Have You Played… Spec Ops: The Line?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Spec Ops: The Line [official site] is a pretty fun third-person cover shooter about shooting people in their faces, then sometimes feeling a bit bad or confused about killing them. I think BioShock made folks a bit excited about shooting games where shooting people was sometimes a bad thing, so reactions to Spec Ops were over-enthusiastic, but it’s still pretty decent as face-shooters go. Its sandstorm-swept Dubai is a heck of a sight too.

In the aftermath of an catastrophic sandstorm striking Dubai, a small squad of US soldiers are sent in to find out what happened to a rescue force of other soldiers. Sweeping through sandy streets, deserted opulent hotels, and ruined skyscrapers, you discover they’ve got a bit Heart of Darkness and civilians are caught in the middle. Things get tricky here, beyond all the fun face-shooting.

Your presence mostly makes life worse for civilians and, at a few points, you have say in whether folks live or die. But the most dramatic and most praised of these ‘The horror! The horror!’ moments is entirely undercut by the game spawning enemies until you run out of ammo and must do The Bad Thing. Its setting and story are a nice change for a face-shooter, but it is all a wee too bit silly to be as harrowing as it seems to want to. This is perhaps more me grumping about games criticism than the game, mind.

Spec Ops: The Line a pretty fun cover-based shooter with good shooting, dramatic set pieces, and some nice narrative thoughts wrapped up in it. You can have nice face-shooting and some interesting thoughts. Also, our old friend the explosive red barrel is replaced by destructible environment bits unleashing crushing waves of sand.

143 Comments

  1. GameCat says:

    I really liked the occasionally choices that were handled by regular game mechanics, especially one moment where (SPOILERS AHEAD) you were moving through civilian crowd who lynched your fellow soldier and you could just fire some rounds above their heads to make them go away or just shoot them. Some players was even unaware that they could go with more peaceful route.

    • Neoprofin says:

      I really like when I tried to use the shove/melee attack to respond to a man who shoved me and the game responded to it the exact same way as if I had opened fire indiscriminately into the crowd completely destroying the illusion they were trying to create by reducing any use of force to a binary choice.

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        gritz says:

        Yeah, I mean it’s almost like they set a “line” you have to cross when you make the choice to do a violent thing. Weird!

      • Hirngespinst says:

        Not true. When you use the melee action the game reacts as if you had shot in the air, which is the other “peaceful” choice.

  2. coldvvvave says:

    I was actually just about to start, right after I finish Fallout New Vegas playthrough. Sadly, everyt part of Spec Ops worthy of mention was already spoiled for me in countless podcasts and YT videos, so I doub’t I’m going to be impressed.

    • jonahcutter says:

      I found it to do a really good job on evoking an atmosphere of desperation and an increasingly compromised situation. Where well-meaning but poor decisions accumulate tragically for all involved.

      Even if if you’ve already had the main plot points spoiled, you might find you still appreciate the journey.

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      alison says:

      With this game i would strongly recommend playing it through in a single sitting without breaks (it’s about 8 hours). Although the storyline can be spoiled, that doesn’t really matter given it’s essentially a remake of a very well-known book and movie. What’s interesting about it is the meta-game – the process you go through as a gamer, starting out playing it as a regular game, then getting interested as it turns out to be a little darker than you expected (spoilers aside), then turning to nonchalance as you witness more and more horrors and realize it’s all just a contrived manipulation, and then there are a few vanishingly short moments where the mirror is turned upon you as a gamer that make you question whether it was the developer’s intention or some kind of weird bug that you hallucinated because you’ve just spent the previous 7 hours with eyes glazed over staring at a screen. Those moments are what make it for me, not the storyline per se.

    • Sonntam says:

      In some ways the game reminded me of Dishonored. I was thoroughly spoiled about the plotline of both games and yet I felt incredibly immersed in both games. Spec Ops: The Line is one of the games were watching a playthrough does not do the game justice. It’s one thing to watch a guy called Walker murder gis way through for increasingly unconvincing reasons, it’s another thing to actually be the person who murders their way through and feels rather comfortablr while doing so out of sheer familiarity. After all, that’s what I do in majority of games. Even while knowing how it ends, I could not pinpoint the moment where everything went wrong and I crossed the moral horizont. All choices were logical and it’s not like I had much time to contemplate morality of the situation anyway. That opportunity was only given at the very end of the game. You look back and finally see the big picture. It’s oddly satisfying, like a mathematical formula simplified to few components in a logical and elegant manner.

  3. Halk says:

    The gameplay was as aggressively boring as in all other spunkgargleweewees, but yes, the plot and the very attractive setting saved it.

    I must say though that as a result of the boring gameplay I switched to one of the lower difficulty settings, because the game did not succeed to motivate me enough to replay the same section multiple times (no quicksave, unfortunately).

    • Zekiel says:

      Yes – my advice would me that Easy is the way to go with this game. The only downside is that (since you won’t get killed very much) you’ll miss out on some of the lovely 4th-wall-breaking loading screen tips later in the game :-)

    • wcq says:

      I actually don’t think the action was bad. At least in Spec Ops the guns felt powerful and the enemies weren’t bullet sponges, unlike what I remember of Gears of War for instance.

    • mouton says:

      I didn’t find the action boring, just run-of-the-mill.

      • drewski says:

        Yup. It’s not so much that it’s boring as it is that it’s generic.

        But then if you find generic manshooter gameplay boring, then I guess you’d find it boring. But if you find generic manshooter gameplay boring, why would you play a manshooter?

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, I found the gameplay so unenjoyable that I never bothered with it beyond the demo despite all the rave applause the story got. It’d make more sense to just read the novel it cribs from instead.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Yeah, the mechanics of it put me off to the point of not continuing. They were the same sort as all those other uninteresting shooters. A shame, because from what I’ve read, the underlying story is quite different from the usual tripe.

  4. Xocrates says:

    I’m pretty sure that the fact that the game forces you to do “The Bad Thing” is pretty much the point, so I don’t think it’s undercut at all by the circumstances.

    The game is very openly meta about itself. While it’s entirely reasonable to disagree with the point it’s trying to make, one must admit it is an interesting point of discussion.

    • unitled says:

      Part of the point for me is that you are forced to do ‘the bad thing’ to continue with the plot.

      It’s a contrast to all those games that force you to engage in whatever the protagonist deems necessary to continue (disobeying orders, brutality, torture, even straight up murder) where it turns out to be ‘the right thing’, and you get treated as the hero. Do you deserve that praise? Any more than you deserve to feel guilty for what Spec Ops forces you to do?

    • wcq says:

      I agree, and I think that was smart of them because it puts Walker and the player in the same position:
      – The player is forced to do bad things in order to continue the story, even though he could just stop. The player blames the developers for forcing their hand.
      – Walker is forced to do bad things in order to continue the mission, even though he could just leave. Walker blames Conrad for forcing his hand.

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        Harlander says:

        I like this. It makes the game into a kind of Method-school exercise.

