Spec Ops: The Line: The Art

 By Shamus Aug 1, 2012 89 comments

splash_spec_ops.jpg

I’m going to do something different with this review. I’m going to run this series with a guest commentator. Normally, text in gold boxes is for me, but in this case:

Hi! I’m Taliesin, who you may remember as being credited for buying Batman: Arkham City for Shamus. Because I have more money and generosity than good sense, and because I really like Spec Ops: The Line, I decided to buy it for him, in exchange for getting the chance to put my voice (text) out here by messing up his perfectly good review with my own comments. I’m bribing him shamelessly for my own fame and attention, and hey, it’s working!

Just remember: This text is me, the gold boxes are Taliesin. Try not to freak out about this. Also, this isn’t the dawn of some strange new “buy me games for posting rights” policy. I like the idea of doing a discussion-style review, and this seemed like a fun thing to try.

ANYWAY.

Everyone is talking about the unexpected tone and thematic elements of Spec Ops: The Line. I thought I’d mix things up by talking about something that’s getting overlooked in the conversation. In the past, one of my major complaints about modern shooters is their pervasive brown-ness. After playing SWTOR some time ago, I’ve come to refine my views a bit, and I think this focus on brown is actually missing the point.

It’s not about color, it’s about contrast.

There are some games games that have muted colors, or only use a narrow range of colors. There are even some that have no color at all. The goal here is to provide coherent, visually appealing images, and there are a lot of ways of doing that. Unless not being able to see what you’re doing is a gameplay mechanic, then the player should be able to see what’s going on. The problem with “brown” games isn’t just brown. It’s that the saturation is uniform and there’s not much contrast. (Or the contrast appears in all the wrong places, drawing the eye to the wrong parts of the image.)

specops1.jpg

Note that I usually crop screenshots to remove HUD elements and focus the image on whatever it is I think is interesting. I’m not going to do that here. One, because I want to show you how the game really looks. Two, because the game doesn’t really need my help. I don’t need to zoom in to show you some scenery, because everything pops.

Spec Ops is a “brown shooter” designed by people with a firm grasp of visual art, and the result is a game that manages to be visually rich, even when it’s drawing from a narrow palette.

A lot of people have been complaining about the teal and orange fad that’s rampaging through Hollywood. That’s the technique of making images “pop” by amping up the saturation in the fleshtone part of the spectrum (orange) and then setting the characters against the opposing color on the color wheel. (Teal.) Now, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with teal and orange. It’s fine for a stylized look. The problem isn’t when one movie is teal and orange, the problem is when most movies are teal and orange, even stuff like Hot Tub Time Machine where it’s completely inappropriate for the genre and setting. (It would have been a great idea for them to shoot the modern-day segments of the movie in teal and orange, and shoot the retro-80′s stuff in a super-charged full-spectrum color palette. Re-writing the script wouldn’t have hurt either.)

specops2.jpg

This is pretty much a textbook orange & teal shot. Note the teal vehicle. I’m sure that was done on purpose.

If anything has an excuse to go teal and orange, I would think it should be a game set in Dubai. Orange sand. Orange clothes. Blue sky. It’s unavoidable. So, yeah, the game is a bit guilty, but I don’t think it’s a mistake. Heck, just compare the above image to some of the other games in the genre. You might disagree with artistic decisions made by Yager Development, but at least there was an artistic decision. This was done on purpose by someone trying to achieve an effect.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of the time, the sand is more of a creamy gold than a true orange, which helps to supplement some excellent views. In fact, let me go back and pan the view around on that shot with the teal car.

specops_tal1.jpg

That’s your first look at Dubai, and it’s a beautiful sight. Creamy-gold sand set to a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers, with blue sea off to one side and splashes of colour in palm trees and vehicles, dominated by the ruined highway. It’s an image that ties in well with the feel of something so grand brought so low, and it makes for sharp contrast to later visuals. Near the end of the game, after Things Have Gone Horribly Wrong, the grand skyline takes a back seat to ruins, and the sand takes on a pronounced reddish tinge that brings to mind a blood-soaked field.

specops3.jpg

Yes, there’s lots of orange in above shot. But note how the cover is pale, so the player stands out against it. Then there’s a light / dark contrast between the cover and the battlefield. Then there’s a color contrast between the battlefield stuff and the sky. There’s lots of “layers” to this image, giving it depth. When guys come out on the wing for shooting funtime, they are dark against that brilliant white background.

Compare this with so many other games which are completely rudderless artistically, where the artists just sort of slapped models and textures in place without regard to how things looked in the final scene. Does it look like crap? No problem. Add more dirt and dust particle effects. If worse comes to worse, throw a lens flare over the whole thing.

specops4.jpg

I’m not a huge fan of the “games as interactive movies” approach to game development, but if you ARE going to go down that road, then this is how it needs to be done. You need people on your team who understand the art of visual storytelling and who can make things that look at least as good as the movies they’re pretending to be. Too often we end up with the worst of both worlds: A thing with the stifling linearity of a movie but without the visual competence.

