When I first heard that someone was making a game set in occupied Paris, casting the player as a member of the French resistance, my imagination ran away with me. Like everyone else I've played a lot of World War II videogames, and I'm sick of brainlessly shooting Nazis.
I imagined a tense, slow-paced adventure game. I envisioned spying on the occupying force while under the constant threat of detection. Perhaps I'd even get to be a German soldier, questioning his country's role in the war and secretly helping the resistance? That would be brave. That would be something that games haven't done before.
This is my problem with videogames. I hope for subtlety, sensitivity, intelligence and creative ambition. What I get is tits, guns, swearing and dreadful accents.
The Saboteur takes a fascinating and tragic moment in European history and depicts it via the medium of a foul-mouthed Irishman, one who spends his time splattering thousands of Nazis across the windshield of his stolen car and blowing up radio antennae in between visiting strip clubs to have a look at some polygonal French breasts. The warning signs are there on the game's title screen, which shows the Eiffel Tower dwarfed by an enormous pair of female buttocks.
If games were people, this one would be a 13-year-old schoolboy ignoring the history lesson on Germany's invasion of France because he's too busy doodling dicks in his exercise book, doing swears and giggling at his own farts.
I hate The Saboteur. Most bad games are just a bit broken - sometimes you even feel sorry for them - but the Saboteur isn't especially terrible in a mechanical sense. That's not what's so insulting about it.
No, it's the brainless, sickeningly insensitive load of old nonsense that it dares to call a storyline. It's the brash, idiotic, tasteless way in which it treats the Second World War. The Saboteur is aggressively, wilfully stupid, taking a historically charged place in time and turning it into the backdrop for a dumb action romp. This game makes a conscious choice not to bother engaging with the setting or the context in any meaningful, intelligent way.
I don't insist on historical accuracy in my games (or any of my fiction, for that matter). There's nothing wrong with artistic license. I don't care that The Saboteur's version of the occupation of Paris gets its dates and events all mixed up (it does).
But this story is the worst, most disgusting load of dribble I've ever seen in a videogame. And I've played a lot of them.
Why tell a story about occupied Paris when you can tell the story of a drunk man trying to kill a big bad German who cheated him out of winning a race? The war is just the backdrop, see - this game is only set in occupied Paris so there are loads of Nazis standing around to shoot and run over. What fun!
The Saboteur doesn't engage with its setting at all. Devlin, the 'hero', is only recruited to the resistance so there's an excuse for missions where you blow up blimps. This is like setting a rom-com in late-sixties Vietnam - not just horribly inappropriate, but insulting to anyone with the slightest sensitivity towards the history of this period. I don't think a European studio could have made this game.
The main characterisation device is tasteless stereotyping. The Irishman - and this is enough to make any European cringe - is a foul-mouthed drunk who loves whiskey, fighting and blowing things up. The big baddie is a German race car driver who is also - wait for it - a butcher.
Then there's the deeply unsexy British female spy, who wants to sleep with Devlin for absolutely no discernible reason. Oh, except she's a woman in a videogame, so she must want to sleep with someone - or why would she even be there?
Not a single character in the game can keep their accent consistent, be they French, German, Irish or English. Not even the main character can maintain his intonation for five minutes. Sometimes he sounds vaguely Indian. It's like an episode of 'Allo 'Allo, except the comedy isn't intentional.
What really riles me is that The Saboteur isn't a horrible accident - it's stupid by design. Here's an example: some of the characters in the game speak German from time to time, but they speak ludicrously grammatically incorrect German in heavy Californian accents.
Someone, somewhere, decided the Nazis should definitely speak German, but didn't go far enough to suggest they should speak German which, you know, actually sounds anything like the real language. Instead we have, "ZERE IS ZE SABOTEUR! ICH WILLEN ER FINDEN!" It's just for effect, see.
Here's a quote from The Saboteur's lead designer: "We don't even really think of our game as a WWII game, it's the backdrop to our game which gives us arguably the best real-world bad guys of all time."
That's what the Nazi regime - one of the most terrible things ever to happen on our continent or any other, responsible for the worst genocide in human history - was to the people making the Saboteur: the best real-world bad guys of all time.
Occupied Paris? Hey, that's a cool place where you can race in vintage cars and blow stuff up and climb the Eiffel Tower! The developer's attitude to its own game confirms all my worst assumptions.
Why not engage with the history? Why do we so purposefully avoid doing anything intelligent with videogames? And why does The Saboteur think it can come and throw its own faeces against the backdrop of one of the most important historical events in European history?
If this were a film I think it might have been banned, not just slammed by critics. (Videogame critics, by the way, seemed largely unbothered by The Saboteur's insensitivity.) Just because this is a videogame, is it magically OK for it to be so dumb?
The Saboteur isn't an insultingly bad game. It's an insultingly stupid one. It makes game developers and gamers alike look like desperate thrill-seeking idiots, combing fascinating and sensitive areas of human history in search of things we can explode.
It embodies everything that depresses me about videogames at their worst. It's all here - the senselessness, the meaningless violence, the unapologetic stupidity. The lack of intelligence and absence of ambition. The tendency towards easy stereotypes and pre-pubescent humour, even in settings that not only lend themselves to a mature approach, but beg for it.
At least with Pandemic gone, there's no chance of a sequel.