Sean Devlin is an Irish mechanic and a racer in Paris – or at least he was. One day in 1940, as he takes part in the Grand Prix of Saarbrücken (Germany), he loses to the Nazi Kurt Dieker through unfair means. As he tries to repay his dept by playing a prank on Dieker, he learns of Diekers real job: being a Nazi torturer. Sean manages to escape back to Paris with the Nazi invasion force on his heel. The game begins three months after these events in the now occupied Paris, where Sean meets the Resistance and more or less willingly joins up with them in order to execute his revenge on Dieker.
The Saboteur is a GTA-like open-world driving and action game set in Paris during World War II. The player takes on the role of Sean, looking over his shoulder while he explores the city and its surroundings either on foot or by car. In order to move the story forward, the player has to fulfill missions for the resistance. There is also a considerable amount of side-missions as well as many other things to do in the city, including – but not limited to – blowing up sniper towers and Nazi tanks and killing Nazi generals. These so-called sabotage actions also net the protagonist contraband, the currency of the game. With it he can buy weapons, upgrades and other items at black-market dealers scattered around the city.
To do these sabotage acts, the player has access to several different kinds of weapons and explosives from the time period, as well as Sean’s fists for melee combat. Though Sean can engage Nazis in hand-to-hand fights, using punches, kicks, and grapple moves, it is often not advisable to go directly into combat, as he needs to escape the Nazis once an alarm has been raised in order to complete his missions. In addition, the alarm level will creep up over time if Sean does additional damage to Nazi property and personal, alarming even heavier forces including tanks and zeppelins. To escape an alarm, he either has to leave a certain area quickly or enter one of the many hide-spots while not being seen.
After completing a certain mission, Sean will also be able to call Resistance fighters at his side to help him in combat or bring him a getaway car. These getaway cars need to be collected first by driving them into a black market garage. Once this has been done, the car can be summoned at any garage.
Through his actions the player also unlocks perks granting certain rewards, e.g. “Sucker Punch”, which is gained after killing ten enemy soldiers without them ever knowing. Sean can even slip into an enemy uniform to infiltrate the Nazis undetected; however, if he is seen doing a suspicious activity, the alarm will be raised after a certain amount of time. Other prominent activities include running and climbing on buildings, similarly to the protagonist of Assassin’s Creed, giving the player the freedom to choose his own route to the target.
At the start of the game, Paris and its surroundings are covered in black and white in a very similar style to the one seen in the movie Schindler’s List, with only certain colors standing out, such as the red in every Nazi-symbol and the yellow lights behind windows. As the player helps the Resistance liberate the sectors, color returns and Nazi activity goes down.