It’s Good To Be The Saboteur?

25 Apr

No doubt you’ve seen the new screenshots for The Saboteur.  When I first heard about the game, where you play as an Irishman fighting with the Free French in Nazi occupied France in WWII, my interest was piqued.  With how it’s going about its marketing though, I’m not sure it’s what I thought it was.

See, in real life the saboteur was William Grover-Williams, an Irish racecar driver born in France who returned to work for the Special Operations Executive — a British espionage and sabotage network initiated by Winston Churchill himself.  Grover-Williams and men like him were responsible for organizing the French Resistance, maintaining spy networks and conducting sabotage and guerilla warfare.

Grover-Williams was captured and interrogated by the German Security Service and sent to a concentration camp where he was later executed along with another top SOE operative in 1945.

That would be some game.  I’ve read some similar stories about members of the SOE, and the stuff they did was truly heroic — it was also extremely dangerous and thankless.

In reality, while the French Resistance has received no small amount of praise, their struggle was paid in blood: it’s estimated the Resistance killed around 2,000 Germans while suffering somewhere around 5,000 casualties — as well 10,000 French civillians were killed in German reprisals along with 6,000 “collaborators” which is assumed to mean members of the networks men like Grover-Williams constructed.  While the picture painted of the French Resistance in the media is often of the militants slitting the throats of Germans and Nazi collaborators during the liberation of Paris, the real story is much more somber.  Which, speaking as someone familiar with creative development, is actually a gem of a chance — in this sort of story is the chance to create a meaningful experience with a basis in reality.  The punch to the gut that good drama and tragedy delivers is always that much stronger when the audience is aware that something similar actually occurred.

But the man running on rooftops with an STG-44 killing Germans in their houses, zip-lining all around the place, and enjoying the company of scandalous women is a gross misinterpretation which can’t claim to be based on the life of Grover-Williams any more than it can be said to be based on the actions of any man in WWII.

The sort of espionage these SOE men and the Free French went about were finding the locations of ammunition depots and launching raids on them, attacking supply routes, providing information to the Allies and eventually staging all-out attacks on German positions on D-Day.  There was a divide among capitalist and communist Free French (even going so far as to operate separately) — the majority of assassinations were performed by the communists.

But Pandemic is making an action game.  There is a mechanic where the player can raise the “Will to Fight” bar in different areas — a low will to fight means more German soldiers and no military assistance from the population.  A high will to fight means that soldiers will only congregate around military installations and the French population will…er, fight with you.

Sorry, but that’s incredibly incorrect.  Forgive the stick up my ass, but games like these are how many young people who are disinterested in reading up on history glean their historical accounts of the past.  I would be fine with it if it didn’t claim to be representing historical actions, but it is.  There is a reason for the American Special Forces mandate (inspired greatly by the actions of British operatives in France in WWII) “winning hearts and minds”.  The goal of setting up a resistance network is not to have a shootout, because the resistance will lose, and people will die.  The Free French were composed of volunteers from the population who were trained by soldiers.  People did not spring out of their houses and attack Germans who were for some reason patrolling their neighbourhood.

Even the supposed plot of the game has the main character exacting vengeance on the Nazis because of the murder of his friends.  As if murdering “high ranking German officers” is a way to cripple Germany — the real life Grover-Williams helped destroy Germany’s infrastructure in France, and not for some childish personal vendetta.

What I foolishly thought would turn out to be a thoughtful and chilling game of espionage is, I now find, actually “just another videogame”.  Shoot shoot, bang bang, kill the bad guys dead and you get the princess.  Really, enough of this already.

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