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        Grizzly says:

        *SPOILERS* (But this entire thread was spoilerly anyway sooo)..

        I liked how the standoff at the end of the game was basically a discussion between Conrad and Walker discussing this very point, and the game’s endings essentially were you indicating how you felt about that. It’s ultra-meta, and I liked it for that.

    • Abndn says:

      It’s so ineffective though, at least it was for me. When I played my first instinct was to not go through with it, and my squad died. Then I tried a bunch of other things, none of which the game recognized. In the end I did the ‘bad thing’ to see the game through to its conclusion, but it didn’t feel at all like a choice I’d made.

      • Xocrates says:

        “CPT Walker: What happened here was out of my control.
        COL Konrad: Was it? None of this would’ve happened if you’d just stopped. But on you marched. And for what?”

        Let’s face it, the game was pretty blatant about that :P

        • Abndn says:

          Yeah I “marched on” to be able to comment on the game and discuss it with a friend, not because I was having a blast or because I identified with Walker. Not particularly hard-hitting, in my case.

          • The First Door says:

            To be honest, though, that’s more or less the point. You absolutely didn’t have to complete the game and you didn’t have to talk about it with your friend. Just because you had a different reason for ‘having’ to complete it, rather than identifying with the main character, doesn’t change the point.

            For me, I hated Walker by the end, but I wanted to see how the story resolved, so that point hit me hard. Doing the ‘bad thing’ was my decision because I had reasons to push past it.

          • Abndn says:

            And what point is that exactly? There was nothing particularly revelatory about the events in the game. It never made you do anything worse than what you do in every other military shooter ever created.

          • Xocrates says:

            The difference being, that unlike every other military shooter ever made, it didn’t treat you like the good guy. Which was another point.

          • Abndn says:

            Right. Not much of a message, is it? I could have (and did) made that point about military shooters when I was 12.

          • Xocrates says:

            The world doesn’t exist just from your perspective though.

            There are a lot of people that genuinely don’t notice. Not least of which many of the people making those games.

          • Abndn says:

            I guess I was just hoping there was more to this and that the “point” wouldn’t be so shallow and obvious.

          • Xocrates says:

            Shallow and obvious points need to be made every once in a while, otherwise they wouldn’t be obvious.

            Spec Ops doesn’t get praise because it does it exceptionally well, but because it’s one of the few that even tries.

          • mikespoff says:

            Of course “it’s obvious” that the protagonist in any shooter is a complete psychopath. But the games all still pretend that he’s the hero, and his unfeeling slaughter of thousands of people is out of necessity, or duty, or some other cliche. But Spec Ops really is different in that it deliberately denies that fiction. It says, no, you went out and slaughtered thousands of people because you chose to, you wanted to, and you probably enjoyed it. Forget duty, and necessity, you just acted like a complete raging psycho, purely out of your own choice.

          • DrGonzo says:

            I don’t think the point is obvious at all. Maybe to me or yourself. But playing Fallout 4 currently, the devs could have done with playing Spec Ops. I kill people on the scale of a mass murderer, but am apparently a good guy still. Fair enough if I’m on the side of good, but the way they treat you in story bits when in the last couple of hours alone you’ve killed dozens upon dozens of people, often without needing to, going out of your way to kill them for xp. But nope, I’m a good guy.

  5. Zekiel says:

    Yes. I love the game. It’s got a very impressive visual design, its got a compelling plot, its got some good characterisation, and I found myself totally sucked in by the personal story of the protagonist. Probably the most harrowing and thought-provoking videogame I’ve played. (The gameplay is middling, but middling was good enough for me in this case.)

    Some people hate it though, so YMMV. I think how you like the game may depend on how happy you to do willing suspension of disbelief – I was happy to put myself in the main character’s shoes and experience the ride. Others may naturally engage more critically and not enjoy it, and that’s no criticism of them.

    • unitled says:

      Yes! The visual design is hardly ever mentioned with respect to Spec Ops, but it really is fantastic in this game, using light, shadow and colours to guide you through all the things you need to see.

    • Mechjaz says:

      One thing I feel like people have really overlooked in this game is the gameplay in the context. It’s been years and I still can’t decide if I’m making excuses for the dev or if it really is this clever, but I feel as though all the waves of grim manshooting were by thoughtful design, not phoned in. The whole notion of it was pointing out your hypocrisy, even how dull shooting wave after wave of people could be.

      Yeah, look at you, fuckin’ Hero, I imagine it said. How great you are to be gunning down hundreds of people, crushing them, burning them. What’s the matter, Hero? Have you stopped the Bads yet? Isn’t it all getting just so boring, having to end so many lives?

      Even if I’m completely wrong and giving way too much credit, I can’t say there are a whole lot of other games that even made me think of the situation that way. Hotline Miami might, if it wasn’t so convoluted in saying so.

  6. Xyviel says:

    One of the most underrated games of the last few years. It’s often on sale, and is only a few hours long, so I seriously recommend it to anyone interested in a game that really stands out in the military shooter genre.

  7. Abndn says:

    **some spoilers**

    I never got into the hype surrounding this game. I played it, felt very comfortable with all the choices I made (as in, they were all very clearly the lesser evil, and I am pretty sure I could live with them in real life and even feel good about what I’d done), and was thoroughly underwhelmed. I wouldn’t say that I got anything like a Heart of Darkness vibe at all. There was one “choice” where you do something truly horrible, but since it’s the only way forward it didn’t really feel like it was my decision. I tried all kinds of alternatives first before realizing that the game just would not let me. You may say that this is the point but I disagree: in real life you always have plenty of options, it only seems like you don’t because most of them are so unpalatable. In Spec Ops you really don’t have a choice, which makes it feel fake, and alleviates responsibility. I can’t really feel bad about finally following the evil path ahead to see the game to its conclusion after trying all kinds of alternatives including suicide, none of which the game recognized.

    I couldn’t help but wonder if what really made this an emotional ride for some people was the nature of your targets: you spend a good portion of the game killing Americans. If so then that’s pretty fucked up.

    • Zekiel says:

      In that case I think you may have missed something. While you can make “lesser of two evils” choices in the very limited number of choices the game asks you to make, the general sweep of the plot is fixed – SPOILERS – that Walker is off his rocker, has a hero complex, and that his actions lead to the deaths of hundreds of people (both US troops you shoot, and Dubai citizens that you condemn to dying of thirst or accidentally killing with white phosophorous). This is not a game that is trying to give you the option to take a “reasonable” choice – this is a game where you discover (late on) that you are playing a completely fucked-up person whose cognitive dissonance has killed his colleagues and hundreds of others.

      • Zekiel says:

        @abndn – sorry re-reading your post I think that in the above I’m arguing with a point you weren’t really making!

      • Abndn says:

        No, I picked up on all of that while playing. I am talking specifically about the choices the game actually gives you. If my choice is between killing 20 soldiers to continue or turning the game off, that’s not a real decision within the game itself.

