Spec Ops: The Line Launch Trailer Is Kind Of Problematic

By Nathan Grayson on June 26th, 2012 at 9:00 am.

If only these falling glass shards would form a mirror so I could better admire my own rugged handsomeness.

And not just because it seems like a billion of these things have popped up in the past week or so, either. See, a recent developer diary about Spec Ops‘ potentially uncomfortable marriage of meaty, blood-spattered fun and the grim truths of war prompted me to wonder if the whole thing wasn’t like duct-taping a cat and dog together. And while Hollywood tells us that’d lead to a heartwarming adventure of self-discovery, reality isn’t generally so kind. So along comes Spec Ops’ launch trailer, and yeah, this reeeeally doesn’t look like it’s trying to downplay the glamorous lifestyle of videogame life-ending. You know the drill: buildings, vehicles, and people get shredded into bloody confetti while caught in gooey bubbles of slow-mo. So now I’m confused.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve been a fan of many a cartoonishly over-the-top guns-and-slow-mo-and-bro-mo-fest in my time. But it’s worrisome to see a game like this struggle so much to stay on-message – especially when dealing with subject matter this weighty. I suppose at least having your characters take a look down at their blood-of-a-thousand-men-stained hands during cut-scenes is better than nothing, but is it really too much to ask for something a little better than this?

I mean, I’m not even knocking Spec Ops for trying to be fun to play. This is a big-budget shooter – not an art-game-shaped soapbox. But those slow-mo particle effects are like fireworks at a war-torn (but still incredibly spectacle-driven) Disney World. They don’t actually change how the game plays; they just make it look cooler.

The final product’s out on June 29. I desperately hope it proves me wrong. But hey, even if it doesn’t, it’ll probably still be interesting. Things involving Nolan North and deserts usually are.

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91 Comments »

  1. Metalfish says:

    “You didn’t think we’d let you just walk in here, right?”

    Is an odd line to include in a trailer that displays the quotes about how it breaks the mould with pride -what with it being the sort of standard hollywood action flick cliché. Quickly followed by “we’ve been set up!”

    I’m not saying people would never talk like this, and I’m not saying the plot should be only delivered in iambic pentameter and Esperanto, but a little bit of creativity in the writing might back up their “we’re different, honest!” chops.

  2. kaoswielder says:

    I wonder how the story, atmosphere and music and what not will feel like to people (on PC) when the controls are tear-inducing bad, making the game almost unplayable. I was so pumped up for this but after playing the demo, I have shot it and kissed it goodbye.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      I had the opposite experience – I thought it’s bland looking run of the mill budget shooter / after playing the demo I have to at least say, that it plays very well.

  3. kibble-n-bullets says:

    Bah, real war isn’t some thing you can sell as something you would want to experience. Regardless of the medium; games, movies, whatever, if it makes you want to be there than it has to be full of shit. On that note I think Jarhead is the best war movie I’ve ever seen.

    I’ve developed a general rule of thumb of late regarding how I view up coming titles: The more ambitious they are the more they tend to have ghastly bits I can’t overlook.

    • Drayk says:

      Jarhead is good.

      But I find that the Hurt locker and the Green zone are better !

      • Ultra Superior says:

        Hurt locker is awesome. And it beat Avatar at oscars, hi-five!

        That’s what you get when you divorce a wife that’s more talented than you, Cameron.

        • jezcentral says:

          Cameron probably can’t hear you from the top of his money-pile, which is about 50 times taller than his wife’s.

        • Bhazor says:

          I’ve never understood the praise of Hurt Locker.
          Decent directing but the story gets frickin’ rediculous.

          • Ultra Superior says:

            Its one of the good examples of great direction. The script is mildly above average, acting is ok.

            For the best writing, there’s Breaking Bad.

            Created by God-Screenwriter Vince Gilligan and His Angels of Mono-Dialogues.

          • MadMatty says:

            Breaking Bad? the series that throws one extremely unlikely event, after another at the viewer, to keep the plot going? i stopped watching after the first season, which was good fun it has to be said.
            I´ll be checking out Hurt Locker and Jarhead, alas their trailers were also crappy at opening, so i never got around to viewing them.

            I suspect they might be to US-centric for my tastes.

        • battles_atlas says:

          Utterly average film. Generation Kill without the wit or grit.

          • Ultra Superior says:

            You’re wild man. I bet you got transformers on DVD. Good for you.

      • magnus says:

        Johnny Got His Gun for the aesthetes among us?

        • Anabasis says:

          All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) all the way.

