Spec Ops: The Line: The Thematic Ambush

 By Shamus Aug 3, 2012 220 comments

splash_spec_ops.jpg

Some games are famous for their gameplay. Or their artwork. Or a big plot twist. This game might be the first one where the big selling point is the theme. Spec Ops asks the question: What would happen if your typical action-game badass lived in a world with consequences?

Think about it. Yes, the answer is obvious, but it’s still something to behold.

I would encourage you to go into the game cold, without reading this post. I can’t talk about how well this works without revealing some of the tricks it uses, and those are better if you’re surprised. Some people (Reader Krellen says this a lot) point out that spoiling stories can be good. However, I’m not talking about spoiling the story. I’m talking about the way the game uses the genre itself against you, something which is conveyed mostly in gameplay mechanics.

In this post I’m not doing story spoilers, but thematic and mechanical spoilers. From this point on. As before, white text is me. Text in gold boxes is Taliesin.

specops_story5.jpg

Actually, before I talk about the thematic stuff, I want to nitpick the way the story presents the storm. The game takes place in the city of Dubai, where a record-breaking sandstorm has buried the city up to the tops of buildings. The American 33rd infantry was sent in to help with the evacuation of the civilian populace, and they didn’t report back. Now the city is hosed and your three-man team is sent in to find out what happened.

Game designers: You guys understand that a sandstorm isn’t like a snowstorm, right? It doesn’t MAKE sand. This is like a wind storm causing snow drifts that bury buildings. I get that we need a crisis and a natural barrier around the city to make this story work, but I don’t think it needed to be quite this deep.

Minor point, but it kind of bugged me.

specops_story6.jpg

The opening credits welcome you to the game using your screen name, which can be really powerful once you know how things turn out.

Spec Ops pulls a trick on you. It gives you objectives that should be obviously stupid, morally questionable, or needlessly dangerous. Then when you complete the goal it reveals what an awful idea it was and shows how you’ve just made things worse. The player might cry, “That’s not fair!” In fact, they probably will. I did.

But assuming you’ve played more than one of these games, then this isn’t the first time you’ve committed a possible war crime. It’s just the first time it had any consequences. This isn’t the first time you’ve followed the on-screen prompts to do something blisteringly stupid. It’s just the first time you’ve done it where the writers aren’t helping you.

In this way Spec Ops: The Line is a critique of the entire genre.

Also, and this is absolutely crucial, your decisions are rarely dumb. Even looking back, I struggle to think of any alternate choices I could have made that would have ‘solved’ the problem. There are points in the game where a different decision might have made things turn out for the better, but they rely on future knowledge, or on your character possessing talents that would be wildly out of place for a Delta Force operative; I’ll talk about one of them in the next post.

This is critical. If the narrative calls for the players avatar to make a bad decision, and the player can, at the time, just say, “but why don’t I just do X instead? That would be a reasonable course of action, and it would avoid all these horrible consequences easily!” then immersion and narrative falls apart. That doesn’t happen here. The game presents you with an awful situation where there just isn’t a perfect solution. Somebody on the writing team really had their eye on the ball with this one.

I actually think the main character makes some pretty obviously dumb moves, but we’ll talk about that in the final post.

Early on, there’s even a bit where you get a context-sensitive prompt to kill someone who is wounded and out of the fight. The prompt even calls this action EXECUTE.

To be scrupulously correct, the first time it turns up the target is only stunned. If you wait more than a few seconds, they’ll stand up and begin shooting. Subsequent occasions will almost always involve wounded enemies who will do nothing more than bleed out if left alone… Unless the player makes a habit of charging through gunfire and bludgeoning enemies to the ground. This is, eheh, inadvisable.

specops_story2.jpg

I was like, “Wait. Isn’t that a war crime? You don’t just go around shooting the wounded!”

Which is true. But the game never makes you kill these guys. It just offers the option. In passing, as it were. Oh by the way, this human being can be effortlessly murdered if you’re of a mind. I’m not here to judge, I’m just saying. I’m sure you know what you’re doing. I mean, you’d have to.

You DO know what you’re doing, don’t you?

The first time through, this feels like it’s just a generic attempt at badassery gone wrong. The second time through the game, you begin to see how this is just part of the setup.

specops_story1.jpg

The thing that makes the game smart and subversive is that these disastrous actions are lifted straight from the bro-shooter playbook. Unfortunately, you can’t get a sense of where the game is coming from just by playing the demo.