Note that the game isn’t all orange and teal. Despite being in the desert during a sandstorm, this game has more vibrant colors and changes in palette than any other shooter I’ve ever played. That includes BioShock. (I give BioShock credit for using vibrant colors, but Spec Ops has dazzling sunlight to work with.) The designers bent over backwards looking for ways to justify a change in hue and lighting. You’ll be in a blue office one minute, then a deep red restaurant, then a broad and colorful shopping mall.

No kidding. By way of example, an early firefight sees you fending off an assault force in the middle of a ruined high-class hotel.

specops_tal2.jpg

Meanwhile, levels are frequently dotted with little splashes of colour. Outside sections are dominated by lots of creamy-gold sand, white marble, gleaming steel and the grey of ruined architecture, with billboards, faded but still colourful, and mangled cars scattered throughout. Inside sections vary by the locale, with refugee shanty towns, vending machines and rich furnishings all contributing to keep things lively.

specops5.jpg

Somehow Developer Yager figured out how to make the Unreal Engine render GREEN. I didn’t know it could do that. I kid. Once again, note the layers. My character stands out against the wall, which stands out against the center of the room, which stands out against the darkness on the right and the muted world beyond the windows.

To indulge in a brief tangent about gameplay, this section actually works really well. It’s an absolutely linear fight, but you can still fight through it in different ways.

specops_tal3.jpg

This is the entrance to the room shown in Shamus’ picture, a stairwell guarded by two soldiers. If you prefer, you can kill them with normal gunfire, alerting the soldiers in the next room, maybe luring them out to you. Alternatively, you can put on your rifles suppressor and kill both guards with a sustained burst of silenced fire. This will not alert the next group of soldiers, and if you wait a few seconds, they’ll actually cluster up a bit, letting you do the same thing.

The group after THAT will be alerted whatever you do, so from there you can hang back in the doorway, maybe pick off one or two as they come up the stairs and settle in for a cover-to-cover fight, or you can storm ahead before they arrive, and try to find a firing position to let you mow them down as they get up the stairs.

The game only sometimes suggests these options to you. It usually provides the tools to do so; there’s a weapon with silencer capability lying around just before the stairwell, but it’s up to you to think on your feet and make it work.

The game is constantly shifting styles and environments to keep things fresh. Light areas. Dark areas. Filth and dust. Clean and clear. Cool and damp. Warm and dry. Intense colors. Pale colors. Wide open spaces. Tight spaces. Open ground. Cluttered space. Poverty ridden places. Places of posh decadence.

specops6.jpg

Each area has a unique feel, and very often the feel of the environment is reinforcing the message that the game is telling you at the moment. When you’re having a conversation about the horrors of war, you’re having it in a trench-like maze of bloodstained concrete. When people are talking about the civilian cost of the conflict, you’re standing in a shanty town. When you’re doing [spoiler] with water trucks, you’re in a place built around cool blue hues. The environments aren’t just arenas where you shoot guys. They’re part of the story.

This seems obvious, but so few games manage to get this right.

I’ve said in the past that from now on, the “graphics race” should forget about pixel shaders and focus on art. Yes, this game uses the Unreal Engine, which is completely top-of-the-line. But compare this game to Homefront, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, Bulletstorm, Gears of War 3, or Borderlands. Some of those games look better than others, but some of them look downright bland. All of them use the same engine as Spec Ops.

specops7.jpg

This is why we don’t need a new generation of even more expensive technology. Most developers haven’t even mastered the tools in front of them. There’s a real danger that throwing them a completely new console generation (which would necessitate a change in engine and art pipeline) would cause them to produce worse art, as the already struggling art team stops working on their craft to struggle with their tools.

I’d be perfectly happy if we could keep the engines we’re using now, but everyone could catch up with the artistry in this game.


202020209There are now 89 comments. Almost a hundred!


  1. Will says:

    I’d say by far one of the most important aspects of Spec Ops is that it tells an interesting story. It’s not a 2 dimensional story about hero democratic space marines defeating the evil nazi aliens with the power of GUNS and MANLINESS. It’s about some men trying to make the best of a completely fucked up situation.

    Sure, the men are soldiers, but that only further serves to contrast with the very human nature of the story. At the end of the game you realise that despite all their macho manliness and cracking jokes under fire, the characters are still only men.

    This allows you to actually relate to the characters, something that is completely impossible with Marcus Super Space Marine No.41. When the characters in Spec Ops make decisions, they’re the kind of decisions a person would make and even though you can see where everything went wrong, you can still empathise, you still care, because you can imagine yourself making those same mistakes in that same situation.