        I guess I was supposed to feel like some kind of military hero early on and then slowly come to realize that I am fucked up for having fun and that I am actually a fucked up monster. Instead I knew before the game even started that killing hundreds of people is fucked up (crazy right?), and I never thought of video games as hero or power fantasies. If it was me I wouldn’t be there in the first place, and if I was I would have left. I would have turned around on many occasions and I definitely wouldn’t have made most of the scripted decisions Walker made. I couldn’t have felt farther disconnected from Walker, his decisions and the mentality they likely expect most people to go in with.

        • mikespoff says:

          Of course it’s a choice.

          It is very much a choice to continue playing or to switch off the game. The fact that we can so easily fool ourselves that we have “no choice” is kinda the whole message of the game.

          I have switched off games because I found them unpleasant, and I have stopped playing games because I simply wasn’t having fun with them (most recently Fallout: New Vegas). I’ve also walked out of movies because they were offensive or simply crap. It’s always a choice.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Simple question:

            If a movie makes you walk out of a theatre, do you call it a good movie? Do you recommend that other people pay money to go and see that movie (then walk out of it)?

          • DrGonzo says:

            Not sure what point you’re trying to make, but if it was a meta commentary on films, quite possibly yes. If you’re offended by something then a valid choice is to stop watching, for example.

            But I’m not sure how you can compare a game that is so much about being a game to a film in any way at all.

          • drewski says:

            “If a movie makes you walk out of a theatre, do you call it a good movie? Do you recommend that other people pay money to go and see that movie (then walk out of it)?”

            That question only makes sense if the only purpose of artistic criticism is to determine whether or not a consumer good is worth purchasing.

            In any case, the purpose of Spec Ops is not to make you turn off the game – it’s to make explicit that you could have.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Well there you’re getting into whole new levels of philosophy that the game (and games in general, which are all incredibly linear compared to real life) doesn’t really have the power to talk about (Spec ops the line the table top RPG anyone?).

      Ugh I forget the name of the philosopher/philosophy which involves ‘there is always a choice and thus I had no choice is not an excuse’ but that would be a very interesting theme for a game and one that would require incredible skill to actually work well.

      • Zekiel says:

        Sartre perhaps? I think he said something along the lines that even if you’re a prisoner you still have a choice of how to react to your imprisonment.

        • gunny1993 says:

          Yeah think that might be it, with his ‘Radical Freedom’

    • pokysharpy says:

      “I tried all kinds of alternatives first before realizing that the game just would not let me. You may say that this is the point but I disagree: in real life you always have plenty of options, it only seems like you don’t because most of them are so unpalatable. In Spec Ops you really don’t have a choice, which makes it feel fake, and alleviates responsibility.”

      Once I realized what the game wanted me to do, and that there was no in-game method to avoid it, I got very, VERY uncomfortable.

      They were just pixels, and it was just a game, but it was so reprehensible that I could not make myself do it even to see the story through. In the end, I chose the best Real Life option; I uninstalled the game.

      • death_au says:

        A point that keeps being made is that most games give you a Bad Choice and a Good Choice, but this game does not offer you a Good Choice.
        However that is incorrect. There is a Good Choice within the context of the game narrative, and you made it. Walk away.

        • Geebs says:

          That argument becomes ridiculous when money has changed hands. Say I bought an expensive steak at the supermaket, and when I get it home it turns out that it’s rancid – are you saying that I should “just walk away”?

          (the fact that Spec Ops is not very expensive these days is not a valid counter-argument)

          • cpt_freakout says:

            The analogy is completely off the mark because a rancid steak has absolutely nothing to do with disliking a cultural product. A much more relevant analogy would be one mentioned earlier, in which the poster asked if you’d call a movie you walked out of ‘good’.

            The answer is relatively baroque: it depends, if you took care to understand what the movie/game was trying to do and you walked out having come to a certain understanding you find interesting, then you might conceivably call it good.

            The fact of exchanging money changes this relation inasmuch whether you’re there “to get your money’s worth” (which usually means getting a sense of fulfillment over time) or to experiment, in the sense that fulfillment might not be the end-point to your going to a movie or playing a game. Is Proteus worth its price? For me, that doesn’t really matter, and I’ve gotten much out of it even though I’ve played it for a tiny fraction of the time I’ve spent in other games. Is a movie like Amour worth its price? Once again, that’s perhaps not the most apt question to ask – perhaps a much more relevant question would be if you’d gotten something out of the experience, whether you walked out of it or not.

            Nothing wrong, of course, with expecting a game to give you fulfillment, but as they get more sophisticated there will be a point at which you won’t get what you want from everything you buy, and not necessarily because the product is ‘bad’.

          • Geebs says:

            You’re arguing at cross-purposes, I think. None of the examples you’ve used are relevant to the obnoxiousness of the argument that the player should feel morally compelled to stop playing.

            That’s not a damning indictment of people’s bloodthirsty tastes in media; it’s a damning indictment of people’s clearly unreasonable expectation that, if they plonk down the cash for a piece of interactive entertainment, they should get more out of interacting with it than not.

            Now excuse me, I’m off to explain to some prole who likes Call of Duty that they’re a bad person.

    • Troubletcat says:

      The mistake a few people in this discussion thread seem to be making is understanding the moral “choices” (or lack of choice) in the context of real life.

      The game isn’t really about real world issues – it’s there, but it’s secondary. It’s much more a commentary on a certain type of video game, where you often don’t have a choice and you’re encouraged to revel in large-scale killing. You don’t have a choice in “that” scene because you wouldn’t have a choice in the games Spec Ops is trying to comment on, and it’d mess up the commentary if you did have a choice.

      • Abndn says:

        See, I considered that interpretation, but I was never one to revel in those types of games anyway. I didn’t go in having fun thinking I’d be a hero. I’m not particularly interested in hero/power fantasies, so I was just going through the motions waiting for the interesting choices to come up so I could talk about the game with friends who had played it already.

        I could easily imagine someone who loves playing the hero while murdering thousands feeling bad because it is made so clear to them that their “hero” (and by extension them for enjoying it, here and in other games) is kind of fucked up. Maybe my problem was that in almost every respect, I felt disconnected from the main character and from that kind of expected mentality, so I guess I was just not the target audience?

        • unitled says:

          I never enjoyed those types of games myself, but there is clearly a huge market for them. I wrote them off as mass-market entertainment, like seeing the latest Bayhem action film. Spec Ops made me see the issues with those games are more insidious, that making a game where the only contextualizing to the killing is a story where you are unquestionably a hero is reinforcing a pretty scary viewpoint.

    • mouton says:

      That’s because hype is the worst thing invented by Man. I went into the game knowing almost nothing about it, except that it is gritty and I was blown away by it.

      If you went into the game after being subjected to various “OMG THIS IS MINDBLOWING” opinions from the first wave, you would often painfully trip on the inevitable flaws this game has. This is probably what happened to you.

      Seriously, fuck hype.

      • Nogo says:

        I feel like a lot of people did go into this knowing a bit too much.

