October 9, 2012

Be sure you Dubai this game. (BAM! Hilarious pun.)

Spec Ops: The Line is kind of boring as shit until it’s not, and then you’re glad that the rest is boring as shit because it all kind of makes a clear statement, and fuck, games don’t do that enough.

The reason to play this game is the plot, and so I am going to spoil the shit out of it because I want to talk about it and dammit, I will. Don’t read this if you haven’t played it. Just go play it. Seriously. It’s already pretty cheap. I bought a copy for CJ for 6 bucks. Play it and enjoy it. If you can enjoy a 3rd Person Cover Shooter, and like games that try new things, it is clearly worth your time, okay?

Anyway, spoilers ahoy from here on in, alright? Seriously, don’t read all this until you’ve beat the game.

I’m serious.

We good now?


The opening of this game could not be more generic. It’s like… painfully generic. Like, if you imagined what some movie person who doesn’t understand video games would imagine as a video game, it would kind of be that. It just has so little going on, besides sandstorms, I guess? You shoot guys, and you move on, and you do “good” stuff. It’s very mindless.

Slowly, though, it starts to become less so. Your character and team get really fucked up and injured. They look bad. It’s clear this mission has had lasting effects on them. There’s inter-squad fights about really serious things. The game, slowly, starts asking you to make choices that really do affect how encounters play out and how you feel about yourself. Very quickly, the simple plot starts seeming much less white, and a lot more grey. Even what the characters say in the game gets all broken up and messed up. They go from calm, cool “Tango Downs” and whatnot to screaming obscenities when they’re hit and yelling in frustration “Tango Finally Fucking Goddamn Down!” as they face more and more dudes. It’s really quite effective in showing that hey, what’s going on is not cool.

The real genius of the game, I think, are the loading screen messages. They get so goddamn awesome. Most of the loading screen messages are your normal stuff. “Hit A to get in cover” and so on. You know, tooltips. But some of them are comments on the plot. “You need to get to the Nest to find out what’s happening.” However, as you get deeper into the story, those messages get really fucked up. The first one I saw was “You are still a good person.” I laughed, to be honest, but I was wowed. From there, they just kept coming. “If Ludo were still alive, he would probably be facing PTSD for the rest of his life so, you know, he got off easy.” “The rules of the US Military state that you are not allowed to shoot unarmed combatants, but this is a game, so who fucking cares.” They so reflect how crazy the game is getting, and also give you a kind of strange insight into where your character’s mindspace is. It breaks the fourth wall very clearly, but it does so very well.

In the end, the game is very much a critique of military shooter games. It makes a clear statement on how little they actually show the horrors of war, and how incredibly abstracted a game is from the reality of being in a warzone and having to do awful things to survive. For example, the sequence when you’re firing the mortar that is a clear critique of the sequence in CoD4 where you shoot the airplane gun at the little blips is one of the clearest callouts of this. The minigame you play shooting it is so abstract, but then it makes you walk through the devestation and see that, no, you weren’t shooting little blips. You were shooting people. War is not a fun game.

That message stuck with me. It’s not about to make me stop playing silly fantasy shoot dudes games, perse. But it really brought their inherent ridiculousness to light, and said, “Realize what this is trivializing.” I really appreciated that. It said something. Games really don’t do that enough.

Man that WP scene is heavy handed and forced… but if you can put that aside, it’s good. Really good.

Comment by Belabor — October 11, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

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