    The other key aspect I think is the way it manages to subvert your expectations. I’d even go so far as to say that Spec Ops wouldn’t be anything like as good as it is if the ‘Bro Shooter’ genre didn’t exist.

    It’s like the creators of Spec Ops realised that the gameplay of ‘Bro Shooters’ was actually pretty damn good and all they really needed to add to the mixture was good art direction, characters that you can relate to and an actual story.

  2. psivamp says:

    I’ve got to say that the distant shot of Dubai does the place some justice — the Navy let me visit there several times. The place is amazing. The overall feel is that the place is freshly built of steel and glass, but there are some souks — markets — and other places where a lower-tone stone architecture prevails.

    As for art direction, that looks pretty good. Contrast that with the recent Battlefield games, with their over use of particle effects to hide the failure of their destructive environments and the lack of contrast throughout, where you couldn’t pick out an enemy from the environment unless they were right on top of you because they were nearly always the same color and brightness as the background.

    • MrWhales says:

      As a future sailor, Dubai is one of the places I really would like to visit. I just had a friend spend a month or two there, and he loved it.

      What is/was your rating?

  3. Hal says:

    “Also, this isn’t the dawn of some strange new “buy me games for posting rights” policy.”

    Ah, so the bribes have to come in some other form now? Hm . . . how do you feel about muffin baskets?

    Also, “creamy-gold” is an odd phrase.

  4. Piflik says:

    I have to say that color/saturation/hue is not really the defining factor. It is a supplement, but the actual thing that makes an image work is value. You can get rid of all the color in these images above, and they still all work. You can paint the sky purple and the faces green and, albeit looking strange, they still work.

    Have a look at this desaturated version of a screenshot above. As you can see, everything is still there. The contrast between the player and the wall, the background behind the glass, the brightness and the darkness. Value alone makes this image work. Color contrast on its own won’t.

    • That is true but also the game apparently makes use of photographic elements– like putting your focus deliberately on your character by making him sharper and crisper than the rest of the image. One of the things that has bothered me in video games for some time is that designers don’t seem to have a sense of how vision and focus work. In those images you get the natural blurring effect that occurs when your eye (or camera) is focused on something in foreground which adds to the whole visual aesthetic and makes things stand out.

      • X2Eliah says:

        I really dislike all these ënforced “natural blurring” and “depth of field” effects, actually. For one, they are always over-emphasized, with a very small range of what you see on screen being non-blurred/washed out. Moreover, there’s the question of how the game can tell where *I* am looking at – if it focuses whatever is in the centre of screen, or where my cursor is, well, that’s pretty rubbish – I look at the entire screen, I don’t turn the camera on every single thing I glance. That’s why we have 15, 17, 21, 23 and even more inches on our screens as opposed to 7 or 10, for the most part. And, of course, artificially induced things like that are superfluous, as the filtering-out needs to occur at the level of human perception, not before that. Not to even mention how intentional blurring and image screwing in games where seeing tiny pixel-details off-centre is important to gameplay (shooters, for example) is just idiotic.

        Yeah, these tricks probably make for better, artsier screenshots. They sure as hell don’t work while playing. For instance, that image with the player character being highlighted.. That’s during a firefight combat. Do players in in-game firefights oggle their own characters, or do they look at enemies and crosshairs and the HUD?. I know I sure don’t want my character’s shiney chest to wash out the things I’m supposedly shooting at.

        • Naota says:

          It’s not just DoF and Motion Blur that can hamstring gameplay when used too liberally either – good old bloom and exposure effects are equally awful despite being mainstays of modern multiplayer shooters. I haven’t met a single gamer who actually enjoys it when an arbitrary and situational artistic effect gets them killed. If it’s part of the gameplay, it should be designed around, balance tested, and accomodated for. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t be in the game.

          Both Tribes: Ascend and Blacklight Retribution have levels where merely glancing in the vague quadrant of the sky shared by the sun will wash out the entire screen behind an impenetrable wall of glare. It’s not uncommon for there to be players in this direction who are freely able to shoot you while you can’t even make out the building they’re standing on, let alone where they’re situated in it. Likewise, I’ve seen deployable mines and sometimes whole turrets completely swallowed up and hidden in the ridiculous bloom from floor lights and conduits in T:A, and had my bright red holographic reticule completely vanish into over-brightened doorways thanks to HDR in Blacklight.

          In a singleplayer game these things might be at least tolerable, but in a multiplayer environment where players have to choose between a pretty game and a fair one, there’s really no excuse at all. Just a single solid playtest would expose all of these issues immediately.