        The game can only really exist and be effective if you’re familiar with the CoDs of the time and aren’t expecting any real deviation from that formula, and considering the marketting at the time had everyone going “a lame CoD clone, can’t wait!” they nailed it.

        Like, we all know the gunship segment from CoD, which was pretty innovative for the time and was dutifully copied lots of places with no narrative changes, so The Moment was properly set up like “sweet, a huge weapon, neato, they’re all bunched up.” Maybe if they didn’t have the ‘white phosphorous is super bad’ set piece beforehand? I dunno.

  8. colw00t says:

    Honestly my only major critique of the game is that it should have one more ending – it should at least be possible to run into people in the first encounter and then turn around and leave Dubai, as those were your actual orders. This ending should be unsatisfying, but I wish it did actually exist. Brilliant, brilliant game.

  9. cannedpeaches says:

    It’s not horrid by any means. If you’ve got a relatively high tolerance – as I do – for some pretty generic manshoot gameplay, you’ll find yourself having unexpected fun. Level design is on fleek in many cases (while I’m a bit burned on Heart of Darkness as a narrative design, the points where things got dark and the levels got complex and confusing was especially nice). But yeah – it’s frequently mentioned in the same breath as Bioshock and I’m not sure it’s quite that good.

  10. Troubletcat says:

    I disagree that it’s “pretty fun” or “pretty decent as face-shooters go” – the gameplay is a mix of boredom and frustration. Contrary to the article, I’d say that the shooting is terrible and the game itself is an utter bore. “Serviceable” is the most positive adjective I could possibly use to describe the gameplay.

    But I would still recommend the game to almost anyone. The execution of the story (like the gameplay) is a bit clumsy, but going in blind it was quite unexpected and refreshing.

    …Of course now it’s probably impossible to go in blind to the game’s themes, and that’s a shame, but it does still have some of the best “o fuck” moments in recent memory, even knowing what’s coming.

    • gunny1993 says:

      I agree with you about the gameplay but I wonder if it’s part of the design, what I found was that I got into a monotonous killing frenzy and when the big moments struck, they struck harder than they would if the combat was more detailed.

      • Troubletcat says:

        I think it absolutely was part of the design, since the game was largely a commentary on other games that are themselves hackneyed and repetitive.

        That’s something that both the article and the comments here are neglecting to mention largely… The reason for a lot of the game’s dubious choices is that the classic story the game is based on is being repurposed into not just a comment on American colonialism and/or militarism like the original and Apocalypse now, but also a comment on the state of, broadly, the entertainment industry and more specifically video games and especially shooters.

        But I don’t actually think that artistic vision excuses crap execution – find a way to make your point that is still entertaining.

        …I guess my feelings about this game end up being kind of complicated.

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          alison says:

          I completely agree. I think the people who are focused on the inability to influence “the big moral decision” (which turns out to not be one at all) completely missed the intent of the developers. To me the charm of this game was how utterly meta it was. I fucking hate console shooters. Hell, i hate third-person shooters. It was all i could do to get through the Mass Effect trilogy without giving up during the utterly predictable waves of baddies and uninspiring gunplay. This game takes that tedium and shoves it right up in your face. It’s making a statement about the lowest-common-denominator games that sustain this industry. You’re bummed you didn’t have the opportunity to make a moral choice? That’s the point. Linear games are shit. If you don’t identify with the protagonist, you’re left feeling frustrated and powerless. Most games try to make you identify with the protagonist so whatever superficial “choices” you are given make you feel good in the end. This one deliberately creates a protagonist that is completely unlikeable and then plays out like any other checkpoint game – forcing you to follow his hackneyed story – in a full frontal attack on the entire concept of cinematic/linear/rail-shooting games.

          Coming from someone who actually enjoys a bunch of cinematic games (our game of the month Life Is Strange in particular), it really made me think. And i believe that was the point.

    • Zekiel says:

      Also worth pointing out that the characterisation of your squad is really good, something that’s generally not mentioned with people (understandably) concentrating on the Big Moral Choice stuff.

      • colw00t says:

        Nolan North does not get enough credit for his turn as Walker, either. The progression in the voice acting is marvelous.

      • mouton says:

        Yes, the whole squad was great. Really compelling portrayal of such dynamics.

  11. Eight Rooks says:

    It was certainly flawed, and couldn’t quite carry off the narrative it wanted to, but it was still very, very good. I don’t have a problem at all with forcing the player into doing things if it still gets me thinking. From a mechanical standpoint, sure, That Scene was painfully clunky. I misread what I was being asked to do – I thought there were finite enemies – and then I saw the big reveal before it happened. It still hit really, really hard.

    It gets me pretty damned grumpy that certain games journalists find it almost impossible to accept that games wanting to be SERIOUS BUSINESS is allowed, to be honest. At least this is the impression I get, if anything’s in the slightest bit flawed. I think it’s a hangover from the early days of the medium, when everything was perceived as a bit of a laugh to the point of putting schoolboy humour up on a pedestal it didn’t deserve. But anyway.

    It was certainly miles above Bioshock Infinite, that’s for damned sure, but that’s what a mammoth marketing budget will do for you.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      Wait, am I one of those “certain games journalists”?

      • Spuzzell says:

        You’re a “probable games journalist” at best, I’d have thought.

      • FuriKuri says:

        More a “quantum games journalist” whereby you both are and are not a journalist depending on how many boxes of dead cats you leave on your critics’ doorsteps.

        P.S. Please stop sending me those. :(

      • Eight Rooks says:

        PERHAPS YOU ARE.

        I used to really, really like Edge magazine, if that helps place me on your continuum of angry internet commenters. I do like RPS, though, your work included. Honest! But the constant “Well, it’s all a bit silly, really” you all seem to enjoy… it gets a bit much for me sometimes. Videogames are all silly, and probably always will be, from the biggest AAA blockbuster down to the smallest, worthiest indie no-budget release. If seeing the gears stuttering away behind the better ones or being able to deconstruct their more adolescent posturing means you can’t buy into their artifice at all then that just seems… kind of unfortunate, and not really something worth holding up as a critical argument by itself, even in a brief so-how’s-your-day-going watercooler post.

        • Alice O'Connor says:

          I post about far ‘sillier’ games on a daily basis without mentioning their silliness. I raise it here because Spec Ops: The Line strives so much for a certain tone but it doesn’t come together for me. You’ll note I still say I enjoy the game and that I do like its story/thoughts as part of that – I certainly don’t write it off.

          I’m mostly surprised you’re calling me someone who finds it “almost impossible to accept that games wanting to be SERIOUS BUSINESS is allowed”. Most of the grumbling I see so helpfully left below things I write is about how I’m the opposite of that.

    • mouton says:

      The main scene was clunky, but its importance is greatly overstated. It was a crucial turning point, yes, but the whole game has wonderful smaller scenes/elements that reinforce the narrative in much subtler ways.

  12. Spuzzell says:

    I thought it was superb, and for me it has more standout memorable moments than Bioshock.

    The actual shooting is better in Spec Ops too.

