Spec Ops: The Line - This Changes Everything

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Dfskelleton:
Yeah, Spec Ops is one of my favorite types of games for several reasons; one, because it's a total mind-screw, and two, because you always notice something new every playthrough... and each one is more disturbing than the last.
For example, I played it a second time, and noticed something really strange; almost the entire game is spent descending. Walker and his squad will frequently utilize ziplines, rappel down walls, go down a long staircase, and every once and a while, fall out of a high place in a plot-important scenario. Despite the fact that they're trying to reach the tallest building in the city (and in reality, the tallest man-made structure in the world), but they keep going deeper and deeper down, until it seems like they shouldn't be able to go down any further.
It was a brilliant game, definitely my GOTY.

Also, every time you see a mural or billboard where people have their eyes crossed out, they are facing something horrible. :D

chikusho:

While it certainly can be construed as making a point, it didn't pay enough attention to that in the end it's a game. Entertainment. If we don't enjoy it in any way whatsoever, we won't play it.

It went above and beyond when it comes to story, but it missed out on the proper balance between gameplay and story. In the end, what matters is the sum of all parts - and that got decidedly dragged down by the bad gameplay.
Personally I dialed it down to easy in the last chapter, just because I didn't want the mediocre gameplay distracting me from what made it great. That's not a good thing.

It sure did. I hope that all the gun-wank-support-our-troops MMSes tank this year because of this game.

I mean it had such a powerful story, how could you ever go back to "Blow up those brown people!!! FOR FREEDOM!!!"?

That said, some other awesome game that either went on sale or was released distracted me while I was playing it and I still haven't beat it... I really should.

However I did get to THAT moment... So. Fucking. Good. I could have lit a cigarette off of a still burning corpse and just laid back I was so satisfied.

chikusho:

Kargathia:

To be fair, it deserved mixed reviews. Its gameplay was only slightly above average, and while the story certainly carried it - and then some - that might not be the thing for everyone. People looking for the straight-up shooters the advertising promised would've come away disappointed.
Right now this is one of these games that are sadly still stuck in the Proof of Concept limbo - it does one thing incredibly well, but the entirety doesn't fully click yet, and as of such probably will not be remembered in ten years as being hugely influential on gaming and our perception of it.

I actually think the mediocre gameplay server the purpose of the campaign exceedingly well.
By having the gameplay being mediocre and being more or less "going through through the motions of a war game", underlines the point the creators were trying to make.

While many people have said that the mediocre gameplay was intentional, and I too believe it is, it is still mediocre gameplay. Weather or not the whole "that's the point" excuse is good enough is really a matter of opinion. Just because something is justified doesn't automatically make it good.

I enjoyed it the whole way through, which is often rare - I find the typical shooter to be boring. I really liked what it tried to do, which is to make one think. Not even about how killing someone is the bad thing itself, but that survival is still important.

I may be a libertarian, I follow the NAP, but I'm no pacifist; I don't trust government or the military, but when the main character unloaded the WP on all the "civilians", I did not stop to feel remorse about the symbology when I passed through: instead, I felt that "better them than me... so long as I'm alive, I can change the future. But if I die, nothing changes."

At the end, I felt it was a good game because it tried to not politicize war without demonizing survival, and that's what I think is the important balance: so long as you're fighting, you're in a war for survival; regardless of whatever reasons the brass have sent you, and regardless of what you do, survive. Just survive, move forward and take whatever opportunities to subdue the enemy without using yourself to fight.

Edit: when asked if I feel like a hero, I just reply in my head: "I don't want to be a hero. Period. I'm just doing what I do."

Dfskelleton:
I played it a second time, and noticed something really strange; almost the entire game is spent descending. Walker and his squad will frequently utilize ziplines, rappel down walls, go down a long staircase, and every once and a while, fall out of a high place in a plot-important scenario. Despite the fact that they're trying to reach the tallest building in the city (and in reality, the tallest man-made structure in the world), but they keep going deeper and deeper down, until it seems like they shouldn't be able to go down any further.

Descending into madness :D
Awesome how they did this metaphor through gameplay.

Hazy:
The loading screens that taunt the player are my favorite part.

image

Ah, I remember that one, the worst was definitely the "Do you feel like a hero yet?" I had to stop and mull that one over for a while, it's the entire game distilled into a single sentence.

On topic, excellent article, really brought up some points that I noticed during my second playthrough, especially how the brutality of the executions ramp up as you get more desperate, and how the commands devolve from standard military orders to just simple, basic statements to pair nicely with the metaphor of Walker's uniform being slowly stripped away by the harsh realities he faces in Dubai. You begin as a Delta Force Operative, all crisp and neat, ready to ride in like the cavalry and save the day, and by the end, your ideals are torn and shredded, left to bleed and die in the Hell you thought you could tame, you are indistinguishable from the masses you held yourself above.