        • zob says:

          I think they work in gameplay situation. When you aim down your sights your character mostly disappears from your view and you focus on what you are shooting. When you get behind cover view focuses on you. I think that’s a deliberate design choice. Total awareness of battlefield would diminish the atmosphere.

        • Well, that’s just the question though isn’t it? If you’re trying to make the game “look good” then the gameplay is going to suffer in some way. If it was all about gameplay, we’d have un-textured hitbox animations, with no character modeling to speak of.

          Actually, I’d be interested in playing that game. “Hitbox Shooter” or something. Only render the collision meshes, hitboxes, etc. forget all the particle effects and other things that don’t affect gameplay.

          But, if that idea doesn’t appeal to you, then I suspect the gameplay isn’t really the issue. Either way, there are a lot of people who want something pretty to look at while playing, which is what the graphics arms race (and this post) is all about.

          • Naota says:

            While there’s always a bit of a conflict between making a game look good and designing it to play as smoothly and easily as possible, I think it’s certainly possible to add visuals which have minimal impact on the core gameplay. There’s a difference (though certainly not an absolute, binary one) between effects which mostly add visual flair and effects which negatively impact gameplay in very obvious ways.

            Having multiple textures, for instance, will of course make enemies harder to distinguish against the changing backdrop, but this usually happens on such a minor level that it’s not a problem which arrests gameplay on its own. Most players are willing to trade a tiny portion of gameplay consistency for a major leap forward in visual quality.

            On the other hand, playing completely blind due to aggressive bloom effects has a major negative influence on the game and actively annoys players in a way they can easily see and understand. It’s slightly prettier… at the cost of being nearly unable to play the game, while also drowning out other visual flair. Quite a few times I’ve seen really interesting backdrops totally lost in the hated bloom-blur-soup which would otherwise have really added to a game’s sense of place.

            • I don’t play FPS but I have tried to shoot targets between myself and the sun, it is much tougher. Light and weather as well as terrain are important factors in battlefield tactics. If a game were going for a realistic feel, I’d feel cheated if the game didn’t capture that.

              • Syal says:

                As long as they also simulate your eyes readjusting to the brightness.

              • Naota says:

                Of course being blinded by glare is a very real problem, but it’s not something conducive to enjoyable gameplay especially in a multiplayer game. It’s the same reason that most FPS games don’t implement systems to simulate weapons jamming or players being taken out of the fight in a single shot (or miraculously living through dozens totally at random the way humans sometimes do). Unless the game values realism well above gameplay and has the dedication to honestly design a game that is not fun or fair to play because the situations it depicts in real life are not fun or fair, it’s never a good idea to simulate things like blinding glare.

                For instance: I used to play in a soccer league for fun. Our games often played out near dusk, and depending on the field one team or the other could be almost completely blinded until the half-time switch (which itself wasn’t fair because the sun would have either gone down or become much worse by this point). The team that got the worst of the glare on certain fields almost always lost. While real, it wasn’t at all fair, and if making an idealized soccer video game that arbitrary glare would be the first thing to go if only for the sake of fair play. To us, soccer was not about sun glare – sun glare was an unwelcome and uncontrolled factor that ruined what might have been good games of soccer.

                So if you’re making a sim which is absolutely faithful to reality above everything, then yes, it makes perfect sense to bring over the blinding, irritating sun glare totally intact. If not, considerations have to be made for the sake of the players and the fairness of the game.

                • MrPyro says:

                  The other consideration (especially in single-player) is whether the light glare effect impairs AI units as well. If it’s purely a graphical thing and the AI ignores it and has perfect vision, that’s bad. If it becomes a game effect where the AI trying to shoot/see into the sun has difficulty as well, then it could be used as an additional tactical element* to give the smart player an advantage.

                  *assuming the gameplay isn’t so linear that you cannot choose direction of attack.

                • Syal says:

                  What was the reasoning for all the dusk games? Was it just that no one was willing to change the schedule?

                  Anyway, yeah I wouldn’t want sun glare in a soccer game, unless the players could also pick the times the game took place; daytime everything goes normally, dawn/dusk one side of the field has trouble seeing, night everyone has trouble seeing all the time.

                  Nearly anything is okay if there’s a strategy available to be used around it, as opposed to it coming down to unpredictability and bad luck.

                  • Naota says:

                    I actually never thought to ask at the time, but given how most of the players were students and most of the coaches had day jobs, I imagine those games were just scheduled around 6:00 to fit everyone’s schedules and travel times. As an element of a more tactical singleplayer game you probably could make the glare into a good strategic variable, but in our case it just boiled down to a pregame coin flip.

