"We didn't want to make a World War II game," says Tom French, lead designer on The Saboteur. Things don't appear to have gone according to plan. The Saboteur is set in the early 1940s, in France, and is mainly about killing Nazis. If they meant to deliver a tennis game or an an innovative new twist on the Cooking Mama genre, a rethink may be required.
But French's point, as is obvious to anyone capable of not being facetious for more than four seconds, is that Pandemic didn't want to make a typical World War II game. The Saboteur isn't about running up the beaches of Normandy or crawling through the trenches or providing cover for your fellow soldiers. In fact you don't have any fellow soldiers, as you're not even one yourself.
"We came up with several concepts to separate ourselves from the World War II space," says French. One of these ideas was to create a personal story that's "a lot more intimate" than the ones usually found in WWII games. "We didn't want to tell the soldier's story we've seen so many times before. We looked at classic heroes who really inspired us," French explains, listing Indiana Jones, John McClane and Bullitt as examples.
"We wanted somebody believeable but larger than life. Somebody who fought the Nazis but wasn't a soldier. Somebody who was classically cool and could drive the Hell out of a sports car, who could take a beating and laugh in the face of danger." That somebody turned out to be reluctant hero Sean Devlin - "A daring race car driver who has a taste for straight whisky and a way with women." (Why aren't reluctant heroes ever IT support managers called Rob who have a taste for Chilean Shiraz and a way with long-term relationships?)
Devlin is also Irish, though you might not guess by his accent. "At first we found really Irish-sounding actors, but nobody understood them," says French. Instead they went for an Irish actor who's been living in the States for a few years - "Otherwise we'd have to subtitle the whole game, which would be kind of terrible." Indeed.
At the start of the game Devlin is a mechanic for the fictional Marini racing team. Marini's big rivals are the Doppelzieg, who build war machines for the Nazis on the side. Devlin heads off on what's supposed to be an innocent adventure with a friend, but Things Go Wrong, and his friend ends up dead. Meanwhile, the Germans have started rolling in the tanks and beginning their occupation of France. So there are two narrative arcs to The Saboteur - the story of the occupation, and the story of Devlin's fight for revenge.
The challenge for Pandemic is telling those stories within a sandbox environment. The player has the freedom to go anywhere in world of The Saboteur, but Pandemic also wanted to include distinct set pieces and keep up the pace of the plot. So how have they managed to blend linear elements within the openworld?
"The main trick is something we picked up from working on Mercenaries," says French. "All of our missions, the goals and the objectives and the points, all feed into Sean's story. I learned with Mercenaries to really pull the players into an area, give them a specific objective, then kick off an event furthering the story." Plus, at some points - such as when you're inside buildings - the game will have "a more level-based feeling, so in those areas we can do more point-to-point storytelling".