    The way the game subtly changes your avatars behavior and demeanor as you descend further into the situation was disturbing to me, as I only really noticed how dramatically my concepts of acceptable were subverted when I thought about the finished game a few days later.

    During the game, it all made perfect sense.

    Play it, if you haven’t. Even if you think you know what the game is about, it’ll still surprise you.

    • mouton says:

      The transformation of the squad was wonderful. I don’t think there are other games that convey the trauma of war as well in this respect.

  13. ansionnach says:

    I’m reading a lot of things I agree with here for once…

    Agree with most of what Alice says about it. The shooting wasn’t that great but it could be fun when you weren’t dying because of the controls or the way finding cover wasn’t as reliable as something like Mass Effect 2. It could be fun, though. I played on whatever the highest available initial difficulty was so I died a lot when it was the game’s fault. Not as fun, but I did complete it.

    The story is the best and worst thing about this game. It does some things right but the lack of choice is bullshit, especially what the designer said about having the choice to stop playing the game – yeah – and take it back to the shop for a refund, too if you can get one! The reason why it fails badly from a narrative perspective is that it’s a game, not a film. There is no choice and it effectively commits a similar mortal sin as Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age 2. The designers can bleat all they want about art… but I make the call as to whether I think it is… or not. It’s a failed opportunity – something with a lot of promise, and something I’d be interested in seeing a follow-up to. The problem with offering the player choice is that they may not take the route you want to show them, but the problem with railroading them is that it’s pure insulting, especially with something as preachy and sermonising as this. Another problem with choice is that unless many are offered, there isn’t going to be enough nuance to not be something stupid like obvious good versus obvious evil. Narrative can also be inept when it throws you in a survival situation and then tells you to feel bad about it. If Mother Teresa came at me with an AK-47 I’d defend myself and have no regrets. One thing the guilt narrative forgets is that where a misunderstanding arises, those who try to kill you as a result of it must take responsibility for their actions as well.

    In the end the gameplay is probably the best thing about the game and it’s merely okay.

  14. GreatHackster says:

    So some people seem to be getting this and some aren’t (that sounds really condescending, I don’t mean it to but I’m not sure how else to put it), so I’ll reiterate what a few have said:

    The lack of choice is the point. Spec Ops: the Line is a general condemnation of violence as heroic in video games, but it’s also a specific condemnation of Call of Duty/Battlefield/Broshoots Mcgee 2010 and essentially all other military games where you’re presented with situations where the only way through is forward and you’re encouraged not to think about all the tens or hundreds of people you mow down per level as people, or whether your murder spree is actually necessary or even justified. Violence is good because it gets you to the endgame, where America! (or insert country/group/belief here) wins. In Spec Ops, the violence still gets you to the endgame, but this game’s endgame points out just how terrible your actions actually were, and hopefully makes you think about what the actual consequences of similar actions in other shooters might be.

    • Troubletcat says:

      Yes, thank you, this is what I was trying to point out when it comes to the game’s narrative and themes, without excusing all of the game’s mediocrities in how it executes that idea.

    • Abndn says:

      My problem was that I don’t really play or enjoy those kinds of shooters, and I already went in thinking games where you kill thousands of people are kind of silly (and even a bit fucked up when it is glorified).

      It’s made out to be some gut-wrenching emotional rollercoaster, but as it turns out that only works if you’re already somewhat light on empathy and this “experience” wakes you up and makes you question yourself. To me this game had nothing to say that wasn’t already blatantly obvious, so it didn’t have much of an effect.

      • Premium User Badge

        john_silence says:

        Very well put.
        At least in Call of Duty enemies feel like the arcade ciphers they are – they are just about as human as the ghosts in Pacman. Arguably they have even less personality.
        I’m more troubled by games in which your relationship with enemies is more intimate, so to speak, and that still treat them as disposable ducks at the fair shooting range.
        I also resent games that let me murder soldiers indiscriminately but throws a game over screen whenever a stray bullet hurts a civilian – as if their frailty on a battlefield where they don’t belong wasn’t the exact point of their inclusion.

    • ainokmw says:

      GreatHackster – thank you for saying that. I completely agree

      One thing that I find fascinating is that people say “well I didn’t have a choice so it’s not really fair for the game to make me feel bad” which is utter nonsense. Everyone had the choice to stop playing. And whenever that’s mentioned people say it’s ridiculous.

      But it’s not. If you paid $60 for a game, and decided after 6 hours of play that it was boring, then you would probably stop playing. Maybe you’d be slightly miffed that you bought the game, but that’s not really the point. The point is that “because it’s boring” is a perfectly reasonable reason, both psychologically and societally, to stop playing a game, but “because it makes me feel uncomfortable about the message or my actions” is not.

      I have heard a lot of people say “the gameplay was tedious so I stopped playing” but I have never once heard someone say “the phosphorous scene and/or civilian shooting scene made me feel uncomfortable playing so I stopped.”

      • ansionnach says:

        No, it’s bullshit. Not even Final Fantasy VII had the gall to force you to kill an ally as the only way of proceeding and then rub your nose in it.

        • ainokmw says:

          There have been plenty of games (or at least enough) that have had the gall to include “Press X to Torture” of some variety.

        • drewski says:

          Wow. You’re really comparing the narrative here to a *Final Fantasy* game?

      • Abndn says:

        I think what people are saying rather (at least in my case) is that the game fails to make me feel bad partially because there is no choice.

        The phosphorus scene is the video game equivalent of someone else paralyzing my arm, wrapping my fingers around a gun and pulling the trigger with my fingers. Entirely that other person’s fault, and nothing I would or should feel bad about myself beyond the initial shock.

        As for quitting the game, would you also recommend leaving the theater if the movie is uncomfortable, or closing a book that upsets you? I play games, watch movies and read books to have a compelling or interesting experience, not just to feel good about myself.

        • ansionnach says:

          A film like The Big Heat contains violence and also shows it to be something brutal that hurts people without ineptly trying to ram anything down your throat. It works as a proto-Dirty Harry, so those who miss the point entirely can watch it and miss it. It would be much less of a film if Fritz Lang decided his genius wasn’t something he wanted to allow people to miss…

        • ansionnach says:

          Oops… the reply above wasn’t supposed to go there exactly – ’twas another for ainokmw.

        • ainokmw says:

          @Abndn No, and that’s fine. I’m saying the option always existed, not that you or I expect it to be used. It’s art, and sometimes good art makes you feel bad or uncomfortable.

          I would have never really come to that idea that I could have quit until it all finished and I reflected. Which is a sign that it had an effect. I paid full price for Black & White many years back, and quit after an hour because it was so banal. Why can’t I justify the same for when a game makes me feel like it’s twisting my arm to do something uncomfortable?

          This isn’t a “I chose to quit so I’m a better person than you” contest. I didn’t. I played through. It was only after I played through that I realized I could have quit at any point, but we’re not programmed that way.

          Like I said, it’s not a matter of choosing right and being a better person, or choosing wrong and being a bad person. It was an opportunity for reflection on the games.

