If there was a game I wish I had played when it first came out, and had not watched hours and hours of dissection videos on YouTube about, it would have to be Spec Ops: The Line. First released in 2012, it is (surprisingly) the tenth title in the Spec Ops series.
I recently purchased this game during the Steam winter sale. Miraculously, my computer can play it. It fits into a little screen that doesn’t even fill my computer’s monitor. The game on its lowest settings is a grainy, bloody mess. But I can see enough to enjoy the game.
I’ll just say this: Spec Ops: The Line is one of the greatest single-player campaigns I have ever experienced in a video game. I recently wrote a piece on how Battlefield 1 dissected war in a unique way in its multiplayer mode, but really lagged in the single-player. Spec Ops: The Line’s campaign succeeds where Battlefield 1 failed. But here’s the thing. I don’t want to spoil this game. I imagine that many have heard of this game and its narrative uniqueness, and the horrors of war that it examines, but that doesn't mean I'm about to spoil the surprises for others that I spoiled for myself.
What happens when your own soldiers turn on you? How much of a toll can the human take when in a situation as confusing as a desert city torn apart by different factions vying for control over what little is left? What happens when innocent civilians are used as bait? What happens the character is lost in all the violence and chaos of war?
Spec Ops: The Line answers those questions. Inspired, if not directly based on, the novel Heart of Darkness and its filmic offspring Apocalypse Now, the game is the antithesis of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Hell, I’d say it’s akin to Nier: Automata. It deconstructs shooters, and reexamines how war is depicted in videogames. It’s important to note that the game takes place in Dubai, and that the protagonist, Captain Walker, underwent a traumatic experience in Afghanistan some time ago, in which he interacted with the game’s seeming villain, John Konrad. The chaos of Dubai, a city that the war on terror has not touched in its full severity yet, reminds attentive players of conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I personally do not read the game as a commentary or critique of those wars, but the case can be made for it. Plenty of horror stories have come out of those places of atrocities committed by players on all sides of the conflict that make The Line look like a Sunday school lesson.
I find that the physicality of the game even affects me personally. I can go hours playing Battlefield 1 and not feel a thing. But a couple hours of Spec Ops: The Line and I am exhausted, physically and mentally. I find myself somewhat unable to go on. There was one instance where Walker crushes a man’s head with a rifle, and for a moment, just one moment, it looked as if he was crushing his teammate instead. I thought I had made a wrong decision and was killing someone I had gotten to know somewhat throughout my time with the game, and I was legitimately frightened.
But at least the game has soul. That’s not something I can say for many AAA games nowadays. Spec Ops: The Line is hard, it's brutal, but it goes places where no other game went before it. We need more like this. I don't want to advertise, but the Steam Winter Sale goes on till January 4th, so if you want to explore something a little different, now is the time.