Xbox 360, PS3
World War II is probably tied with alien invasions as the most overused video game setting. Sure, Normandy can be stormed, and Japan bombed, but only so many times. What often isn't told, though, is how France got stomped and surrendered to Germany in record time. Liberating France hasn't been well examined, either, so EA's The Saboteur is here to learn ya.
Taking visual cues from pulp novels, The Saboteur presents a dreary, monochromatic Paris, crawling with Nazis and bereft of hope. A head-on approach would be suicide, so our protagonist, Sean Devlin (based on real life SOE special agent William Grover-Williams) goes from race car driver to one-man guerrilla unit and freedom fighter in occupied France. You'll encounter all sorts as you progress, from Nazi Gestapo and British femme fatales to the burlesque dancers of gay Pah-ree. With each successful mission, Paris comes alive (in Technicolor!), sowing the seeds of le Resistance. While the voice work is spotty, with overly thick accents, the music is top-notch, and fits perfectly with your actions.
Gameplay is mostly reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto series, maybe a little too GTA-y, with a touch of Metal Gear and Assassin's Creed tossed in. It can also feel as if The Saboteur doesn't do anything new, although the free DLC "Midnight Show" adds a new wrinkle. Along with additional hiding spots and mini-games, the previously clothed burlesque dancers ditch the pasties, and go topless. Game chicks with their jooblies out may not be particularly shocking, but this is your requisite kiddie warning.
Though the gameplay is competent, it'd benefit with some fine-tuning. With its spin on the WWII game genre, The Saboteur takes after its rough-around-the-edges protagonist. While unpolished, there's much here to like. Besides, Paris becomes your playground, and dynamite's your date!
James Cameron's Avatar: The Game
Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC
We're still inundated by all things Avatar. Sure, James Cameron's latest is really just the modern retelling of FernGully: The Last Rainforest, but that shit wasn't in 3-D or IMAX. So Avatar's storyline isn't so original, but it isn't just a movie, it's an experience. Too bad the same can't be said of the game.
There are, you'll note, similarities to the film. Human RDA marine, Abel Ryder, arrives on the planet Pandora, to take part in the Avatar program. Soon, Ryder learns he may be on the wrong side of an alien invasion. Here's the moral choice: Side with the humans, to continue the mining of unobtanium, or take up the Na'vi cause and shoo the hyoo-mohns off, keeping Pandora pristine. Your choice offers you one of two campaigns; a third-person shooter if you stay with the humans, or an adventure game should you side with the Na'vi. No matter which you pick, much of the game's storyline will unfold awkwardly, which, despite the tale's epic scope, never feels all that engaging.
Visually, Avatar's environment is beautiful. The lush jungle landscapes and Pandora's floating mountains are re-created well for the small screen, but, unfortunately, the game camera's a bit wonky as if to work against the full scope of your surroundings.
Gameplay feels off too — the vehicle system and human targeting is sluggish, making every mission a pray-and-spray affair. The Na'vi's lower tech options fare better — the melee weapons are fun to use — but it's too bad that riding Pandora's wildlife isn't as thrilling as the movie's flying scenes, which were a joy to behold.
James Cameron's Avatar: The Game had everything to be successful. The premise translates perfectly to video games, with amazing visuals and the potential for a fantastic storyline. Also, Ubisoft Montreal, the design studio who made last year's fantastic Assassin's Creed 2, helmed the project. It's a missed opportunity.