          • ansionnach says:

            It’s more a matter of choosing nothing. I considered quitting the game at that point after spending ages trying all sorts of ways to avoid using a chemical weapon on an area with no idea who was down there. It’s not rocket science that that’s a bad idea and the game teaches you nothing that isn’t about its own ineptitude. It’s admirable that they tried to be different but the struggle to be art is often an unsuccessful one.

          • Abndn says:

            I think it’s interesting to try and understand why people felt bad playing the game in the first place. I didn’t feel bad about the phosphorus scene because I had no choice (I didn’t do it, the developer did), and I didn’t feel bad about the real choices because the ones I made all seemed very obviously better than the ones I didn’t pick. Finally I didn’t feel bad for enjoying myself or thinking I was some kind of hero in this game and others like it, because I’ve never felt that way and I’ve never particularly enjoyed or spent much time with modern military shooters. To top it off I couldn’t identify in the least with Walker; I hardly agreed with anything he did and was surprised again and again by how incredibly stupid he was.

            Seriously, if someone loves massacring people in games while feeling like a hero for doing so, and then upon playing Spec Ops has the world shattering revelation that he/she is actually doing horrible things, there might just be something seriously wrong with you. Fair enough if you understand that they’re only video game characters and it’s only a harmless bit of entertainment, but if playing Spec Ops then makes you feel awful and uncomfortable (doing the exact same things as before but having that fact shoved down your throat) that sort of suggests you didn’t realize what you were doing in all those other games, and that’s a bit worrying.

            (not pointing at you specifically)

          • Xocrates says:

            Unless the developer walked into your house and pressed the button, you did do it. The game gave you no other choice if you wanted to progress, yes, but that was sort of the point. The mere fact that you’re playing the game makes you complicit to the actions of your character.

            I’m not saying this is necessarily a good point, but it’s an interesting one.

          • Xocrates says:

            Frankly, in your case the milgram experiment comes to mind. You’re deflecting your “choice” by arguing that it wasn’t up to you.

          • Abndn says:

            The Milgram experiment allowed its participants to say no within the confines of the experiment. Spec Ops does not. You are told to shock the learner, and you are told that you have no choice, but ultimately you do have a choice, which is to not apply the shock and go on with your life.

            Your analogy breaks because there is no part in Spec Ops where you get to say no, you *only* get to go and continue with your life. In the Milgram experiment the story reaches a conclusion and the “game”, as it were, comes to an end. In Spec Ops it never does, but is instead left permanently suspended, waiting for you to return and say yes.

          • Xocrates says:

            You DO have a choice that’s the whole point.

            You can stop playing the game anytime you want. You don’t need to do any of the things the developer requires you to do.

            Frankly, the game is simply that meta. It actually requires you to think outside the game for its point to even make sense.

          • ainokmw says:

            Except “saying no” in the confines of the Milgram experiment consisted of refusing to cooperate and exiting the experiment, under the assumption that they were forfeiting the payment they received for participating in the experiment. In other words, they had to volunteer to say “I don’t want to do this anymore” after being told four times they had no choice, and they had to do so at a (perceived) financial cost to themselves.

            I struggle to see how that is all that different from refusing to continue playing a game you paid money for.

          • Abndn says:

            @ainokmw It’s still a decision that lets you see the “game” through to the end. You are recognized as someone who said no, paid for your services and your participation is complete. No such thing can happen in Spec Ops, where you must instead make a ‘meta’-decision to end the scenario and suspending the game. In fact, this is not at all like saying no, since there was no way for you to communicate your will to the game. It is indistinguishable from taking a break which you may one day return from (potentially to say yes).

            As a separate point, I just don’t agree with the idea that meta-decisions that don’t communicate with or are recognized by the game should be consider equal to in-game decisions. I am not even sure if you can be considered complicit in your character’s actions at all if the game is linear since the course of the game, in a sense, is already set. This would almost be like considering a reader who flips a page responsible for what the main character does in a book (unless you think meaningless but varied movement within the game levels count as non-linearity).

            Beyond this, how far would you want to take the inclusion of meta-decisions? Are linear games non-linear because I can go to the zoo instead? If I close my eyes and pretend my character can fly, did I just make an in-game decision? Does quitting have a special status because the quit button exists within the game? This all seems rather silly to me.

          • Xocrates says:

            Silly, maybe, but it’s a perfectly valid point to make. As are every single “dumb” example you just gave.

            If nothing else, you’re now required to evaluate what does a “choice” mean within the context of games.

          • ansionnach says:

            What choice means within the context of the game:
            I want my money back!

          • ainokmw says:

            @Abndn – I agree with your criticism that a player can’t permanently say no because they can always go back. And personally, I agree that getting the player to choose to do something with in-game mechanics is a more satisfying way of making the point than meta-gaming. Despite all of the emphasis on the phosphorous event, I thought the lynch mob event was more impactful because I tried to push through the crowd and got attacked. Expecting that the game was going to force me to attack the crowd, I did so. Only later did I realize I could have fired into the air and made them all run away. I think it had more impact, so perhaps in-game mechanics are a better way to tell the tale.

            But I still maintain that the act of playing the game is still an act, and a player can’t be divorced from the action simply because the game gives them no alternative. If a game makes you brutally torture a prisoner to proceed through a section, is that okay? There’s already an understanding amongst many that games like Hatred aren’t appropriate. There’s moral choice in agreeing to or refusing to cooperate with a game’s brutal gameplay. I think Spec Ops: The Line chose to shine the light on that choice, and highlight why we should be viewing more games with that level of criticism.

            I’m curious about your opinion though, so I have a question: If the game contained a “pull out” option, like the original mission intended (find civilians, then pull out and call for backup), and that pull out option ended the game prematurely but provided an in-game end state, would that satisfy? Or would you still think that was a dissatisfying ending because of the amount of gameplay you were missing?

          • Geebs says:

            In-game choices don’t have any greater meaning beyond the context of the game, because people are perfectly well able to separate fantasy from reality from an early age. Giving a player a choice can only act to make a game more entertaining for the player, because you’re increasing interactivity.

            The argument that the in-game behaviour of a player impacts on their morality in real life is the exact same dishonest tripe that got trotted out when the media were trying to “prove” that Doom caused school shootings.

            Milgram was about the power of authority, not about “people will do distasteful things in imaginary settings because the alternative is boredom”.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Fine. I’ll save myself the $60 and not buy it in the first place.

        The “you can just not read/watch/play it past that point, aahhh” argument is, and always will be, intensely stupid.

        • ainokmw says:

          So is your argument then that if a game provides no alternative mechanic to an action, then everything that the game forces you to do is okay?

          • LionsPhil says:

            False dichotomies are also stupid.

          • ainokmw says:

            Exercises in formal-operational thinking, and engaging in hypothetical reasoning is the highest order of human thought. So allowing your thought process to continue along a spectrum and see if its steadfast certainty exists at all times or if it is merely a matter of scale is a perfectly valid exercise.