                    I always found it funny how since we usually played on school/public property there was an interesting metagame to every field: some had the sun set along the sides, some had it front to back (the worst), some had benches on the sidelines, some had pits worn into the goal area that filled up when it rained, and the height of the grass ranged from “shaved astroturf” to “Vietnam recon mission”. All of these sucked for players in the first person, but would have been great for level variety in a strategy game. We actually ended up kicking a bleached and withered second soccer ball out of the underbrush of one the most overgrown that must have been lurking there for decades.

                    In other words: if the game design accommodates for things like sun glare, it can of course be a good thing. The issue with blurs, blooms, exposure effects, and the like is that they’re often only treated as “visuals” despite having a big impact on the gameplay. If a level is finely balanced as an unlit prototype, of course it’s going to be unfair and irritating if you put a huge blinding sun effect over one side to pretty it up later.

                • Chuck Henebry says:

                  Naota’s thoughts on the difference between what makes games fun and what makes games realistic: very smart. Thank you.

        • Sumanai says:

          I’d say a big part of the problems you’re describing is that they’re not used well. There’s nothing forcing the creators to not “focus” on multiple things, with everything unimportant being blurry, and everything important being sharp. There’s no real lens, so there’s nothing technically stopping them.

          Although I don’t know if the system designed around the effect demands that it works as if it was a real situation and a real camera. Wouldn’t be the first time an unnecessary limitation would’ve been put into place for the sake of “better visuals”.

    • Ro says:

      I think the key is the game’s understanding of the use of silhouettes. If you compare these screenshots to the ones in the previous post, the normal bro-shooters tend to be incredibly cluttered; every surface seems to be designed to be seen at extreme close range. Where as with Spec Ops the scene as a whole seems to have been taken into account to give visual clarity. Taking the screenshot you posted, the wall/rail is a smooth, low key texture, but as a strong silhouette.

      Strong use of silhouettes in place of high render textures like that is a good way of making the visuals in your game timeless. Okami, Half Life 2, POP: The Sands of Time; each of them graphically has been outpaced, but even today have extremely effective visuals.

      Which all goes back to what Shamus was saying in the post about the artists knowing what they were doing.

  5. Jez says:

    My biggest criticism of this game was the way they marketed the bloody thing. For weeks the TF2 server I regularly play on had a trailer for this game in the MOTD, and it just came off like a trailer for Call of Duty, complete with frequent scene shifts and manly voiceovers. They were criminally underselling the game by not capitalising on its rich and confronting story and setting.

    • Felblood says:

      Aye, but it wouldn’t really *work* if they admitted up-front what the game was.

      You don’t expect a 3-card Monte dealer to explain that the red card is in his palm, do you?

  6. Amarsir says:

    For what it’s worth, I’d have preferred to see this written with comparative screenshots of bad examples, for those of us who never bothered to think about it. For example, you mention the wall that “stands out against the center of the room”. I’ve never seen a wall and actively thought “gee, I don’t know where that wall ends” so I just don’t have a comparative vision ready.

    • N/A says:

      There’s a bunch of them in his previous post, The Bro Shooter.

      • link to the article, in case you don’t want to go back a couple posts.

        Note that the examples aren’t super blatant. This is mostly because your brain is likely very good at picking out shapes and identifying objects in the midst of visual noise. In the middle of gameplay and with moving images this gets more difficult. Try squinting until everything is a blur, and then compare the images. Can you still tell approximately what is going on? Can you identify the main shapes or focal points? This technique should make the distinction more obvious.

  7. Tharwen says:

    I think the dual-review thing is an interesting idea, but it might help to have a ‘Shamus:’ or ‘Taliesin:’ at the start of each block. I’m so used to seeing orange boxes on this site that I kept getting halfway through them before realising I should stop imagining it in Shamus’ voice.

  8. MadTinkerer says:

    “Also, this isn’t the dawn of some strange new “buy me games for posting rights” policy.”

    Awwwww, so I don’t get a guest post for buying you Bioshock? ;)

  9. Eärlindor says:

    Halo’s always been a colorful shooter with decent contrast, and #3-onward did some great stuff with lighting too. :)

    Main point: I have really been wanting to play this game. Especially since I heard is based/inspired by Heart if Darkness. The effect was such that I stopped saying “I’ve been meaning to read HoD,” and finally read the darn thing. As soon as I finished reading it, I did a short, literary analysis of themes, symbols, etc. then immediately sat down, watched Apocolypse Now (Redux) for the first time, and compared and contrasted it with the book. I did all that in a single day. My brain was completely hosed by the end of it, but it was great.

    So yeah, Spec Ops: The Line made me do all that…

    Don’t say games never do anything for you folks…

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “I’ve said in the past that from now on, the “graphics race” should forget about pixel shaders and focus on art.”

