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The Saboteur – Just One Annoyance Too Many?

January 22, 2010

I don’t know if I’m just becoming a grumpy old man (most likely) or if my standards are just getting more and more discriminating, because I’m finding that even small issues in great enough numbers can completely ruin a game for me.

The latest example for me is The Saboteur from Pandemic Studios. If the game were released a couple of years ago, it could have been an absolute blockbuster of a great game, but in today’s competitive game environment it just doesn’t have the level of quality in gameplay, graphics, or concept to make it a top tier title. Add to that the numerous issues and outright gameplay annoyances, and I almost have no motivation to finish the main campaign, much less the extensive “hidden package hunting” shoehorned into so many of today’s games. (I say almost no motivation because the achievement points are still waiting there to be plucked.) This is really disappointing because Pandemic is a very good studio, responsible for some games I’ve loved over the year, including:

Even hit studios cannot produce a hit game every time, but its sad when a proven crew let a product out the door with problems in core game elements. Sigh.

Here’s my current laundry list of the annoyances killing The Saboteur for me – please note that there are spoilers in this list, so if you don’t want details in the game revealed before you play it yourself, stop reading now!

  1. Climbing gameplay is poor – supposed to be a core element in the game, but is poorly implemented with wonky “edge grabbing” and A-button mashing to ascend. This might have been be acceptable years ago, but there are so many games which have done climbing mechanics well (Assassin’s Creed (1 and 2), the Thief games, etc.) that there’s no excuse for this to be this bad (especially as a core feature).
  2. Stealth is often useless – just like the climbing mechanic, the stealth gameplay here is core to the game and yet does not work well, even being completely unusable in missions where it should be a viable option. We all know this is a game, but some suspension of disbelief is necessary to really engage and immerse the player in the game world and when enemies can still see you from a quarter mile away through walls even when you’re “stealthed” is ridiculous.
  3. Approach must “match” what the designers wanted – For example: The Palais Royale mission – one goal is the destruction of a number of tethered zepplins, but you can’t use the nearby AA guns against the zepplins!?!?! Instead one must use handheld weapons like pistols or machine guns to destroy them. This kind of issue appears again and again in the game where if you aren’t using the specific weapons or technique the game designers intended, you can’t complete your objective. C’mon folks, AA guns should damage most everything. Explosives should act similarly (and be detonate-able no matter how they were placed). This doesn’t seem like rocket science.
  4. “Fragile” Tanks – several times I had them start smoking and blow up after a while for no reason, and after taking little to no previous damage.
  5. Streets – invisible walls, ditches, curbs, etc. cause many cars to come to sudden halt, crash or go out-of-control, or take smash damage. This seems to be another core gameplay mechanic which generally functions but is not fun.
  6. Terrible physics engine / object behavior – e.g. small rocks, trees, even the wooden “sawhorses” blocking checkpoints can bring cars and even tanks from high speed to a dead stop instantly. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a freakin’ bush stop a tank.
  7. Map accessibility – the player has to go through several menu options (3 button presses with slow “transition” effects for each layer) every time just to get to the full map – and this may be something you have to do often, so it becomes yet another chore in the game rather than a feature.
  8. Save – again, you have to go through slow menus and confirm to overwrite existing saves (yet another menu) every time you want to save outside a scripted checkpoint which (if you’re like me) is often.
  9. ”Perks” — many require counts of things (vehicles destroyed, generals killed, etc.) but the counting is erratic, nonsensical, or just simply wrong
    “Destroy 20 enemy vehicles with 1 vehicle” doesn’t count parked vehicles, those in bases, or zepplins, etc. Should probably be named “destroy 20 enemy vehicles which are moving on roads with 1 vehicle” 
    “Kill 5 generals” — some generals have a tendency to kill themselves after their escorts are dead (by falling into holes, etc.), robbing you of any opportunity to kill them. Maybe they’re just smart enough to want to rob you of the perk… 
    “Kill 10 Nazis with explosives in 10 seconds” – apparently doesn’t count Nazis already stationed in bases (I’ve killed 10 in 2 seconds with 0 counted), so must be more like “kill 10 free-roaming Nazis on the street in 10 seconds with explosives.”
  10. Context-sensitivity screws up context-sensitive attacks – under some circumstances pressing (Y) or (X) to perform stealth kills is unavailable or simply won’t work, for example attempting to stealth kill a soldier in a sniper nest who is sitting in a turret: the only option presented is to sit in the turret yourself, just pushing the soldier aside and hopping into the seat allowing them to attack, sound alarms, attack you first, etc. etc. etc. What kind of an idiot would just push the Nazi aside to take his seat?! What is this, musical F-ing chairs?!
  11. Explosives often won’t attach properly – very frequently the attachment indicator shows ready by nothing happens when attempting to attach explosives to tower legs, etc.
  12. Objects float in mid air – this sometimes happens in games where an object is “stacked” atop another and the base object is moved/destroyed, or dynamic changes in the environment push objects into bad placement, but I’ve seen instances where static objects in this game seemed to have been placed in the mid-air from the beginning…

Sorry Pandemic – better luck (and hopefully more testing and design effort) next time. As for my 2/100 of a buck – save your $60.

Edit: I’ve since found that Pandemic is now defunct – sorry guys! Also, for a much more humorous take on this game, check out good old Yahtzee’s review:

From → Gaming, Xbox

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