Spec Ops The Line is probably one of my favourite games that I will never, ever play again. Not because I was unhappy with the controls, design or any of the usual stuff that puts me off a game, but the story that it told was so harrowing and bleak that it forced me to turn off my console in an attempt to escape from a depressing tale that explicitly featured blood-curdling images that have since been burned into my brain. I might not want to play it again, but here’s why you really should.
It Actually Has A Story Worth Telling
Why do so many people play shooter campaigns? Is it for the incessant guns and gadget porn? For that slow-mo breach as the bullets whizz past, or it is just to hear a lot of military terms being screamed down the line that most people wouldn’t understand? I think a decent chunk of gamers tend to play shooter campaigns just because it’s there. For Call of Duty, and maybe even Battlefield, a lot of players just disregard the single player campaign like a crumpled wrapper and proceed to sink their teeth into the meaty multiplayer, but it can’t be that hard to believe that at least some tend to play a chapter or two of the campaign.
Most gamers buy CoD/Battlefield for the multiplayer, not the story, but hardly any buy them for the opposite reasons — and that’s absolutely fine. However, the focus on multiplayer in shooters does lead to extremely clichéd stories that many just lap up because it’s not why they bought the game. Spec Ops changed this level of mediocrity and became the first military shooter I’ve played that excels at storytelling on both a visceral and visual scale.
I think Spec Ops the reasons succeeds with its story is because you head into this story thinking it’s a CoD wannabe. It starts out with the run-of-the-mill helicopter/minigun shootout before you’re learning how to take cover, throw grenades and so on. However, the first major sign that I knew this game was going to be different came around Chapter 9. Without spoiling too much, you’re offered a choice to kill either a civilian thief who stole water, or a solider who was meant to apprehend the thief but killed his family. Both are regarded as “savages” who must be subjected to some form justice, i.e. shot point blank in the head. So it’s up to you to be the judge, jury and executioner. What do you do? It’s not a binary good or bad style choice at work here, but rather a moral dilemma.
The thief committed a capital offence, but he was just trying to help his family, and the soldier was reckless, though he was still following orders. Either way, it’s up to you to decide who deserves to live. The story takes a grand inspiration from Heart Of Darkness but places in a lot of morally grey areas in Spec Ops: The Line that certainly work to embellish the story. It adds a sense of questioning and personal thought that you would never really experience in the latest first-person shooter. You rarely walk away from a decision thinking you did the right thing despite the main character’s protests that you always do make the right call. But is he reassuring his squad members, himself or you?
It Turns The “You’re The Hero” Trope On Its Head
“War does not determine who is right, but who is left.” As it stands, a lot of FPS games tap into our child-like belief of what a solider really is. He is an action her0, a saviour and most of all, a badass. So when you play these games, you become Action Man, G.I. Joe and B.A. Baracus combined and live out a fantasy of being the ultimate hero that takes down the badguys and saves the day. It’s a “hero” fantasy at its finest, but Spec Ops: The Line helps you open your eyes to what these games have done to gamer’s attitude towards war and civilian causalities. Call Of Duty may make you blow up vehicles with your RPG and have you run past the lifeless bodies, but Spec Ops makes you stare at that horrific destruction you caused.
The further you progress through the game, the more hopeless your situation becomes and the more the game mocks you for still playing. Messages of “How many Americans have you killed today?” and “Do you feel like a hero yet?” flash up, taunting you for still thinking you’re doing the right thing. It’s a stark contrast to Call Of Duty’s “inspirational” war quotes. In Spec Ops: The Line, you don’t play a war hero, you play a war monster and destroy everything and everyone in your path. You’re a hurricane of destruction and death, and the only way to end the game is to shut it off. It’s a massive change to the war campaigns we are used to but it’s still a welcome one. War is hell and Spec Ops: The Line is your ticket.
This Games Gets Moral Choices
Pick A or B? Choose The Good Or Evil Ending? Let’s be honest, games are awful at morality and decision making. You’re either a saint or cartoonishly evil, there’s never any middle ground. The inFamous series is guilty of this trope because you’re either always doing good or bad, and flip-flopping between your choices leads to you having weaker powers or upgrades. If you want to have unbelievably powerful abilities, you have to make a binary choice between being good or evil.
Spec Ops: The Line presents a lot of moral dilemmas to you and it is up to you alone to decide how to act. However, the main difference between this game and others with moral choices is that Spec Ops doesn’t reward you for the decision. There’s no good choices to make here because either way, you’re going to make horrible decisions. The consequences of your choices is your cross to bear for the rest of the game because it’s all your fault for what occurred.
The game doesn’t present you with binary choices. You’re usually given a straight forward (and brutal) option, but at times, there’s an easier solution that you wouldn’t have known about. So when you commit to moral choice A and learn there was an easier option B, you feel angry at yourself for thinking that your first decision is the best decision. You feel cheated and mad at the game, but the game simply states that it never told you to do that and it was all your own decision. This is why the game gets moral choices. The game never disguises the dilemma and you know what you’re doing. A strong moral choice is a grey one: you reassure yourself you did the right thing, but you will still have a harrowing feeling in the pit of your stomach that it could have gone better.
So, what do you think of Spec Ops: The Line? Was it an experience you’d recommend? Do you hope other war games follow its story style? Let us know in the comments below.