Ahem, I could really go on about this all day, but I'll stop there, this game is definitely in my top 5 for the year, it totally took my expectations of it and curb-stomped them with a rifle butt.

thatonedude11:

While many people have said that the mediocre gameplay was intentional, and I too believe it is, it is still mediocre gameplay. Weather or not the whole "that's the point" excuse is good enough is really a matter of opinion. Just because something is justified doesn't automatically make it good.

Actually, it _is_ good if it serves the purpose of the experience.
Good does not necessarily equal enjoyable.

Whatever spoilers have been revealed, the more I read about this game, the more I want to give it a go. May have to be something to grab next paycheck. I wonder if it's out for PC. *goes to look*

Thistlehart:
Whatever spoilers have been revealed, the more I read about this game, the more I want to give it a go. May have to be something to grab next paycheck. I wonder if it's out for PC. *goes to look*

It's on Steam for like 20. Trust me, get it as soon as you can.

image
I love that this game is still inspiring great articles. The extra detail about how they developed the adaptive barking and the executions was appreciated.

My personal GOTY because of how much it shook up the genre and the idea of violent video games.

Also, it has gorgeous vistas:
image

Excellent article and nice articulation of everything I loved about Spec Ops: The Line. Thanks.

Gearhead mk2:

NinjaDeathSlap:
I want to play this game, but I had it spoiled for me early on and as a result I'm not sure it'll work for me. It seems a large amount of the impact it has relies on the player not expecting the game to do what it does.

I spoiled it for myself weeks before I even got the game, but the emotion of those moments still struck me. Heck, when you know whats coming, you can actaully keep an eye out for the things that are forecoming and be affected by it a little more then if you didn't know what was gonna happen. Get this game, man.

Seconded. I knew more or less what to expect going into it (and had some of the more disturbing parts spoiled or hinted at before I realized I should pick it up), but still enjoyed it as a game and as something that could just make me feel feelings (I may be alone on this, but just scrolling through some of the screen caps I took of the loading screens/messages has got my eyes watering and feeling entirely too sad).

Actually, along similar lines--and this is probably a stupidly huge spoiler, so DO NOT CLICK if you haven't played the game and are still interested:

thatonedude11:
While many people have said that the mediocre gameplay was intentional, and I too believe it is, it is still mediocre gameplay. Weather or not the whole "that's the point" excuse is good enough is really a matter of opinion. Just because something is justified doesn't automatically make it good.

I've never played any of the big AAA war-esque titles, so I think I missed out on seeing what was mediocre about the gameplay/controls/whatever. If there's an easy way of explaining what, exactly, was lousy about the gameplay to you (or others who presumably have played more polished/refined[?] modern war-ish games), I'd be interested to hear about it. (SO:TL, gameplay-wise, just made me think of Mass Effect 2 or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which was fine by me.)

bravetoaster:

thatonedude11:
While many people have said that the mediocre gameplay was intentional, and I too believe it is, it is still mediocre gameplay. Weather or not the whole "that's the point" excuse is good enough is really a matter of opinion. Just because something is justified doesn't automatically make it good.

I've never played any of the big AAA war-esque titles, so I think I missed out on seeing what was mediocre about the gameplay/controls/whatever. If there's an easy way of explaining what, exactly, was lousy about the gameplay to you (or others who presumably have played more polished/refined[?] modern war-ish games), I'd be interested to hear about it. (SO:TL, gameplay-wise, just made me think of Mass Effect 2 or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which was fine by me.)

Well for starters the level design doesn't allow for a ton of freedom. It's pretty much take cover, shoot, advance, take cover, with little opportunities to flank or use advanced tactics. Enemy AI doesn't use any real sort of tactics, although the level design doesn't allow them to do that either.

The cover system is very clunky, with it being difficult to change pieces of cover or even move to a different side of a box or something. In addition, the lack of any sort of combat roll makes any attempt to stay out of cover futile.

Finally, the shooting mechanics are really nothing special. Apparently the aim assist on consoles is floaty (I played on PC, so I wouldn't know), and none of the guns do anything to stand out from one another. This, coupled with the fact that your squad commands are extremely limited makes shoot-outs kind of boring compared to other games in it's genre.

All that being said, Spec Ops is still a fantastic game. If you haven't played it yet, do so. Now.

Honestly if this game doesn't leave you screwed up for awhile afterwards, you're probably screwed up to begin with.

thatonedude11:

bravetoaster:

thatonedude11:
While many people have said that the mediocre gameplay was intentional, and I too believe it is, it is still mediocre gameplay. Weather or not the whole "that's the point" excuse is good enough is really a matter of opinion. Just because something is justified doesn't automatically make it good.