            Shutting down everything you haven’t bothered to reason through as “stupid,” which you have done twice now in short order, is neither a good method of conversation, nor is it an effective way to expand your own understanding.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Uh-huh. Enjoy your high horse.

          • LionsPhil says:

            In fact, fine; I’m pretty sure you have no interest in an actual discussion, because you open with that preposterous “if you don’t believe quitting the game is a meaningful choice, you think the massacre of civilians is ethical”, but rather than get drawn into it further I can just say I agree entirely with Abndn.

          • Premium User Badge

            gritz says:

            “In fact, fine; I’m pretty sure you have no interest in an actual discussion, ”

            It takes a tremendous lack of self-awareness to say that after your previous two posts in the thread are insulting one-liners.

          • ansionnach says:

            I wouldn’t associate Spec Ops with any higher orders of human thought. The fact that it has an axe to grind and does it rather unsubtly means that it loses the viewer. It’s patronising and juvenile. They should have put an age rating on it to warn people over thirty not to bother. There’s plenty of this kind of “impact” art in modern art galleries and in patronising, preachy films. The case is the same with them: by underestimating the viewer, treating them like children and over estimating the worth of what they have to say the result ends up being pompous, ham-fisted and valueless.

          • ainokmw says:

            @LionsPhil – you said: “I’m pretty sure you have no interest in an actual discussion, because you open with that preposterous ‘if you don’t believe quitting the game is a meaningful choice, you think the massacre of civilians is ethical’.” I never said anything of the sort. I think that the “right” decision was to quit, but I sure didn’t stop and no one else here did either.

            I do, however, think it’s fascinating that we’re psychologically programmed to push onward with something we find distasteful or even morally repugnant, but we’re so willing to quit on something we find boring. There’s something deeply interesting about the human psyche there.

            And, ultimately, I think that there would come a point where the game could make you do something so utterly vile that you would say “enough is enough” and put the controller down. Spec Ops: The Line clearly wasn’t that thing for you, nor was it for me, but the opportunity exists. It is interesting how reprehensible a game has to get for us to quit on it.

            Perhaps you’re so used to the vitriolic nature of the internet that you’re conditioned to believe that people don’t want to have discussions, but I find talking about these sorts of things fascinating. It’s always fun to poke around under the hood and see what makes us tick.

    • ansionnach says:

      There’s an overhead shooter from Toaplan called OutZone that starts with you dropped off somewhere by helicopter with the briefing “destroy all of them”. Spec Ops might have had something worthwhile to say if it was all about following orders… but it wasn’t. The kid who said the king was naked didn’t “get it”. In this case, the king’s prancing about in the nip again. In real life there’s always the option to walk away.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      A good post and I agree.

  15. derbefrier says:

    Yes I have played it and was just another bad cover shooter. The story wasn’t bad but not enough to save it from mediocrity

  16. Merlin the tuna says:

    Wait a minute, when did Bioshock even begin to suggest that shooting people was a bad thing? The only people in Bioshock that you don’t shoot are the ones that you bludgeon to death with a wrench.

  17. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    Everyone says this game is really unfun but I really enjoyed playing it. Do I just have low standards? :(

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      In the “Have You Played… Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire?” article someone says that The Force Unleashed stunk and I enjoyed it greatly. It’s not as fun or good as the Jedi Knight games, but it’s very nice in several aspects and the porting doesn’t spoil the overall gameplay that much.

      I’m quite picky when it comes to games, so I figure my reaction is mainly because I had low expectations going in, but still thought it might be good enough to be worth playing.

    • mouton says:

      Internet is dumb and loves the hyperbole. Gameplay was derivative but hardly the “OMG THE WORST EVER” as so many people claim.

    • piedpiper says:

      It’s competent at what it does and its quality is pretty high. Juast people were to fed up by such games by 2012. And there were Max Payne 3 the same year, yes.

    • ansionnach says:

      I’ve criticised it at least as much as anyone but I still did have a lot of fun while playing it (as I said in my first post). It’s an okay third-person cover shooter and I would say is best enjoyed with minimum reflection on whether it works as something more than it is.

    • drewski says:

      Nope, you just don’t agree with a passionate, vocal and insistent minority of people.

  18. Muzman says:

    I was very impressed by it. The general crits you hear make some sense; generic third person action, less than top drawer production values at times, just a few too many regular console game tropes for something trying to – if not break the mold then turn it against itself. The antagonist’s tilt into Kurtz-ian madness seemed a little too quick from the backstory as far as I could tell.
    But there is a sniffiness around it that seems unwarranted. And the criticism that it needs ‘real choice’ to be effective is just basically wrong. I think that comes from a place of resentment that a game won’t let you ‘win’, as though that is their ultimate purpose, rather than some yearning for genuine reactive game design (if that were what people wanted so much there’d be a lot more Deus Exs in the world. As in, people would settle for nothing less a whole lot more often). Which is something I hope games grow out of at some point.

    I played it late, after the initial wave of buzz about it being a bit different and though I would be inured. But going in largely spoiler free in the small details, yet still having heard of some key moments, I’m still impressed by how much punch it had at various points. It isn’t just the occasional gut punch either. You spend a lot of time shooting back because you’re being shot at, which turns into shooting because you might get shot at and then discovering you probably shouldn’t have been shooting in the first place. It becomes increasing murky just who is killing whom and who among them you should be killing and it becomes largely irrelevant because they aren’t going to forgive you for killing or trying to kill them. And little things like the sounds and the animations give dying people just that much more pain than usual. And the whole thing just makes you gradually more and more queasy, even before the big moments.

    Where most games appear to have given up on systemic emotion, or are at best hedging their bets by compartmentilising the various components so the audience can pick and choose what they absorb (eg, the ever popular ludo-narrative dissonance), a game with pretty strong affect of this sort, built up from a whole lot of virtually intangible factors really stands out.

    • drewski says:

      Yeah, I broadly agree with that. “The game didn’t validate how much better I am than everyone else by giving me an option to finish it that made me feel good about myself, so it was terrible and a complete failure.”

  19. piedpiper says:

    It’s dark. Like really dark, not some teeny-weeny-goth-emo shit. And it goes so fast even darker after lynching scene. Still one the best endings in game history. Period.
    And thought it’s a simple cove-based shooter, it has some really strong emotional moments. I mean not obvious strong cutscenes, but tense emotional gameplay moments. Like those in aqua park (???) with Mogwai song. And crushing helicopter. And overall mood is so opressive… Aw shit, I can sing dithyrambs to this game for a very long time.

    HIGHLY UNDERAPPRECIATED GEM

    • piedpiper says:

      Oh, and how gradually team changes from “clean, cold blooded, joking and having fun proffessionals” into “hysterically screaming panicking bloodthirsty murderers”. I believe noone ever praised enough this aspect of the game, which is shown pretty awesome through combat commands (which become more obsene and agressive and hysteric by the end of the game) and how the nice clean soldiers turn into beaten and broken maniacs.
      This game is a poor gold if you know what to look at!

