Spec Ops: The Line
Tea: Ginger Lemon
I am not a shooter person. There, I said it. However, every now and then a shooter comes along that intrigues me. Spec Ops: The Line was one of those games that was said to be different from other brown and grey modern war shooters. So I went in with somewhat high expectations, this was aided by the fact that the game was said to be partially inspired by Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. And while this sounds very unusual for a game I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been spoiled the overall story. Thankfully that is not the case at all and thus I was presented with a truly remarkable story. But let’s get into it:
The gameplay of Spec Ops is your standard run-of-the-mill third person cover-based shooter. There are some “unique” features like the contextual use of sand to bury your enemies. However, some of the places where this could be used are terribly hard to spot and just seem like standard level-geometry. So most of times I actually kicked of a dusty avalanche was due to my horrible aiming. The other one is your two teammates. A rough talking black man named Adams and a witty white guy named Lugo. Adams specializes in throwing grenades whenever he feels like it and Lugo is a sniper. Point your target-marker and a guy you couldn’t see if the target-marker wouldn’t have high-lighted him up in red and Lugo will snipe him in five minutes or point it at a group of enemies and Adams will throw a grenade in the vague direction of them. There is a funny side-quest called: “When will the texture load in” that I liked to play a lot at the start. The game makes a good use of the blinding light in Dubai, often obscuring your vision. There are some bugs as I was sometimes not able to shoot enemies, even though I couldn’t find a reason why. I had ammo and wasn’t dead, but the game would rather prefer me to be the latter. Gameplay is functional and sufficient. I want to talk about the story more than anything, however.
The game is set in Dubai that has been struck with a sandstorm and completely buried under the massive amounts of sands the storm brought along as house-warming gift. A squad is sent in under the command of John Konrad (not Joseph Conrad at all) to evacuate the civilians, but he is never heard from until he sends a distress message, stating that his mission failed. You play as Captain Martin Walker and his two mates who are send in to investigate and rescue any survivors. The game then goes in the standard direction, or maybe even beyond, as the irony of the first minutes is almost too much to take. You are shooting Arabs while rock music blasts all around you. This could only be made more patriotic if you shoved an American flag into every dead body. But the whole façade crumbles away rather fast as you realize that this is no idolizing of America’s war on the world. This is the story of Captain Walker. There is a sequence that I will not spoil in which you and Walker do something truly horrible and the games pushes your face into it to show you what you have done and then it pushes some more for good measure. I felt dirty and filthy afterwards, like a hundred showers couldn’t wash me clean of what I had just done. From that point on the story only gets darker as Walker tries to deny the things he has done and justifies his more and more unreasonable pursuit of Konrad towards his men. Ending with a truly outstanding final sequence that must be experienced first-hand, not by watching the Youtube-walkthrough.
The game is very good at conveying atmosphere through its various channels. Not only gameplay and dialogue, but also small things like the loading screen changes as you progress through the game. Walker’s look deteriorates along with his psyche and his commands towards his mean slowly descend from the sterile military tone to an emotional and disappear-driven command.
One could argue now that a game which is trying to present a moral story about the horrors of war through a character’s personal downfall is taken aback by being a videogame which must in some way incorporate fun to engage the player. Can you truly feel responsible for your actions if the game makes it somewhat fun to do them and forces your hand at the same time? Yes, this is not a counterpoint but an integral aspect. The killing of enemies must be somewhat fun and entertaining to make the retaliation all the more sickening. More than once the game seems to break the forth-wall and some statements can be seen to be directly aimed at the player: “Do you feel like a hero yet?” The line between you and Walker blurs as your actions mimic his, but then again it drives a wedge between the two of you as you cannot agree with his actions. Nonetheless you are the one who pulls the trigger, literally.
Spec Ops: The Line is a masterpiece from a story perspective. Captain Walker and the entire scenario are well-written and will leave you thinking as the credits roll and you return to your normal life. But you cannot. This game has changed something inside you. You might leave Spec Ops, but it will never truly leave you. Other games now seem surreal in their depictions and you cannot help but wonder if you should be having fun or not. It is an emotional ride from beginning to end that will leave you somewhat empty, not in an experience sort of way, but an emotional. You will feel hollow and empty as if something has been torn right out of your chest. I can whole-heartedly recommend this game. It is a game everyone should experience.