    It was always true,not just from now on.For example,if you look at the heroes of might and magic franchise you can see that while the game has moved into 3d,and had plenty of graphical improvements,the art is still mostly the best in its 2nd and 3rd installments,which are over 10 years old.In fact,you can see that in movies as well.Some scenes that are decades old are still way superior to cgi scenes of this year.And that is because movies and video games are art,and for art to be beautiful the most important thing is how you use the tools you have,and not how advanced those tools are.Its a shame not many people in the business understand that.

    • Well, according to 2K, you’re completely wrong. In fact, photorealism is the only thing the can help us to invoke emotions. I’m not kidding when I say that someone said that with a straight face.

      http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2012-08-01-games-must-achieve-photorealism-in-order-to-open-up-new-genres-says-2k

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Wow….That…I dont…..Just wow.

      • Irridium says:

        This is so wrong it’s actually causing me pain.

        Just… ARGH! How could anyone even say that and believe it?!

      • Syal says:

        …he really thinks videogames are just animated movies, doesn’t he.

        Although I was impressed by the range of emotions on display in Tetris.

      • Simon Buchan says:

        When I read this earlier, I (perhaps overly charitably!) understood him to mean that there are classes of games that we can’t do with better graphics, his example of Brokeback Mountain implying that he feels gameplay that is dependent on emotional feedback, rather than simply enhanced by the same, requires very high fidelity graphics. I happen to disagree, in that I feel that the Half-Life 2 facial animation system is pretty close to what you would need on the rendering side, and any technical roadblocks remaining are how the heck to implement a ‘fun’ emotional simulation, but he seems to actually be on ‘our’ side, if I’m right. But, of course, I could be wrong, and he could be a total dumbass… that wouldn’t surprise me too much either.

        • The sad part is that even if you give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s clearly wrong. As you noted, you don’t need high fidelity graphics to create emotions.

          I’ll cite Toy Story 3 as my example for why he is wrong.

        • The sad part is that even if you give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s clearly wrong. As you noted, you don’t need high fidelity graphics to create emotions.

          I’ll cite Toy Story 3 as my example for why he is wrong.

          • LunaticFringe says:

            Toy Story 3? I can do one better…how about a book? Does a book generate empathy and ‘deep emotional responses?’. Apparently not because there’s no pretty, realistic images.

            • What is this… book you refer to? I don’t think I know of this emotion generating device. It sounds like a very dangerous tool if in the wrong hands.

              What kind of people produce such artifacts? It seems to me like people who do would be pretty old to remember such archaic techniques.

              Wow. Even I think this troll is going overboard.

      • Kdansky says:

        Not only does he completely ignore many great games, some of which are just old and ugly, some of which have always been about abstract shapes and concepts, but he also disrespects all of Anime, Cartoons, the complete Black&White era, every single book ever written, and if we want to be hypercritical, even music and theatre.

        After all, none of those media have even remotely “realistic graphics”.

        That’s so dumb, he should be fired. With a cannon. Into space.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        But do you know whats the biggest problem with that there?That the majority of consumers think the same.So not only are the people producing games idiots,but they dont even have the incentive to stop and think about it.I still am horrified the most by a customer review of fallout 3 that gave it high scores for story,gameplay,sound,but 1/10 for graphics,because it was a 1 year old engine.

      • decius says:

        Counterpoint: FF5, around the middle of the ‘prologue’ section. The line delivered (in text) is “but there must be a way” and the music introduces and sells the hope/wind/life motif.

        Best youtube-fu is a let’s play with a constant voiceover. 2:50 on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaqAk6sh1_8

        • Shamus says:

          That’s basically true: People do buy me games now & again, and I end up reviewing them as a result. I don’t make it official. A couple of years ago I made the mistake of publishing my wishlist and wound up with more games than I could hope to play. So now only the really dedicated are able to puzzle it out.

  11. Gamercow says:

    A shooter that comes to my mind that had great color and contrast was Rainbow Six Vegas. Lots of popping reds and greens against beige backgrounds. Of course, everything had lens flare, but it was another, simpler time.

    • Alphadrop says:

      I didn’t mind the lens flares of Vegas, they helped with the over the top Tom Clancy feel the games had.
      Also the Vegas games use seeing things as a game mechanic (more so in the first one as I barely used vision goggles in the second)so it being a bugger to see wasn’t such a bad thing.

  12. Dreadjaws says:

    This is one game that everyone touts as great but with poor marketing. I actually decided to try the demo after seeing an interview on IGN (yeah, yeah, I know, don’t judge me) and I was surprised by how different the game felt, despite having nothing really new in terms of gameplay.

    It was all about the design choices. Granted, the demo didn’t have much in terms of story (though I get the feeling it did ruin part of the story to me, in their decision of having no-consecutive levels to play), but what it had felt interesting and compelling, and the visuals went a long way in selling this to me.

    Now, if I hadn’t spent all my damn money in Steam’s Summer Sale…

  13. Littlefinger says:

    Hey people, unlike some people here, if you give me games I’ll totally post commentary on them.

