting mechanics. There wasn’t anything particularly innovative about this aspect of the game, but the controls looked tight and intuitive (with the now standard duck-and-cover system firmly in tow). Since most stealth games turn into broken shooters once you have been spotted, The Saboteur‘s competence in this area is a good thing. Of course, there’s no telling how balanced the game will be between stealth and combat, so it’s yet to be proven whether or not it falls victim to Hitman syndrome–where it’s way easier to run-and-gun your way through levels that it is to go in stealthily.

We were told that there will be multiple difficulty levels as well as an intricate ratings system, so those wanting to take things quietly will be rewarded. When I asked if you’d be able to complete the whole game without ever firing a gun, I was told "probably not." As such, the game forces you to mix up tactics. When Shawn finally did get to the cannon, he planted some explosives before high-tailing it away. As an onslaught of enemies attempted to riddle poor Shawn with a flurry of bullets, he quickly made his way to one of his sleek, shiny racecars. Since Shawn is a collector, he will be able to acquire new cars throughout the game. A chase ensued, as the character looked for a place to lay low for awhile. His "safe spots" happen to be brothels, which are evidently the best way to escape all of life’s problems.

The second mission that we saw involved Shawn sabotaging an oil reservoir overtaken by Nazis. He took the stealthy approach this time, using a wire to zip in from the shadows. He then took out one guard from behind and stole his uniform, which can conceal your body but not your face. As such, you will still need to be wary of other guards, despite now being partially camouflaged. If you get too close to another soldier or do anything suspicious, they will notice your presence and investigate accordingly. A handy on-screen stress meter indicates how close you are to having your cover blown. Shawn did make his way–slowly but steadily–to the reservoir, where he planted the explosives before hiding from the impending destruction. After the explosion, Shawn’s cover was blown and he became the focus of attention. This was a little disappointing as I’m not sure how they knew who it was that planted the explosives, especially since no one got a good look at Shawn. This seems to be a to design-based decision, as Product Manager Greg Bollud mentioned, "Our motto is, ‘quiet in and loud out.’"

To close our demo, we saw a race against Shawn’s rival. The driving looks to break up the slow pace of too much sneaking, and the constant movement between occupied and unoccupied territory means that the world will keep fading from black & white into full color. Thankfully, Shawn’s car always remains colorized, as that is something that the Nazis can never take the joy out of.

With its unique blend of stealth, platforming, third-person shooting, and driving–as well as one of the finest art styles on display at E3–The Saboteur looks to be one of the most exciting titles on the horizon.

The Saboteur ships later this year for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

Author: Jeffrey Matulef