Eyes-on at E3 / The Saboteur

At the end of one of the demo missions we viewed of The Saboteur, Sean Devlin, the game’s hero, after freeing an occupied zone from evil Nazi’s and rushing color and life back into the area, picked up a bazooka and blew up a Nazi zeppelin as it flew overhead. As it slowly burned to the ground I hoped the rest of the game would be as cool as that, but from what we saw many of the gameplay features look like just another skin over a standard sandbox game.

We were shown a few missions in the game: one was a racing mission that gave us a good idea of what Paris was going to look like as a whole and the other was a mission to destroy a large Nazi cannon (at the press EA’s press conference we had also seen some disguise and spying action). The devs were showing off the variety in the game, and the biggest feature of the game, which is the “Will to Fight.” With the “Will to Fight” Devlin can inspire the city to do… something every time he strikes a major blow against the Nazi’s. This is signified by that area of the city coming into vibrant color as opposed to Nazi controlled areas which are black and white. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to see what exactly the “Will to Fight” does and thus what could possibly be the defining mechanic of this game was lacking from our demo.

As such it’s hard to give any true judgment of the game from what we saw, but I suppose that is the point of a review not a preview.

Since Devlin was in fact a car racer, the designers made racing a big part of the game. You’ll have to take on car races to complete missions, and all the races take place within the open world city. Courses are simply streets that have been blocked off. Though we were told there was “full racing game” in there it looked more like your standard arcade racer with souped up cars from the WWII era. Fun, but nothing revolutionary in an open world game considering the ability to steal and drive cars is the main point of almost all of them. Nice to have official races I suppose, but again not super original. We didn’t get hands-on, but it looked like it drove like any other game so that racing was simply a fresh coat of paint, not a new system that was going to blow our minds.

The race did give us a chance to check out most of Paris though, and it looks gorgeous, especially speeding through occupied and unoccupied areas. It might just be a visual thing, but the look of the black and white occupied Paris is truly gripping, and making the reds pop out was intelligent not just from a gameplay standpoint (they often point out goals), but from a dramatic look standpoint (a tip they clearly stole from Spielberg). Paris looks very realistic, but the devs definitely took some stylistic choices here and there making cars look sportier and Paris look more Parisian, if that makes any sense. It’s a good combination of the two, as I’m sure WWII Paris was not quite as interesting as it is in the game.

After the race we were shown a mission in which Devlin must take out a giant Nazi cannon. He began the level disguised as a Nazi solider so that he could slip past some guards. Devlin will have a variety of disguises that will allow him to spy around the city, and that should be one of the cooler mechanics that separates The Saboteur from other sandbox games. What was even more interesting, though harder to validate, was the claim that the game took more from game’s of other genres than it did from sandbox games. When I asked what influences the game had, designer Michael Marzola of Pandemic said, “We didn’t look at other open-world games for our core mechanics. We looked at games like Call of Duty and games that we thought were doing very intuitive things within their genre as opposed to other open-world games and trying to mimic them.”

Moving through the level we saw Devlin attempt to use stealth to get closer to the cannon. When he was finally spotted, the cover and shoot action took place. It looked smooth, but what really stood out was the fact that Devlin had to use planning ahead of time to tackle a level. Instead of just barging in, players will have to plan out their attack, taking into consideration how the world will react. It’s not clear if the whole game will be set up like this, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in this case. Once Devlin reached the cannon (after sniping some Nazis with one bullet) he blew it up and color rushed to that area of Paris. However, the enemies stuck around. The world doesn’t clear of evil just because you’ve saved one section, which is exactly where the game could get really interesting and exactly where our demo stopped… after he blew up a zeppelin with a rocket launcher of course.