I've never played any of the big AAA war-esque titles, so I think I missed out on seeing what was mediocre about the gameplay/controls/whatever. If there's an easy way of explaining what, exactly, was lousy about the gameplay to you (or others who presumably have played more polished/refined[?] modern war-ish games), I'd be interested to hear about it. (SO:TL, gameplay-wise, just made me think of Mass Effect 2 or Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which was fine by me.)

Well for starters the level design doesn't allow for a ton of freedom. It's pretty much take cover, shoot, advance, take cover, with little opportunities to flank or use advanced tactics. Enemy AI doesn't use any real sort of tactics, although the level design doesn't allow them to do that either.

The cover system is very clunky, with it being difficult to change pieces of cover or even move to a different side of a box or something. In addition, the lack of any sort of combat roll makes any attempt to stay out of cover futile.

Finally, the shooting mechanics are really nothing special. Apparently the aim assist on consoles is floaty (I played on PC, so I wouldn't know), and none of the guns do anything to stand out from one another. This, coupled with the fact that your squad commands are extremely limited makes shoot-outs kind of boring compared to other games in it's genre.

All that being said, Spec Ops is still a fantastic game. If you haven't played it yet, do so. Now.

Thank you--that was a very helpful summary/explanation.

Hmm, it's only the WP scene and the final one that stand out to me. And while the final scene was excellent, I've already had my incredible_twist_that_redefines_the_story_retrospectively_virginity taken by Fight Club. The WP scene, especially in retrospect, was particularly disturbing. Will have to play again to see where the ambiguities lie.

The different endings were pretty good - the one where the US armed forces roll up and you continue fps-ing stood out in my mind.

As for the increased instances of aggression in the instant kill moves and the orders etc mentioned in that article, I have to admit I didn't really notice it - perhaps I was too fully immersed?

Will definitely have to play again to see the changes.

Thanks for all the feedback guys; this is my first article on the Escapist and I'm really happy to see that it's gone down well. Also good to see all the support for Spec Ops. I could write a book about that game, I swear.

Just to echo what the others have already written, this is easily my GoTY for 2012.

It has been a very long time since a game made me feel this way about a few pixels on the screen... and then you realise it was you calling all the shots.... :)

Very nice article, matches the game well.

I loved this game, and I entirely agree with what was said in the article. I beg of you, more of this. You can have all my money.

I feel it's way overrated. It's exactly what TVTropes likes to call "anvilicious" in that the story doesn't have any subtlety, and it also has a lot of what TVTropes likes to call "Narm". The ending was pretty damn predictable, and I didn't feel "changed" in any way during the play: I just laughed at the increasingly retarded excuses Walker came up with to slaughter everything he sees. Every character and side has a lot of problems with motivation. Finally, the gameplay was mediocre at best; shut up, I know the developers made a point with this, but it still doesn't fucking work.

Oh, and the whole "yay, killing Americans instead of foreigners this time!" thing that tends to come up a lot in positive reviews? Frankly, I didn't give a shit. You kill Americans in pretty much every game anyway, what's the difference if they're wearing uniforms this time?

I'd give it 6.5/10. Above average, but a masterpiece? Not even close.

Flawed-by-design is still flawed.

If I make a movie tedious to watch because the theme is the desensitizing effects of boredom, I've still just made a boring fucking movie which precludes the main purpose of entertainment.

Likewise, intentionally mediocre gameplay because the developers are so deadset on chastising you for liking this shooter shit is asinine, intellectual masturbation. Doesn't shaming me for having fun require me having fun? It's like being slut-shamed for joining a monastery.

Lastly, COD and BF aren't the jingoistic wankfests non-fans mock them as. Is their tone wildly inconsistent with the themes they often go for? Yes. But the characterization of "Americans shoot brown people who and save the day" is oversimplified to the point of making one doubt the dissenters have even played the games. I don't like FPSes period, but I don't act as if it's due to some intellectual or moral highground.

Dfskelleton:
Yeah, Spec Ops is one of my favorite types of games for several reasons; one, because it's a total mind-screw, and two, because you always notice something new every playthrough... and each one is more disturbing than the last.
For example, I played it a second time, and noticed something really strange; almost the entire game is spent descending. Walker and his squad will frequently utilize ziplines, rappel down walls, go down a long staircase, and every once and a while, fall out of a high place in a plot-important scenario. Despite the fact that they're trying to reach the tallest building in the city (and in reality, the tallest man-made structure in the world), but they keep going deeper and deeper down, until it seems like they shouldn't be able to go down any further.
It was a brilliant game, definitely my GOTY.

Then you might like the two-parts review from Extra Credits (http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/spec-ops-the-line-part-1 and http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/spec-ops-the-line-part-2) to notice even more details, like the repeated helicopter sequence comment that could hint that he's actually dead or stucked in a nightmare given he remembers it happening before.

