The Saboteur, Pandemic's latest open-world shooter about a rough and tumble Irish lad bringing color back to Nazi-occupied Paris, showed promise when we played an early build back at E3; but it definitely needed work.
Previewing a current build, I found that development has continued to progress. For one, you won't confuse The Saboteur with any other title this holiday season. The black-and-white landscape (part Casablanca, part Sin City; as lead designer Tom French describes it) is distinctive, with the "City of Lights" living up to its name and various splashes of Nazi-red creeping in among the buildings. The "look" of this game will definitely win some admirers, even if the gameplay doesn't end up quite as polished.
I played through two new missions for this hands-on, and while we still haven't gotten much of a taste of the open-world gameplay, the scripted scenarios are a blast. Literally, in the second mission, I blew up a zeppelin ... while on board!
The first mission was called "Escape" -- it's the game's first black-and-white mission. I began by sneaking out of a German auto factory where I, as racing scene fixture Sean Devlin, and an NPC friend had been held hostage; first silently taking out a few guards, and then finding a weapon and shooting my way out, tutorial-style.
The gunplay in The Saboteur is entertaining, if a little simple. Sean has the ability to take on buildings full of Nazis and you can quickly and easily see enemies on your minimap. Once aligned in your rather large cross hairs, they drop in a spray of red-colored blood. The cover system and reloading mechanic are both automatic, which can get you into trouble at times; though Pandemic is currently working to fine-tune the gameplay. Waiting for Sean to lock into cover or load a new ammo cartridge occasionally takes just too long. But once you're in a rhythm, clearing out hallways and courtyards full of Nazis becomes cathartic.
Once I escaped the auto parts factory, I came upon a German car, called a "Sturmwagen" in the game, and then the real fun started: I blasted through a gate (as told to do so by the mission objectives), and then hurtled out into a rainy, black-and-white countryside night; plowing down squads of goosestepping Nazi troops and dodging bright orange blurs of explosions as I stepped on it!
This is the game's introduction to the open-world map, and I had a lot of fun zipping along the minimap's suggested path, splattering the occasional group of German troops and speeding by frightened French citizens. Eventually I made it to a farm (where Sean's friend's family was under Nazi siege), and after shooting everything wearing a Swastika in a flaming barn and rescuing the father and sister, I decided the best plan was to head to Paris -- where else? (The family just happened to have a brothel there where I could set up my HQ.) Thus begins the game at large.
Much has been made of The Saboteur's color-changing mechanic (i.e., when Sean clears out an area of Nazi occupation, it returns to full, living color), but most of the game I saw was seeped in black and white. This makes sense, of course, considering that most of the game has you fighting in occupied territory (and certainly the early missions). Even so, the black-and-white areas aren't really completely monochrome -- the Nazis' red armbands and banners are in color, and various items and useable objects in the environment are also highlighted in specially-colored light or tint.
Nazis themselves glow with various colors to show their state of aggravation: green if they're not bothered by you; yellow if they're suspicious; or red if they want to töten you dead. In fact, including all of the HUD elements, the game is pretty colorful, making the black-and-white segments all the more stunning. When I suddenly caught a glimpse of the blue pupils of the father I'd saved, or when a flashy orange explosion lit up the landscape, it really popped.
The second mission I played was dubbed "Zeppelin," and -- you guessed it -- I was headed into one of The Saboteur's historically-inaccurate flying machines (apparently Germany's airships were decommissioned after the whole Hindenberg thing, go figure). But first, I had to sneak into a German castle, so I collected a stolen uniform from a helpful moll (Sean, that devil, befriends quite a few throughout the game), and then jumped in a German medical truck and delivered some phony papers to the guards, so I could proceed inside.
Once inside the castle, I snuck around for a bit. Getting close to a guard, even in disguise, can give you away and raise the alarm, but if done slowly and carefully (and out of sight), you can take out a castle full of Nazis stealthily without raising suspicion. That's good advice -- that I didn't take. One too many chances and I was watching a guard pull out his whistle (no, not that whistle!). From then on it was a pure firefight past a setup of stationary machine guns, up to the top of the castle's towers, and finally onto the zeppelin dock.
I boarded the ship and came face-to-face with my archenemy: racing-rival-turned-Third-Reich-rep Dierker! In a cinematic cutscene, a fistfight broke out, a gun appeared, and pretty soon shots were being fired in every direction. Discharging a loaded weapon in the middle of a hydrogen-filled airship? Great idea! Soon, the cutscene ended, and Dierker was taunting me to chase him through the ensuing inferno. And so I did -- up ladders, down ziplines, my little black-and-white Irishman dodging bright flames and zeppelin debris.
Finally, I reached the end of the ship, and Dierker, newly outfitted with a parachute, turned to taunt me one last time; behind him was an utterly clear, bright blue sky (apparently Dierker was the last Nazi in the area). He jumped, parachuting off and leaving poor Sean standing there in the zeppelin, looking desperately for his own exit. The flames tickled at his feet, explosions wracked the air around him, and ... fade to white ...
Needless to say, I'm ready for more. The Saboteur is out December 8, and I'm betting the world will get a tad more colorful when I get to play it again then.