Who needs to play a game for fun anyway?? You don’t want to enjoy your game, you want them to walk up to you and punch you in the stomach whilst telling you how horrifying humans can be. If this does not sound intriguing to you, you may want to keep a safe distance from Spec Ops: The Line, all other gluttons for the horror of human nature can follow into the darkness ahead.
In an industry populated with violence-glorifying military shooters, Spec Ops aims to be the one realistic depiction of war. While this might strike you a little paradoxical at first, since games should inherently be fun and not leave you with a feeling of depression, leave it to me to show you why Spec Ops is truly a masterpiece.
The story follows a group of Delta Force Operatives headed by your character, Captain Martin Walker, your typical third-person shooter protagonist, of course voiced by Nolan North. After a sandstorm has cut Dubai off from the rest of the world a first rescue mission seems to have failed disastrously and now Walker and his two sidekicks are sent in to investigate. Soon, however, they find out that Colonel Konrad, head of first rescue unit, seems to be well alive and appears to have taken over the city. His motives remain in the dark and it is up to you to find out what secrets Dubai hides under its mountains of sand and buried former glory. Suffice it to say, the story will take you places you have not thought possible and is one of the most rewarding ones in recent memory.
Gameplay-wise there is not much to say, it’s a third-person shooter. Cover can be found everywhere and everybody presses their shoulder against it with unimaginable affection. Your two buddies can be ordered to either take out entrenched groups of enemies or snipe foes in the distance. The only ‘unique’ element that I hesitate to call such, is sand. Sand is piled up behind some wood, or above glass and can be shot to bury the poor fellows underneath a yellow and coarse avalanche. Everything is perfectly functional, but also doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. It works well to carry you through the tremendously well-presented story.
Talking about a realistic depiction of war in a gun worshipping shooter sounds like something unachievable, but Spec Ops manages to pull of the impossible and just show you how much of an American ‘hero’ you are by playing these games. A particularly nasty scene, to which I won’t spoil the details, involves Walker and friends making a decision with drastic consequences the player has no say over, but he is still forced to slow walk through what remains in his wake. And inevitable the player will blame the game for making him commit such horrible atrocities and it only raises the question whether you are actually in control of Cpt. Walker or merely forced to stick with him until the end of the journey without any means of escape.
The group chemistry is one of the most important aspects and seeing it all fall apart throughout the journey is vital to the game’s central message. Any sense of companionship and shared mutual belief fall victim to the grindstone of reality until nothing but despairing husks are left. Another essential component to the overarching message are the overly brutal execution animations that might extract a gleeful cheer from you the first time you see them, but will only get more brutal and saturated with a disgust for human lives as Walker bears down on the ‘enemy’ and really ‘gets into it’. Soon you may not even want to see them, but then you risk the threat of them getting back up and becoming a problem again. In this game, violence can only be met with violence and the choice has been made a long time ago.
The spiral of decay and corruption only goes on further as the game slowly picks apart your notions about gaming in general and deconstructs the entire experience. All of that with exceptionally well-written dialogue and text that has yet to be matched. Characters are well rounded and display real human beings in a war scenario. Ranging from delusional, hopeless, to flat out insane. All of it culminating in an ending that can only be described as the final blow to Walker and the player herself/himself. Leaving you with a feeling of lingering guilt while the credits roll.
All of this might not seem like the biggest arguments for buying this game, but believe me that it is an experience like no other. If you don’t like modern military shooters, like me, you can enjoy it for the wonderfully realistic depiction of the genre and if you are a fan of these spectacle-bursting shoot bangs then you need to play it all the more, to see just what level of delusion you find yourself on. It is exhausting, sickening, and flat out horrifying at times and you can blame the game all you like, but in the end it was you who started to play, you who chose to shoot, and you who never stopped. So tell me: Do you feel like a hero yet?