          • MadMatty says:

            I like the 1970s version of All Quiet on the Western Front, also Thin Red Line

            Slaughterhouse 5 and
            Stalingrad is absolutely excellent….

      • godwin says:

        On the topic of “good war films”, I’d much rather recommend the aforementioned Generation Kill, as well as Hamburger Hill, or perhaps A Bridge Too Far. A Thin Red Line is one of my favourites too, but some people think it has too many words or something.

        The point really isn’t to get the viewer to “experience war” per se, because that’d be an unfair and silly expectation. I think it’s more to dissuade the viewer, through a given medium, from blind acceptance of the titillation violence (particularly spectacular violence) can offer, and the great lie which posits war as something glorious or death for one’s country as heroic (contrast Hamburger Hill to something like We Were Soldiers). This is something art (from poetry to painting to music to film) is fully capable of doing, and which games have yet to really explore.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        Battle for Algiers.

        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058946/

      • stahlwerk says:

        Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

      • RegisteredUser says:

        Jesus Christ people, stop pretending that any movie could ever come close again to the unique marvel and unbeatable perfection that is Team America: World Police.

    • fenrif says:

      The game accomplishes this by making you do things that are horrible and a bad idea, while telling you it’s a horrible and bad idea, and then while you’re in the middle of it having your squadmates whine about it, and then once it;s finished making a point of telling you how horrible a person you are for doing the unavoidable railroaded linear action sequence.

      Your character says, when you start it, something along the lines of “sometimes we don’t get a choice.” Which is meant to be some sort of commentary on the necessary horrors of war I guess, but just highlights how the game is removing any agency from you as a player so it can call you an asshole. Especially becuse it really doesn’t do a good job of presenting the sequence as being necessary at all.

      Also all the sand-based gameplay amounts to “theres a guy on a turret, shoot the glass above/behind him to cover him in sand.” And theres a sandstorm at one point where your guy holds his hand infront of his face while you carry on shooting baddies.

  4. battles_atlas says:

    My wait for a serious sandcastle simulator goes on

  5. dmoe says:

    How about breaking from the usual conventions and going the other way completely with art design, themes and so on? Another war shooter. Whoop-dee-fucking-doo.

  6. lokijki says:

    I feel this might end up with one of the problems Homefront had: the message was “war is bad and you should feel bad,” but it was also a war game that was trying to be fun. If the fun of the game comes from shooting dudes while the game is shouting angrily at you for doing so, then it quickly becomes a confusing mess.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      No one really wants you to feel that war is bad.

      But hey, it’s not you who’s dying in your wars so let’s play some more videogames!

    • DXN says:

      Heh. I think the message of Homefront was more, “You know what would make war bad? If it was AMURRKA LAND OF THE FREE that was being invaded by filthy yellow commies!!!!!!”.

    • MistyMike says:

      True, no work of fiction can make a anti-war statement while at the same time making shooting look exciting. A true anti-war game would feature no combat at all, maybe a point-n-click adventure with your soldier sitting in a wet trench all day.

      • lijenstina says:

        A true war game will be a game where the first part of the game is played as an soldier from the opposed army while he is home on a leave – you can see his family, his pet dog, his friends and neighbors, his world views. The second part is played as the “good guy” which is a part of the unit that clashes with the “bad guy’s” unit allowing the player to recognize him – putting a human face instead of the usual warface.

        This will tackle the main problem I have with war games – dehumanizing the opponent as the generic “bad guy”.

        • MistyMike says:

          That could be a good idea but it might as well cross the line into emotional manipulation.

          • lijenstina says:

            I agree, however that is true for any concept if there is an secret agenda behind it, instead of just telling a story of ordinary people – of believable characters with an clear antiwar message without politics, ideology, good or bad guys. Also, without tainting it with cheap pathetic or shock story events. I hate those.

        • Brise Bonbons says:

          Well, you could do that a number of ways. For example, have the player switch back and forth between characters on both sides of the war. You could use a fictional settings or SF, with very small squads of easily recognizable characters, so that each time you shot an enemy, you knew when you switched characters next chapter that squad would be missing the one bug-eyed guy you really liked. I don’t feel like that’s especially manipulative, since it’s laying down a basic rule for the player and sticking to it.

          It seems clear the problem with a serious war FPS is that to be seen as a “good game”, you need to make the shooting “gratifying” or “authentic”, which actually involves a huge amount of subliminal reinforcement and artificial GFX/SFX design (extreme blood splatter, hit registration SFX, exaggerated ragdoll jerking, score numbers popping up, etc.). One of the things I find very refreshing in DayZ is that ARMA doesn’t really do much of this; killing a zombie is not visceral, there’s no huge physics-y spray of blood, and no hilarious ragdoll – they just fall down. It never seems to take on the same game-y veneer that you get trained into feeling by CoD or BF or TF2.