    (agreement does not include minimal post length. may cause cancer)

  14. Adam Jensen says:

    Damn, I kinda regret not picking this up when it was $25 on Amazon now. But there’s always the Christmas sale.

    I actually kinda like the teal and orange visual aesthetic, although I agree that it’s overused in film. It seems to work well here, though.

    • Syal says:

      I didn’t mind it until I saw Iron Man 2 and how they tried to orangify Don Cheadle. It doesn’t work if a movie has a black actor and you have to wonder how many won’t be cast because the color scheme won’t work.

  15. Meredith says:

    You’ve made me want to try this game. Off to Steam…

  16. Leviathan902 says:

    I REALLY wanted to buy this game back when Amazon had it on sale for 50% off last month, but for some reason the demo ran like absolute crap on my new system (3rd gen core i7, 8GB ram, 2gb Geforce GTX 660m) even on the lowest settings.

    There’s some bug on the PC version I read about that causes horrendous frame rates every time you start the game. Buyer beware is what I’m saying I guess.

    • pneuma08 says:

      The Steam version worked perfectly on max settings for my couple-year-old PC (Sandy Bridge i5 3.1 GHz, 8GB DDR3 1600, 1GB GTX 460). I know my lack of problems doesn’t invalidate your or others’ problems, but I wonder what the more common occurrence is.

    • Kdansky says:

      My machine which is far slower than yours* runs it fine. Deactivate V-Sync if you want to be able to move your cursor.

      *Core-2 and an ATI HD49xx.

    • Tse says:

      Holy shit! What do you use this PC for? Maya/3DSmax/Blender?

      P.S. On second thought, 8 gigs of RAM is not enough for quality 3D vizualisation. I have 8 gigs and I can’t do displacement on large objects because everything grinds to a halt when the RAM runs out…

  17. Rick says:

    The format of two authors worked pretty well… It didn’t flow quite like I thought it would but still turned out to be very good to read.

    Also, I’d seen a lot of promo stuff for this game but had unfairly dismissed it as another forgettable shooter. Looks like I’ll be grabbing it next time I have a free weekend.

  18. LintMan says:

    This does look better than the typical “brown” shooter, where evrything seems washed in varying shades of brown and it becomes hard to tell the players from the background.

    But the orange/teal thing is still just an annoying unnecessary gimmick (as shown by Piflik’s desaturated version).

    My real question, though, is “What’s with all that haze”? Has the fog rolled in to Dubai? Between that and having things 10 feet in front of you being blurred/out of focus would leave my eyes watering 15 minutes into this game. When I’m playing games like this, the last thing I’m looking at most of the time is my character. I really don’t want to have to fight the haze and blur to pick out the enemies.

    • Klay F. says:

      The city is being wracked by sandstorms. That is what’s happening in the fifth image. In the other outdoor images, its still dust. The majority of the time, its just in the background and doesn’t affect your eyesight, the other times… well, you should probably just find out for yourself. :)

  19. TSi says:

    For me, the game broke right in the beginning when the first gunfight started.
    I mean, they say right at the start of the first level that the objective is to search the area and retreat if they ever found survivors but no, Once your find the first armed people and start to communicate with them, one team mate tells you to shoot the bus above them ?! WTF ?? I was like “yeah, right, more stupid berserk dumbass that shoot first and negotiate later !”
    I didn’t get it and the rest of the demo just felt like any other game of the genre with the same amount of American war movie clichés.

    I hope you’re review will shine some more light as the art direction just isn’t enough for me to turn it into a good game. I saw some reviews but none gave enough reasons to spend money on it.

    • pneuma08 says:

      The guy actually says, “Look, negotiations aren’t going well. If things go sour we can dump the sand from that truck on them, might give us the advantage.” Also of context is that they have the higher ground and more guns trained on you. It’s actually up to YOU, the player, to either hear them out or shoot first and ask questions later.

      The game likes to throw these choices at you. Later on in the game, there are a few places where the dichotomies become obvious. Sometimes the game is even so subtle that it doesn’t even spell out the choices you have.

      • TSi says:

        I see. The thing is that I played it in French and the dialogues are slightly different but the main problem is still there. One of your mates is trying to talk in their native language while you and the other don’t even make any effort to not seem a threat (and negotiations are supposed to last more than a few seconds before declaring them pointless XD ) . You’re there to look for survivors and the first ones you meet, you are forced to kill… What is this supposed to say about the rest of the scenario or characters ? Maybe they should have made a demo out of the latter levels ?

        One of the ‘survivors’ says something like “they are planing something, kill them” and then the shooting starts just as easily as that. I don’t see where the choice is and what difference it would make if you shoot first, wait for your team-mates to do the job or shoot the bus windows.

