LATE TO THE PARTY!
Spec Ops: The Line can be referred to as “Feels Bad, Man: The Game.” It does make me want to reread Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the famous work that inspired Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and from which this title draws many parallels.
The game is a third-person shooter developed by Yager Development and published by 2K Games. On the surface, it’s about a three-man Delta Force team investigating a radio broadcast from a Lt. Col. John Konrad, leader of the 33rd Battalion. It seems the 33rd was caught in the middle of dangerous dust storms assisting in relief efforts to evacuate the denizens of city-state Dubai. Nobody except Konrad and his men knows what happened, but as the game progresses (in a short, but very eventful five-hour campaign), you discover that not everything is as it seems.
There honestly isn’t a whole lot to Spec Ops’ mechanics. The focus prioritizes narrative over game. Normally this is a big pet peeve of mine because many games tend to compromise gameplay and the segregation to plot becomes arbitrary and inconsistent. The player controls Walker (performed by famed VA Nolan North, who really sells Walker’s intensity even in light of hearing Nathan Drake), the leader of this three-man team to Lugo and Adams. He will take cover, leap over waist-high structures, aim down the sights, and fire at many enemies. His partners do their part to minimize enemy count and will happily toss stun grenades to ease typically intense firefights.
Staying in cover is pivotal as Walker takes very few hits before going down. Even his teammates can go down and the player must reach them and revive them reminiscent of Rainbow Six: Vegas. This gets somewhat frustrating if you have to replay several minutes’ worth before getting back to where you originally died. In addition, unless you’re using the default M4, ammo can get pretty scarce and could turn players off to experimentation. I did enjoy using the UMP45, which has a medium range since it’s a submachine gun. More powerful weapons come along the way which will be necessary for heavily-armored enemies.
The start of the game puts you in a firefight against Middle Eastern insurgents. It not only serves as the tutorial, but helps to make the plot twist that soon follows more dramatic and thoughtful. When the trio overhears an insurgent talking to an American soldier, something seems very off. It’s there that Delta Force and the player learn that the 33rd have gone rogue, and in a plot involving the CIA, it seems American soldiers will be killing other American soldiers. Without going into specific events, the narrative overall questioning themes like loyalty, morality, ethics, choice, and even sanity. I’ve already sort of spoiled the direction of the story by referring back to Heart of Darkness. The story is actually worth experiencing anyway, as the player can then go back and pick out contextual clues that help the story make sense and still have an interpretation of the characters and what they face.
Even a moment where the developers more or less force the player to do something horrendous is open to interpretation as to whether it hurts the impact of the narrative, or employs a new theme from within. Arc words include “We had no choice,” and “You brought this on yourself.” For me, the most powerful moment in the game is when Lugo, introduced as the care-free and witty sniper, later screams in sheer fury after said event that there is always a choice. Walker replies, “No. There’s really not.”
Spec Ops: The Line didn’t sell particularly well, but received a fair amount of praise for its goal of deconstructing these modern military shooters. The story does a great amount to make up for the shortcomings of its mechanics, which aren’t even necessarily bad, just vanilla.