Overall I love the game, but my only regret is that the phosphorous scene could have been handled better (or maybe I'm just a sadistic designer :) because it breaks user engagement given the context just doesn't make sense: there are barely a few soldiers (especially compared to the many that came before) and I've got my sniper and silenced assault rifles fully loaded, the camp hasn't noticed us yet and we have an excellent sniping position.

Instead, add an opposing force too big to win: the player will eventually rationalize to choose phosphorous as he keeps dieing and is forced to see the "phosphorous would help" cutscene over and over.

Then they're more likely to be disgusted with themselves and the hypocrisy of the all mighty hero when they see later the consequence of their forced choice instead of not engaging at all with the forced pathos.

If having a big army is too heavy to render on small computers, then even 1-2 unkillable turrets would suffice: the first Far Cry did that very well in its "you can't leave the island despite nothing seems to stop you from leaving the island" mechanic of the unkillable helicopter that comes in if you go too far in the open ocean with your boat.

But I suspect user testing revealed too many players were frustrated and quit the game at that point, thinking "there must a way to win this" for too long before giving up and choosing the other option, hence why the design team chose a more obvious "it's supposed to happen, the game won't let you continue if you don't" solution to keep the most people playing.

Folks complaining about the gameplay better assiduously avoid work by David Foster Wallace and James Joyce. There's a purpose in the work beyond pleasure, and paradoxically, pleasure is derived from experiencing the work. Making games ultimately about "fun" is just reductive to the form.

Anywho, mechanically, I found the gameplay to be fine. Shooting worked for me, dashing and taking cover worked for me, and so it was all good. I'm not really a shooter fan, but I found it good enough in the mechanical to play through in one big marathon session. But I think the game is really more about elevating expectations of games from the goal of fun to something higher. I mean, visual art isn't just about the pleasure of seeing something pretty, and literary art isn't just about the pleasure of being told a story, so why should ludological art (which I'm defining not as "art games," but as games that are concerned with something greater than Hollywood-esque profit-making) only be about fun and positive reinforcement?

Not saying that I think Spec Ops: The Line is the best example of stuff like this or anything (although I really enjoyed it). I just want to reject the idea that the ultimate goal of video games is fun. But I guess the trouble is in the name; after all, even to gamers, they're all just games.

eevangoh:
I feel it's way overrated. It's exactly what TVTropes likes to call "anvilicious" in that the story doesn't have any subtlety, and it also has a lot of what TVTropes likes to call "Narm". The ending was pretty damn predictable, and I didn't feel "changed" in any way during the play: I just laughed at the increasingly retarded excuses Walker came up with to slaughter everything he sees. Every character and side has a lot of problems with motivation. Finally, the gameplay was mediocre at best; shut up, I know the developers made a point with this, but it still doesn't fucking work.

Oh, and the whole "yay, killing Americans instead of foreigners this time!" thing that tends to come up a lot in positive reviews? Frankly, I didn't give a shit. You kill Americans in pretty much every game anyway, what's the difference if they're wearing uniforms this time?

I'd give it 6.5/10. Above average, but a masterpiece? Not even close.

Spoilers:

Is there a TVTropes word for "reads too much TVTropes"? The game's story certainly wasn't a masterpiece however I don't feel it was executed as poorly as you make it out to be. How was the ending was predictable? Everything we were shown prior to the ending portrayed Konrad as a living person and major player within Dubai. The only hint I can think of is his ability to talk to you constantly and the apparent omniscience he demonstrates while doing so. I can see that tipping you off and in retrospect it's pretty obvious but I was too busy being immersed in the game and suspending disbelief to pay much attention to it.

It's the setting and the extraneous elements of the game that sold it for me, not necessarily the specifics of the plot.
Vietnam era rock songs blasting through a sandstorm ravaged Dubai as you slide down skyscrapers and sand dunes, fighting a somewhat capable regiment of US soldiers. What's not to love? The visible changes in the demeanor of Walker, his squad and their enemy as the story progresses. The grisly headshots and executions. The minor choices and control the game gives you in scenes that'd normally be relegated to a cutscene. Then there's the impersonal aerial bombardment scene that seems to be compulsory in all MMS games, subverted by the realisation that you just burned 47 civilians to death. CoD 4 certainly didn't make you walk the ground that you blew the shit out of in the AC-130.

The story lacks subtlety but I don't think subtlety was necessary given the gratuitous nature of some the games it was commenting on. Also I finished it yesterday which is why I'm finally here reading this article. This game isn't a masterpiece but it's impressive. Such artistic flair and attention to detail should be the standard for "gritty" "realistic" modern military shooters.

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