Developer: Replay Studios
Release Date: 2008
"We're a team based in Germany," the developer said, "and we're making a World War II stealth action game."
An awkward silence followed.
Most of the World War II games that have come out up until now have been riding a bizarre nostalgia wave. WWII has come to occupy an odd niche in American society as the last good fight; after that, it's all downhill and shades of gray.
Sabotage is most notable because it's not being made by Americans or Brits, so it's coming from an obviously different place. You aren't some square-jawed icon with half a cigar in your teeth and a gravelly voice, yelling to your squad (if you have a squad at all, and aren't just mowing down 500 Nazis a second by yourself) about how you're going to take that damn hill with the sheer power of American know-how and determination.
Instead, Sabotage's heroine is, as you might expect, a saboteur and spy; she's based loosely on the French secret agent Violette Szabo, who died in a concentration camp in 1945. You begin the game wounded and hallucinating in a field hospital, and each stage is a fevered recollection of a past mission.
As a secret agent, your tasks include infiltrating and destroying German facilities, smuggling poison to captured colleagues so they can kill themselves before they're made to talk, assassinating Nazi officials, and a variety of other things that don't typically show up in the WWII sub-genre. This is an unapologetically dark game, if that word means anything anymore, and the shift in tone is enough by itself to break it away from the hundreds of other WWII games that are released in an average character year. This is not the story of a person who will go home and have a passel of fat grandchildren who ask her to talk about the war; this is the story of someone who probably isn't going home at all.
Since most of Sabotage is set within a fever dream, it's not strictly limited to realism. Most of the levels that were shown at E3 displayed a vaguely dream-like color palette, like you were playing an old movie.
More importantly, since your main character is dreaming all of this, you can occasionally use "morphine time," where everything in the environment slows down but you. This indicates that your character is thrashing so much in her bed that the orderlies have sedated her, thus slowing down the game world. You can use morphine time to dash for cover and safety after being discovered, or to win fights, giving Sabotage more of a built-in margin for error than most stealth games.
While you're sneaking through the game's environments, you can also find letters written by Nazis, thus personalizing your enemies beyond the usual faceless pointy-helmeted mobs, and various special medals. The medals can be traded in like experience points, powering your character up in one of five different areas, such as gunplay, stealth, or the duration of morphine time.
Sabotage is something I didn't think I'd ever actually see: a fresh take on the WWII sub-genre that doesn't automatically make me pull out a bunch of hilarious jokes about how many WWII games I've played. Without the "greatest generation" hype train, it's actually possible to produce something new and interesting in a deeply played-out genre. I would not have guessed that.