      • mavrik says:

        Not to mention the part when the game starts directly messing with you – there’s a scene where you see Lugo instead of a heavy and he keeps yelling at you. If you die in it and reload, there’s just going to be a usual heavy soldier in his place. There’s actually several times the game does and it really made me go “wtf, did I just see that?”

        • Zekiel says:

          SPOILERS: Fascinatingly there are points from early on where you see things that are almost certainly in Walker’s head, e.g. giant banners featuring Konrad’s face, a tree that changes from alive to dead…

        • piedpiper says:

          To be honest, I was finishing game 4 am and that part about Lugo scared the shit out of me. It’s a very nice way to put player into the shoes of crazy person. And even breaking 4th wall… kind of. Cause that’s not happening after reload, so player is not even sure if what he saw was real. Just like the main protagonist.
          Oh, and those neutral common to every game loading screen tips turning into attacking “Are you proud of yourself?”, “What did you achieved?” and other nice words everybody loves to hear kind of stuff.
          The biggest achievment of this game and it’s biggest flaw – you are slipping into madness very slow and gradually. But in the end you just like “How the fuck it’s all end up like this?” and even game plays tricks on you. Sometimes it feels like it’s laughing at you or even arrogantly ginning. What’s bad about this – those who want shooter will be dissapointed and will never get the real significance of those little things. And those who will appreciate will be put off by boring and bland beginning of a brave american soldiers bringing democracy to arabs begginings. But both part would never get their real meaning without having another one.

  20. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    GRAND SPOILERS ENSUE.

    Seriously, stop reading already.

    The scene that everyone complains about that they did not have any choice in how it played out is, to me, not about viewing the aftermath of your actions. It is about the moment that you actually order the strike. I know a lot of console gamers don’t get this because they are playing on a TV 10 feet away from them. Maybe the average PC gamer doesn’t get it either because he is playing on a matte LCD on his desktop. But i play games on my tablet, with Steam in-home streaming. I am constantly inches away from my glossy screen, and whenever the screen goes dark, i see my reflection staring back at me.

    In Spec Ops, the moment that you order the strike, you are hunched over a rugged army spec laptop, inches away from the screen. And instead of the camera focusing on the targeting computer, it is focusing on your reflection. This is one of the most amazingly meta moments i have ever had in gaming, and what makes me put this game up there with Stanley Parable in superb meta-commentary. As the protagonist’s eyes glazed over, distancing himself from the actions he was carrying out because he felt he had no other choice, my eyes glazed over, distancing myself from the actions i was carrying out because i felt i had no other choice.

    Later on the protagonist’s insanity causes weird visual glitches and hallucinatory time loops. This is the same thing that happens when you marathon video games – whether they are dumb shooters or even complex 4X games. You get so caught up in what you need to do to “win” that shadows creep into your real life perception and you start hallucinating Tetris blocks every time you close your eyes. You disassociate yourself from your actual actions and start operating coldly, robotically. All that matters is the “win”. This is what made the game so incredibly inspired for me. It makes you realize that as a gamer you dissociate from the game content in exactly the same way a soldier on the battlefield needs to dissociate from the violence. You become consumed by the mechanics above all else, even as you are forced to do things that objectively are boring, or pointless, or abhorrent. What an amazing effect.

    Or maybe i am overthinking it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • ansionnach says:

      Maybe it is time for “Have you played Pac-Man” next? I used to try and slip away from my parents so I could sit at the cocktail versions of the game and pretend to play it because I had no money. The Microsoft Arcade versions of both Pac and Ms. Pac seem to be emulated arcade versions – they have the start-up test graphics as well as a button to insert coins. They’re really fun games even though I never get very far. The Spec Ops-style follow-up might have you get diabetes for playing or end up on the streets after inserting all your coin into the machine…

    • Halk says:

      This supposedly famous scene did not work for me at all.

      I was ordering all the strikes to destroy all the moving targets, tanks, etc. that were in the way.

      After a while I was done with all of them. I did not know what the densely packed white dots in the upper right of the screen were. I did not think far enough to realise they were civilians, but I just did not perceive them as a threat as they were not really doing anything, not moving in my direction; the way they were arranged was atypical for military targets, etc. So I thought that I was done, that the enemies preventing me from continueing were removed, and that the game should now go on.

      When it didn’t I was confused for a moment. Then I thought: “Ah okay, there are still these white blips up there. Not sure what they are supposed to be, but it seems the game wants me to launch a strike against them as well. Okay, whatever.”

      Probably not what the game designers had in mind.

  21. Jekadu says:

    I successfully traumatized two friends for life by getting them to play this game.

  22. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    I ponder how the impact of the game would have changed if it gave you the option to walk away within the game. Just a little option, rather than the frame-breaking “you can just exit to desktop and not play again” that it offered. Wouldn’t even have to be a big ending, either, just “And so Walker left and never went to Dubai again”.

    It’d probably blunt it a fair bit, I suppose.

    • Zekiel says:

      I can’t decide whether the game would be better or not with that option. It is *definitely* the best option – the right thing to do – as one or your squad actually points out early on, that is exactly what your orders state – recon the situation and then report back, not try to be a bloody hero.

      On the other hand, (in spite of the occasional choices you get) you’re not playing yourself, you’re playing Walker. And walking away is not what Walker would do, so maybe its right that you don’t get that option.

      • jc14can says:

        Ding ding ding. Characters in stories don’t always do what you think they should do or what you think you would do in their place. It’s fairly essential to telling an interesting story, I think. I wouldn’t expect a game to be much different.

  23. Umair_Khan says:

    One of the most underrated games of all time. Gameplay was serviceable at best but story and presentation were so good.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Grizzly says:

    Although the game-narrative-discussion plot gets the main focus from everyone, I thought the more subtle anti-capitalist and anti american message was a good thing as well. The game’s starting screen (which also changes overtime as you progress trough the campaign, becoming more and more bleak), has it’s flag upside down, Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Sprangled Banner and had Dubai, the quintessence of capitalism, in ruins.

    The situation of Dubai mirrors that of the situation in New Orleans, with a lot of people from the underclasses being left to rot. Those sorta things.

  25. Jerkzilla says:

    Fine desert sand can’t stack like in the picture above.

  26. goettel says:

    I have. The story might be great, even if I don’t care that much for story in games, but I found the actual gameplay to be distinctly meh.

  27. Sin Vega says:

    I found this a massive disappointment to be honest. The characters were immediately stupid and their actions nonsensical, long before the real plot even kicked off, and the shooting was thoroughly mediocre. Gave up in boredom after a couple of hours, never felt any need to give it another go.

    That said, I respect the devs for trying something new, and I don’t begrudge it for existing. I’ve also had a really interesting time reading things people have to say about it, so I definitely consider it a step forward.

  28. michilinmnnchn says:

    I loved the setting. I really liked the game. Although I wasn’t shocked the way the developer wanted me to be. Nevertheless I liked the story, I liked to think about what I did just seconds ago. I was too much into killing ’cause I used to be a soldier that has to kill every enemy.
    It was cool because I haven’t had played a game like this for a while.