          Unfortunately a lot of people are trained these days to think that means ARMA’s gunplay isn’t realistic.

          • MadMatty says:

            I tend to find real war footage a surreal and macabre display of gore and flying body parts, the likes of which hasnt been seen in games other than “killing floor”.
            I think this adds to the “horror” part of war, and wont be found in US Defense sanitized Hollywood war recruitment films, like Black Hawk Down.

      • The Random One says:

        There is a text adventure that’s pretty much that. You play as a soldier that’s clearly on the throes of PTSD – well, maybe not POST traumatic in the case. There is a moment in which you are attacked and you have the option to fight back, but if you do you kill your enemy only to discover he’s a young child. Then you vomit.

        I don’t remember its name, though.

        • nearly says:

          I remember Maybe Make Some Change having a similar sort of approach, but it was more emphasizing the incident overall than making blanket anti-war statements.

      • Snuffy the Evil says:

        DEFCON, on the other hand, is excellent at making (nuclear) war both fun and horrifying.

        • MistyMike says:

          That works because there is no emphasis whatsoever on manly man doing manly things. It’s just an impersonal, bureaucratic mass slaughter.

  7. gwathdring says:

    That man looks a bit like the hero of Canton.

  8. BenA says:

    Hello? Is that Bruce “Tron” Boxleitner with the voice at the end.

  9. Iskariot says:

    I do not expect any game to show me the truth about war and massacring other people. I would not want to get traumatized that way. Games about war are always stylized lies. that is why the US army loves to get involved in games and movies.
    -
    Games by their nature are intended to be fun. So… killing in a game must be perceived as fun. You must like doing it, and doing it again and again and again….
    So if Spec Ops: The Line succeeds in making it very enjoyable and exiting to commit mass murder (or whatever euphemism it is they use) then it is a good game in that respect.
    I think I will have great fun slaughtering with this game.

    • EPICTHEFAIL says:

      +1 for using logic in the context of a CoD-`em-up.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      Oh, is *that* what games are? Now I understand! Someone call the military and tell them to stop using games for training and instruction, quick! I’ll contact Toady and let him know he needs to overhaul Dwarf Fortress, because games need to be fun and his is just telling stories…

      To be serious and ruin my setup: I can’t protest more this idea that games must be fun by their very nature. That’s like saying paintings must represent an objects realistically by their nature. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s nonsense. If we want to say “games naturally involve play”, I’m fine with that, but fun is too broad, too subjective, and too problematic.

      If you’re only interested in playing games that are light and fun, great! I’m glad you know your own taste. But don’t try to define what games can be for the rest of us. If I want a game where shooting people is miserable and tedious, that shouldn’t effect you at all.

      • Jarvgrimr says:

        Are you one of those people that play bus simulators? Or Euro-Truckhaul 2009? If a game isn’t fun then it isn’t a game anymore; it’s a work.

      • Iskariot says:

        @ Brise Bonbons

        Your reaction contains several mistakes and in general sounds somewhat stressed and overwrought.

        -”Oh, is *that* what games are?”

        I did not give you a comprehensive definition of what games are supposed to be.
        I am just stating that a game in general is intended to be fun.

        I do not understand why you specifically mention this fun game, called Dwarf Fortress, but I understand from your comment that you do not perceive Dwarf Fortress as fun at all.
        Well, what can I say. I know many who do. At least the ones that play it.

        -”because games need to be fun and his is just telling stories…”

        So stories can not be fun? What a strange notion.

        -”That’s like saying paintings must represent an objects realistically by their nature.”

        No it is not. You really are loosing it there.

        -”If you’re only interested in playing games that are light and fun”

        No I am not and I never said so.
        But who said that only light games can be fun?
        I did not.
        Clearly that is nonsense.
        ‘Heavy’, educational etc. games can be great fun too.
        These things are not at all mutually exclusive as you seem to think.

        -”But don’t try to define what games can be for the rest of us”

        I am not, am I?
        The gist of your reaction is fed by the misconception that fun games can not be serious too, or educational, or ‘heavy’ at the same time too.

        -”If I want a game where shooting people is miserable and tedious”

        I bet such a ‘game’ would be very successful indeed.
        That is why everybody strives to create miserable, tedious and boring games I suppose.
        :)

        To wrap it up: Lighten up.

  10. brulleks says:

    Ye Gods. It’s akin to a Werner Herzog film with Arnie Schwarzenegger as the hero.