        Again, it was a demo, so I understand the branchings only occur later.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its hard to put the context on that scene without including spoilers,but it does make sense later on.And the thing is,the protagonist does act like the stereotypical gung-ho jerk of other war games,HOWEVER,the game paints that in the negative light instead of glorifying it.

          Also,the branching paths here dont really affect the game that much,but they do affect you.For example,if you shoot the civilians when you get the chance,you wont be punished in game.But you will be shown that you did a terrible thing there.Of course,it may not phase you,because those are pixels after all,but it is a good step forward for the immersion when the reward/punishment for your actions cant be meta-gamed.

        • pneuma08 says:

          The game itself doesn’t really draw a distinction (well, TBH the game doesn’t draw many distinctions at all, which is kind of the point since modern action games don’t make the distinctions either), but the difference between killing someone who is actively trying to kill you, and killing someone who might want to kill you is very significant. I mean, here in real life, that’s the difference between self-defense and murder in the second degree.

  20. JPH says:

    Man, stuff like this makes me feel like I should have bought the game by now, but I played the demo and felt terribly underwhelmed. And I can’t afford to buy many games at $40+.

    On another note, this whole guest star conversation-style review is pretty cool. I remember Campster doing the same thing with HyperBitHero for his Resident Evil 5 video, that worked as well.

    It’d be cool if this happened every now and again. You know, some regular commentator could join in to add to the reviewing process… Ideally someone who does writing of his own, and maybe has also joined in Ventrilo shenanigans at one or more times… You know, just a thought…

    (Shit, I can’t afford to buy gifts. Anybody spare some cash?)

    • Klay F. says:

      Its important to note that this game is not trying to be some rip-roaring good time, day-at-the-beach type game. If you go in expecting happy fun shooty times, you will leave disappointed. What the gameplay does, is serve the theme, and it does so admirably. There is no ludo-narrative dissonance here.

      • JPH says:

        I didn’t go in expecting happy fun shooty times. I just went in expecting something to engage me or captivate me in some way, and that never happened.

        Perhaps the problem is that the demo didn’t give me enough time with the narrative to become invested in it.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          The problem is that the game uses cliche gameplay to lull you into false sense of security before it hits you with the harder stuff.I usually dont condone games that “get better later”,but in this case that made it work.The problem with a demo for such a game,however,is that you dont see the later.

          I too was unimpressed by the demo.What started impressing me at first were the collectibles.And later on,even gameplay becomes impressive.Yes its the same old cover shooter with health regen and two companions.But,what separates it from other similar games is that the story is being told through the gameplay,not just through the cutscenes.For example:You get a choice between rescuing guy A or guy B.But instead of a dialogue choice or whatever,you pick by going to the location of your choice and actually saving the guy you want to save.And what you chose gets reflected on by the people around you.Like Ive said before,small detail,but crucial to the overall experience.

          • pneuma08 says:

            It’s true, and it really sucks that the demo is all setup and no delivery. I imagine it’s pretty hard to do a proper demo for Spec Ops, since the delivery without the setup would have its own problems. Probably the best way to do give a proper taste of the game is to make a little mini-story with its own arc and run through that, but that would take a crazy amount of resources and would be really hard to do without spoiling things…

            Anyway, I was also put off by the value (eventually caving in and buying the 2K bundle that was part of the summer sale), but really this is the type of game those of us who care about the artistic potential of games should be throwing their support behind. I know I want to send a message about how this game is pushing what the medium can do, and how we should get more of that!

    • Jarenth says:

      While I fully agree with this statement, I’m busy with work and writing as it is.

  21. neon_goggles says:

    The two author format works well. it reminds me of The R.P.G net review of F.A.T.A.L.
    I hope you make more like this.

  22. PAK says:

    Shamus, I imagine you already read this, but Rossignol’s comments in this article seem pertinent: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/08/02/photorealism-and-the-confusing-myths-of-innovation/#more-118490

  23. ccesarano says:

    I really wish I got to read this earlier, but I don’t have the time to read all the comments and participate in the discussions already at hand. So if I’m repeating, I apologize.

    Something I loved about the art direction was the attempt to make the cover out of objects that you’d expect to find in that scenario. The scene with the crashed plane? A bunch of seats that broke off/out and hit the ground while crashing. Or cargo that fell out. Or even whole chunks of the plane’s wing. That restaurant above? Those red chairs are the cover.

    It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than Gears of War where they basically built one type of chest-high wall for each environment and then found excuses to put those same-looking walls all over the place.

    They really, REALLY wanted to keep you from merely thinking “look at me, I’m playing a video game” in an effort to immerse you as best as possible, a necessity considering some of their loftier goals later that would be much more effective if you had that deep connection with the actions and events going on in the game.

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