Sean is drunk. And Irish. But definitely not drunk because he's Irish. He's just stuck in Nazi-occupied Paris after a catastrophic failure at the racetrack competing against a German superdriver who plays dirty and might be part of the Nazi party, and Sean lives in the backroom of the dressing room of a burlesque house filled with German soldiers in the audience and also is this really an Irish accent because it sounds maybe a little affected, and waitaminute you can download a DLC patch that removes the dancers' tassles?!
This is The Saboteur. Released in 2009 for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, it was the swan song, the "final fantasy" if you will of the now unfortunately named Pandemic Studios. It is glorious in its ambitions. If you've heard of it, chances are it was because of the surface-level conceit: the game starts in grainy black & white, and as you liberate the myriad Arrondissements of Paris those sections turn to beautiful Technicolor. It is Pleasantville: The Video Game.
But have you played this game? Because underneath the gimmicks, and the questionable voice acting, and the writing, and the scattered bugs, lies the Platonian ideal of the third-person open world action-adventure genre. This game encourages you to sneak up on an unsuspecting Nazi officer, beat them unconscious with the broad end of a German rifle, steal their clothes, calmly walk past the other guards before they can smell the alcohol, plant an ACME bundle o' dynamite on the gas tank of a flatbed truck, run away to the Eiffel tower while a big explosion happens behind you Bad Boys II-style, ascend the tower and then jump off of the Eiffel tower at just the right angle to plummet into a pool of water rather than your grisly death... and the game gives you a PlayStation trophy for it!
In 2012 or so, I had quit my job at a commercial film production agency. I had suffered multiple fits of crying on my drives to work where I sat next to the owner, a mustachioed Jobsian narcissist who had once taken an ill-fated business trip to China with his girlfriend and the son of Warren Buffett and the son's girlfriend. There was a slap fight between the girlfriends in a hotel lobby, and the owner was now in a legal fight with the son over the soured business deal. I was miserable.
Since quitting, I had been going through the Millennial ritual of applying to multiple jobs online several times a week only to receive absolutely nothing, not even an automated acknowledgement that I existed. It had been months. I wasn't eligible for unemployment, having quit of my own accord, so I signed up for food stamps. My days were spent typing cover letters, ruminating, and binge-watching television while ruminating. When I could no longer binge-watch, I turned to my long neglected library of video games. The Saboteur had sat there, untouched since I had last grown to love it while playing with my friend Logan in random spurts. Like most games in my collection, I thought, "Maybe I'll start this one again and see if I can finish it this time," not knowing that I was an undiagnosed ADHD-Inattentive Type.
If you bring up the map in the game, you are given the location of every available sabotage opportunity whether or not you've encountered them yet. Have you ever heard of "stimming"? It's a shorthand for self-stimulatory behavior that is often associated with autism, although everybody does it to varying degrees. The fidget spinner is a classic tool for stimming, allowing those in overstimulating environments to give their mind and body something simple and repetitive to do as a way to decrease anxiety. The Saboteur, as a video game, is a Nazi-bludgeoning fidget spinner.
Depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed, I started to fill my "off-time" with longer and longer sessions slinking around Paris. Blowing up fuel stations, rescuing prisoners, and attempting to collect the dozens of vehicles scattered throughout the game was quieting my racing thoughts of my own inadequacy, but most of all it was just fun. As I started collecting trophies, and eventually completing the story, I formulated a goal: I was going to wring every last ounce of fun out of this ridiculous gem. Every trophy, every car, every side mission, every sabotage marker.
Finishing cover letters became the distraction from the thing I really wanted to do, especially given their 0% success rate. I enjoyed hours sitting on my couch, or on the floor in front of the TV, forgetting the world and directing my focus solely toward kicking those Nazi bastards to the curb. Before too long I had completed everything I could find, and the PS3 told me I had managed a rare feat: every single trophy, my own spoils of an imagined war long past. The map had cleared itself of opportunities for sabotage save three, conveniently clustered together.
I drove my absurd European race car across the city, enjoying the saturated leaves, the colorful outfits on pedestrians, and the jazzy refrains of the in-game radio station. Reaching the very corner of the map, a black & white sliver appeared in the distance, the only thing left standing between me and single-handedly liberating the French people of all remaining vestiges of those psychotic goose-steppers. "Should I steal that guard's uniform?" I thought to myself. "No, I should do this as myself, proudly and defiantly." Sean crept behind the fuel silos, placing his trusty dynamite on the brightly-colored target shimmering on the metal surface. Lighting the fuse, he walked calmly out in full view of the guards, smirking as they became alert to this strange Irishman sauntering away. Their alert circles changed quickly from yellow to red, but it was too late. As Sean gingerly stepped into his purring super car, the low rumble of racists being burnt to a crisp gently rocked the car body. The targets blipped out of existence on the radar, and the world dissolved into color.
There was no trophy.