  11. BreadBitten says:

    Guess there’s some truth do that old Kramer quote, “You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle…”.

  12. kikito says:

    Hm. Ok I will say this.

    I think the main protagonist is just too handsome. I have no problem with handsome men. But his face does not say “hardered war veteran capable of slicing your throat” to me. It says “swimsuit male model”.

    I realize that this pretty much puts me in the opposite position of the japanese guys who felt like the main character of Gears of War was so much “bulky and testosterony” that he felt like the bad guy to them.

    For the record, I’m not demmanding another “bulky macho Gears of War” guy. Just give him a less perfect face.

    • Iskariot says:

      I like swimsuit models.
      You wouldn’t believe what incredible beauty one encounters in the army.
      :)

      • kikito says:

        I think models are great. No one is better than them at modelling.

        If the guy I’m seeing on the video existed, he would be a model, or an actor, or something of that kind.I mean, he’s so “perfect” he could live on his face alone! And he would make much more money than as a soldier. The economics don’t make sense.

        • Iskariot says:

          Well, still…… guys like that you can find in every army.
          People do not always choose to serve in the army because of the money. And they do not always have a choice. Perhaps this one (the one in the game) felt he had to serve his country (whatever that platitude means) and perhaps he tried modeling and hated it. Or perhaps he has psychopathic tendencies and likes to kill for fun.

  13. Runs With Foxes says:

    If you don’t like violent games you’re gonna have a tough time working as a game journalist.

    This game’s probably shit but it looks less bloody than a lot of games. I don’t see why it deserves to be a whipping boy in your recent crusade against violent games.

    • Vorphalack says:

      There is nothing in this article that indicates Nathan is on a crusade against violence in games. He’s pointing out a very obvious contradiction between the games marketing and execution.

    • godwin says:

      “Blah blah blah blah blah blah.” Yes, journalists are supposed to just go along with stuff, right? Just “report”, they say, “don’t you dare tell me how to think!!!”

    • Jimbo says:

      OR, maybe it carries more weight if you present it as ‘just another shooter’ and then have it turn out not to be. If you’re trying to get your audience to question themselves, it’s perhaps more effective if you don’t prime them with exactly what the question is beforehand. Even better if you get them to answer it before they even realise you’ve asked. Maybe that’s giving them too much credit, but it seems to me that the time to judge it would be after playing it through, not after watching a trailer or playing a demo.

      I just checked out the Apocalypse Now trailer and that’s about 90% war porn too.

      • Jarvgrimr says:

        A very good point. I am hoping that is the the case with the game, but it’s not something I would hold against the developers if they fail to make the game an engrossing mental mind-fuck of war on the psyche of man. That is an incredibly high bar to reach and one which films have only just touched with any real impact.

        In other news, I found Apocalypse Now to be a terribly dull and poorly constructed film… I can at least take heart that Spec Ops will be far more enjoyable than that pile of cinema-snob-wank.

        • Gira says:

          Jarvgrimr,

          Hi there. I’m just writing to say that you are a terrible person. I don’t mean that in a humorous way, mind – I mean you are actually somebody who embodies something in this world that does not need to exist and will ultimately be remembered unfavourably as time marches on.

          I’m sure there are people in your life who will go on to tell you that you are not terrible, but these people are lying. They’re just trying to make you feel better, because despite their senses, they care about you. They care about you enough to regularly deny (to you and to themselves) that you are a wretched, terrible person with no redeeming qualities.

          And for that you should be grateful, every single day of your life.

          Your friend,
          Gira.

        • Jarvgrimr says:

          Who is Gira and why can’t I respond to his little hate-mail letter, yet I can respond to every other message in the thread?

          Anyway, friend Gira, your pointless personal attack on me, for seemingly no reason, didn’t seem like a friendly thing at all. I am going to use said evidence to formulate a theory; that you are not my friend at all. It’s a shame really, I’m a nice guy, people tend to get along well with me.

          I hope whatever personal issues cause you to lash out with such unabashed stupidity and hatred toward another person expressing their opinion can be resolved soon. Perhaps seek council with a professional, or look into getting surgery to remove your abnormally swollen head from the depths of your own colon. I know you may think it is safe and warm in there, but it’s so much nicer out here with other people.

          I wish the the very worst of luck in rectifying (Hah!) yourself.

          Jarvgrimr

          Oh and I got Spec Ops: The Line; it’s quite good. The game is a bit rough around the edges, design/controls-wise but the narrative and mood are quite interesting so far.

  14. Totally heterosexual says:

    I think one recent game the combined the two well was ghost recon future soldier.

