One of the most intriguing games showcased at this year's Sony annual Holiday Preview event in Toronto was Pandemic's The Saboteur, the shooter set almost entirely in black and white. Taking place during the Nazi invasion of France, one quick glance reveals that this isn't your typical World War II shooter. Utilizing a third person perspective, The Saboteur blends action and stealth with themes of film noir, and wraps it up in a scintillating story of revenge.
In the game, you play as Sean Devlin, an Irish racing mechanic who, along with his best friend, ends up wronging a rival German racecar driver…who also happens to be a Nazi officer. The demo I played takes place in an abandoned factory in Germany, on the night the Nazis invade France. The Germans have converted the factory for their own uses, namely interrogating and torturing people such as Sean. Once his best friend is murdered, Sean breaks free from his constraints, kills the Nazi interrogator, and becomes the Saboteur.
It is at this point that the game really begins to generate its own personality, starting with the entire world turning black and white. After his friend is killed, Sean's entire reason for living becomes revenge, which is expertly reflected in the dull, dreary color palette used throughout most of the game. Almost everything is in black and white, except for a few select things, such as blood or the Nazi's swastika armband, both of which are bright red. This stark contrast between what few eye-popping colors there are and the overwhelming presence of black, white, and grey is really engaging, and reminiscent of movies like Sin City. The game also has a feature called "The Will to Fight", which will have certain parts of the world have color returned to them as Sean goes about liberating France from the Nazi invaders.
Once the Nazi interrogator is dealt with, Sean has to focus on escaping the factory, and making his way back to his farm in France. Nazis were crawling all over the factory, so as an unarmed mechanic, I had to make the choice whether to sneak out, or go guns-a-blazing. Enemies in The Saboteur will glow different colors depending on their alert status. If they have a yellow aura, then they will be in a state of caution - if they see you, they'll attempt to blow a whistle to alert their comrades. If they are glowing red, then they'll shoot you on sight.
Armed with this knowledge, I had a few options available to me. I could sneak past the guards, keeping to the shadows and using stealth kills when necessary. Then again, I could throw caution to the wind, grab a German mp40, and blast my way out. Or, if I was feeling extremely confident in my shooting accuracy, I could make my way through the factory, not bothering to hide myself, and simply kill the guards before they could whistle for backup. The idea of "Quiet In and Loud Out" is the mantra that Pandemic has been promoting the most; however, as you can see, The Saboteur is ripe with choice.
The game is definitely more action oriented than it is stealth based, but as a straight up shooter, it's not quite there yet. The game has a cover system, which has Sean pressing his back to walls and ledges either automatically, or with the press of the L1 trigger. It's functional; however it feels a bit airy, and nowhere near as strong as other third person shooters, such as Gears of War. The game also doesn't have a roll button, which is pretty much a staple in third person shooters these days. In the demo, when engaged in a serious firefight, I would instinctively try to dive behind some cover, only to have Sean jump in the air, exposing himself to flying bullets. The aiming also needs to be tightened up a bit, as it felt a little off.
When I made my way out of the factory, it was time to hijack a vehicle, and get back to France. On the drive, I was exposed not only to the invading Nazi force pillaging the countryside, but the massive open world available to me to explore. When you're not on missions sabotaging Nazi's, the game takes on a sandbox design, where you can take on side missions, or just explore Paris and the French countryside. There are hubs throughout the world where you can take on story missions, such as the French nightclub, the "Belle de Nuit", also known as the "Lady of the Night". Before each mission, you can purchase guns and equipment from the black market using the game's currency, contraband. The game also has a perk system that lets you customize Sean as you see fit, allowing you to upgrade a plethora of skills, such as sniping, driving, and explosives.
The Saboteur was certainly an eye grabber at E3 this year, mostly because of its stylized film noir look. Unless it's able to shape up its combat elements, however, it is likely to go the way of the dreaded generic third person shooter. Hopefully, this won't be the case, as it looks just too damn good…and I can't wait until Max Payne 3 for my noir fix. Set for release on December 8th, The Saboteur will ship for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.