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Discussion The Patient Gamer: Spec Ops The Line - A Heart of Darkness Joint

GodisanAtheist

Diamond Member
Nov 16, 2006
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Anyone who has paid attention to gaming memes over the last several years is likely at least somewhat aware of a title known as Spec Ops: The Line. The game has garnered a cult following as one of the best military shooters of all time, which drove me to pick up the game and just recently complete it.

To disclose my biases, I should first say that I am not a fan of military shooters. I've played a couple which I've liked well enough, such as COD 4: Modern Warfare and Battlefield Bad Company, but by and large I find the whole "Tom Clancy" genre stale, predictable, and boring. The environments tend to be drab, the bad guys are out of some sort of propaganda piece. The yearly release schedules make them seem more like sports franchises than games that take their subject matter even remotely seriously.

Spec Ops left me with a sort of strange feeling in the end. I would certainly rank it among the better military shooters for sure, but I'm not sure I could really say that i *enjoyed* the game. Let me go into what I liked and what I didn't.

The Good:
There are some things Spec Ops does very well, especially in contrast to other Military Shooters. For one, the setting of a sandstorm ravaged Dubai at first looks like every other brown shooter in recent memory. But the devs don't shy away from contrasting the colorful opulence of pre-devastation Dubai against the ravaged and war torn present, and makes good use of the beautiful architecture and environments of Dubai to reinforce some of its more surreal themes.

The story and plot are also well done. The game chooses to show rather than tell, and is generally very light on exposition and heavy on visual and audio design to portray the slow decent into madness the protagonist and his squad suffer, using everything from outright hallucinations during gameplay to the standard military shooter vocal cues starting in a professional place and slowly degenerating into exasperated taunts against dead and dying enemies.

The game is also, for better or worse, a sort of meta critique on the military shooter genre. It does all the things a good military shooter is supposed to, but the consequences of the actions are not as clearly defined, as the protagonist paves his own road to hell by trying to be a hero. Without spoiling too much, the game has that standard "god's eye" drone segment where you get to plaster enemy troops with impunity, but instead of the standard cold military jargon layered over the top of it, you have your fellow squadmates wondering if what they're doing is right as its a straight up war crime.

The general tone of the game can be summed up in one sardonically delivered line: "Do you feel like a hero yet?"

The Bad:

The game plays like a very generic cover based shooter. Its generally solid, the framework for gameplay is well built and it does what its supposed to do fairly well, but its definitely nothing special. All the same problems from every cover based shooter ever are on display here: You know there is gonna be a gunfight as soon as an open area with waist high walls all over it shows up. You have to "stick" to cover and give up maneuverability, which sometimes leads to fighting controls if you try to quickly respond to an enemy flanking you but you're stuck to cover and just cannot turn far enough to get a clean shot.

The Squad based elements are also very lite. Lugo and Adams are great characters, but aside from assigning targets or having someone else for the enemy to shoot at around, they don't really add or detract from the gameplay much at all. As far as I can tell, you can never assign positioning orders to them or have them use special abilities (grenades and the like) on command.

The game is also linear with some character defining (but not story altering) choices involved. I don't mind the linearity so much, but the choice system was a little fuzzy. Some choices are passive choices (the choice is to not act) and some other choices are game enders (by not doing anything to watch the scene play out, you are killed). Sometimes the game makes it look like there is a choice to make, but really, its funneling you toward something that you have to do, in which case the developers didn't do as great a job as I would have hoped of having me make the choice that they wanted me to make. Its not the biggest deal in the world, but it can detract from some situations when it becomes blatantly obvious what the devs want by blocking off other options that would normally be available to choose.

Lastly, while ultimately the story is good, there are a number of different characters that can make the proceedings a bit hard to follow while you're in the thick of it. Topped off with a whole heaping bunch of unreliable narrator and the game can keep you guessing to the point of confusion at times.

In Conclusion:

I applaud Spec Ops for at least trying to do things differently than many other jingoistic power fantasy military shooters. Its a solidly built game that really stands on its themes, presentation, and story which ultimately uplift an otherwise very average shooter.

It takes a broader scope and looks at the tragedy of human conflict itself, while also taking a narrower look at the human tragedy of war. Its a grim and sometimes unpleasant game to play, and you should probably have something light hearted lined up as brain cleaner after a play session. Thankfully, the game isn't all that long, clocking in around 5-10 hours to play through, so it definitely does not overstay its welcome or cross over into full blown war porn territory at any point.

The game has a X360/PS3 vintage and will run on most computers just fine nowadays, and can be found on sale at bargain bin prices. I recommend this game to anyone who, like me, is not a huge fan of military shooters or for those individuals who are but have grown tired of the formula used ad nauseum in such games.
 

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