    Oh wait you guys dont have it yet ahahahahahahaha…

    (Seriously it’s actually not that bad)

  15. Chaz says:

    What’s there to be confused about? This was always going to be another standard cover shooter where you mow down wave after wave of bad guys. The whole exposition behind all the talk about Hearts of Darkness etc, was merely to try and lend it a bit of maturity and gravitas; an excuse if you will, for the copious amounts of blood letting and wanton violence that such games entail.

    At least I for one never thought for a minute that they were ever trying to do anything here except churn out another shooter.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      If that’s the case, all the more reason for responsible games bloggers/journos to flog the developers mercilessly for their crass actions.

      The more developers get called out on this BS, the better, especially with so many games now trying to claim they’re subverting violent game cliches while actually reinforcing the pro-violence narrative that has prevailed (at least in the US) since 2001.

  16. megabear says:

    Guys, come on. Warface? There is so much warface in this trailer.
    WARFACE.

  17. Azdeus says:

    Watching that really made me miss the old Spec Ops game I remember playing 15 years ago… Pretty certain the graphics will be purdy and all that, but I really doubt it’ll be able to set up the same tension the 15 year old game does.

    I also remember it being fucking hard and punishing for your mistakes. But that was just because it loved me.

  18. Maxheadroom says:

    Not really seeing any ‘Convention breaking’ going on it that trailer, but it’s good to see Bruce Boxleitner is still getting work

  19. Angel Dust says:

    It is, of course, not possible to make a game (or film for that matter) that gets across the horror of combat but I do think it’s possible to make a game that is simultaneously thrilling and discomforting to play. Is Spec Ops: The Line going to manage that? Having played the demo and watched the trailers, I honestly have no idea. I mean, yeah, the trailer is full of slow-mo ACTION but there is some interesting stuff in there too like the fact your character is looking pretty beat up, and a bit nutty, in some of the last shots.

    I remain, naively perhaps, optimistic but I’m still waiting on the ‘Wot I Think’. Is Richard Cobbett going to be doing it?

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      A nicely balanced stance to take, and well said. Many internet cookies for you, sir.

      It is hard to tell anything from the promotional material for these games, but I like to compare their trailers to those of serious war films, from the big guns in the 70′s and 80′s to more recent efforts like Jarhead and Hurt Locker.

      I try to keep an open mind, moreso towards games which seem to genuinely have potential based on previews such as FC3, but at some point these devs need to put their money where their mouth is and put out trailers that treat the material seriously. If they can’t do that, I don’t have much confidence they’d treat it any more seriously in the game itself.

  20. thomashanauer says:

    I’m almost ashamed of really really liked the demo. I don’t know, it played and looked pretty well on my rig. And oh sweet mother of jeezas, is like 37 bucks on Brazil.

  21. rebb says:

    Is it just me or is RPS somehow fond of ragging on this game in particular ?

    Sure its a cover shooter, so is almost everything that was shown at E3 this year, even Tomb Raider has cover mechanics now, jump over it.
    It’s what Joe Gamer has been gobbling up happily for the past few years, so the industry keeps supplying.

    Judging by the reviews i’ve seen elsewhere this game seems to be fairly strong on the story side at least, which in itself is already a breath of fresh air.

    • Adam Smith says:

      I’m really intrigued to see how it all fits together based on what I played earlier this year.

    • niranjanr says:

      Yeah, I got like 5 Spec Ops posts on my feed reader. I dunno, I’d probably rip its ass apart as well.

    • Jarvgrimr says:

      I really enjoy RPS, but they are the bitter old men of game reviews when it comes to anything slightly “man-shoot” that doesn’t appeal to their tastes (which seem to be military sims, “old school” or grand WW2 epics).

      Which is fair enough I suppose, but it’s also a bias that is prevalent in the community as well as the writers… which means you get reviews that are tainted by personal bias as opposed to just opinion, then echoed in the comments. Arguably they go hand in hand, but I dunno, kinda detracts from the comments section and some of the reviews for me.

      I like what I’ve seen/heard of the narrative in this game, I like the setting, and I like much of what I’ve seen design wise. The demo was fun, and a bit of a challenge; the weapons felt good and sniping actually meant you had to stand still and snipe, not quickscope (which I truly fucking loathe as a game evolution). Maybe it won’t be the Heart of Darkness of vidya games, but it’s trying to break the mould a bit ina genrea of AAA 3rd person shooters, and for that I am keen.

      Though I agree with whoever complained that the characters were too good looking; one of the things I loved in Red Dead Redemption was the faces; looked like they’d been hit a few times. Same thing in the Age of Conan MMO, faces with battered character.

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