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LTTP: Spec Ops: The Line (PC)

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LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for me to catch up and write about games I missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.

I will remember Yager’s Spec Ops: The Line for its effort and not its execution. Gameplay wasn’t the center of attention in Spec Ops: The Line; shocking images were. So when the developers botched the handling of a pivotal moment in the game, it hurts the entire experience. It stings more when I see that they’re capable of handling player decisions and moments of grave importance.

Let’s just get the third person shooting out of the way. It overstayed its welcome frequently and provided the occasional blip of challenge. I used these mundane battles for headshot practice. Binary Domain already set me down this path so I continued along it despite the fact that these U.S soldiers weren’t bullet sponges. It wasn’t like there was anything of worth going for it in the gameplay department.

Graphic and horrific acts of violence against your fellow man – especially the innocent – gets people talking about a game. There’sdumb reckless violence like in Grand Theft Auto games but very few games go down the route of creating shocking scenarios that involve the player.

Every game I played with those shocking scenarios justified its existence somehow. Whether it was through player choice or by clever trickery, the one thing those games never did was force the player’s hand. If I wanted to be a piece of shit and murder innocent virtual people, I could make that decision. If I didn’t want to participate, games like Modern Warfare 2 allowed me to outright skip it or become passive throughout the ordeal. The latter decision is important because the developers allowed the player to decide in the moment itself.

Spec Ops: The Line handled their gruesome moment of murdering innocents in the most insulting way possible. It’s even more insulting when I take into account how they handled the ending and epilogue.

The set up for this moment was simple. There was a large force of U.S soldiers below my position who are out to get the Nolan North voiced protagonist Walker and his squad. One squadmate noticed a white phosphor launcher that could easily but horrifically dispatch the force below. It was an act that must be done he explained. The other squadmate then chimed in saying that we couldn’t go down that path and alternative means must be considered.

I took a look at the force below and decided I could take them on through traditional third person shootin’. I’ve already faced scores of soldiers throughout the game thus far, so why not? In fact I thought the odds was actually stacked in my favor considering my vantage point and the level of challenge the game presented thus far.

I decided not to use the white phosphor option and go at it the old fashion way. I was killed a few times by pesky snipers, so I decided to take them out first. The first one goes down and shortly thereafter a replacement comes trotting out. I continued to dispatch wave after wave of snipers because I thought it was another drawn out firefight that this game was infatuated with. But by the fifth “wave” of snipers, it dawned on me that there was no way to win this fight. This was the infamous Call of Duty infinite respawning enemies moment but instead of moving pass an invisible line to progress, I had cross a morale line. Fine, be a dick like that. They’re shooting at me and they won’t stop until I went down this dark path.

So I dropped white phosphor on those soldiers. They burned, I heard their screams, I saw the reflection of Walker’s face on the screen every time one of those bombs exploded. This was not the choice I wanted to make but I couldn’t see how this all played out unless I played ball.

After the dust settled, we made our way down to the disaster site and were forced to slowly walk through and examine our handy work. Everything was burned or charred. There were some survivors uttering “why” before passing on but all that paled to what was shown next. Apparently there was a building that housed a bunch of innocent people and then – out of the blue — Spec Ops: The Line’s visual fidelity skyrocketed and they showed a room full of charred innocents including a mother and child in the center.

I was insulted.

Spec Ops: The Line didn’t earn this. I didn’t want to make this decision. I only made it because it was the only decision that allowed me to move forward. There are arguments that state that one of the game’s endings is to put the controller down and walk away.

Are you kidding me?

One of the options is to throw $60 away? Spec Ops: The Line is a product first. There’s a price tag to this. Money was exchanged for this non-refundable product and to say that I have the option to discard it if I didn’t want to make a horrible decision is deceitful. All bets are off if a) this was free or b) this was advertised as a game with horrible choices involved — neither were true.

After the initial anger subsided, I continued fighting off wave after wave of soldiers. I wanted to see the conclusion. I wanted to see why this Lieutenant Colonel Konrad took his men and began isolating themselves from the outside world. As it turns out Konrad was dead long before the game started and all of this was for not. The protagonist was an unreliable narrator and all of this bloodshed was for nothing. Or was it?

Unlike the botched handling of the white phosphor scene, the final moments the game were in my full control. I chose to accept responsibility for my actions and ended Walker’s life just to see this game end. Then I went back to see what the other path had in store. By choosing to live, the game ended with Walker calling in for an evacuation. Then there was another decision point in the epilogue where I could surrender quietly wracked with guilt or I could pull the trigger and open fire at my rescuers. If I died, it would have been “a suicide by police” scenario and the game would end. But if I survived the fight (which was pretty tough), Walker completely loses it and becomes the twisted vision of Konrad he concocted along the way.

The decent into madness and the growing stress of fighting is a logical response to the traumatic action with the white phosphorus. Unfortunately I rejected these subtleties as failed attempts at empathy because they did not properly earn it. It was a valiant effort that got people talking videogames, writing, war and all those topics inbetween. I don’t know how many people will remember this game in 10 years time but I will always remember it. I will always remember it as “the game that tried to make me feel bad”.

Worth a try

Ratings Guide

For more information on Spec Ops: The Line, visit the official website.

2010 PC Rev. 1.2 was used to play Spec Ops: The Line.

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