I’m very reluctant to say “the game gets better later”. I remember people telling me that about BioShock, and that didn’t end well. But I will say that I really didn’t think much of Spec Ops in the first hour. It looked like a big dumb shooter. By the end I was sold. This isn’t a case of a game having a weak first act. The first act needed to play out like a big dumb shooter in order for the payoff at the end to work. The game hides its true nature behind the tropes of the genre, so that you’re able to settle in to the role of the Big American Hero.

To stress the necessity of this section, I’d like to point that I don’t actually play modern shooters. I played the first Modern Warfare some time after it came out when I re-watched Yahtzee’s review, and I picked up Battlefield 2 for the Warhammer 40k mod, but that’s the sum total of my experience with the genre. I have no familiarity with the “bro-shooter playbook” or the expectations that come with it, and even if I had, if Spec Ops had dived straight into the subversion from the get-go, I feel it would have fallen flat. You can’t subvert expectations without assuring that those expectations are there in the first place.

In the first act I disliked the main character and his tendency to shoot the locals, disobey orders, and make wild assumptions about what was going on. No, I actually wasn’t annoyed with the character, I was annoyed with the game for presenting this dumb course of action as a heroic one. The payoff came later when it turned out I was right, and the game agreed with me.

I can’t promise that the game will work for you, and I’ve never been one for consumer advice. And no matter how much I love this game, we’re talking about a five-hour shooter with a $50 to $60 price tag. That’s a tough sell. However, if you’re put off by the dumb-dumb behavior in the demo, then you might be exactly the sort of person to enjoy Spec Ops: I Hate Subtitles. I can’t promise that it will get better, but I can promise it will feel like a very different game later on. (Excepting the shooting mechanics.)

I’m going to have one more post that will be a little more spoiler-centric.

A Hundred!A Hundred!20220 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?


  1. ToastyVirus says:

    The thing is though, the shooting mechanics are actually pretty good. They just felt nice and made the action feel satisfying, which in turn makes you feel more horrible when it comes to the endgame.

    • Sagretti says:

      Just from playing the demo, I saw at least one mechanic that fit into the theme perfectly. While I’m not sure the exact trigger, when I made headshots or certain good shots, the action would slow for half a second. Gameplay wise, this had the effect of helping me make my next shot quicker, as well as showing off the gore I just created.

      In most games this would be a way of rewarding the player for accuracy, but considering Spec Ops story and themes, suddenly you’re forced to contemplate for a moment that you’ve just obliterated somebody’s skull.

      • pneuma08 says:

        Yes, exactly. In most games the gore would be given like a little reward for doing well. In Spec Ops, though, I don’t know if it’s the way the gore was handled or just a result of the atmosphere, but headshots just feel different. Seeing them just made me flinch ever so slightly…

    • somebodys_kid says:

      I found the shooting mechanics to be a bit heavy and ponderous rather than smooth and light. That may be deliberate, but I prefer smooth and light. I’m only on Chapter 5 though…

  2. Eärlindor says:

    Daggummit. I want to read this, and I’ve read Heart of Darkness, and seen Apocolypse Now, but I’m not sure if I should spoil it. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to pick up the game.

  3. TSi says:

    OK so I stopped reading after the first golden box. I think I’ll trust you and try it out before coming back. : )

  4. rofltehcat says:

    Hm… sounds interesting… for 5 hours I won’t buy it though. Yeah, I’m a cheapskate so I live off 10€ Steam deals.
    The price you mentioned isn’t exactly the cheapest deal you can get though (wait, stick with me). There are websites that resell the (steam) keys from other countries. The site I sometimes get games from when I’m not as cheap as normally currently has the game for 19.99€ or ~$25…. damn, now I’m tempted even more to buy that thing :(

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      This is pretty much my take: $60 for a game which will make me feel bad and then mock me for it. Yeah…

      Does Blockbuster still exist?

      • Catiff says:

        No, but GameFly does. It’s like Netflix for games.

      • thebigJ_A says:

        It doesn’t mock you. It makes you think.

        Also, yes, Gamefly. That’s how I’m playing it atm.

        • Klay F. says:

          Actually I disagree. It just depends on who you are. If you are someone who regularly plays bro-shooters, and you tacitly accept the whole “HURRAH VIOLENCE!” shtick that they have going on, then yes, I think the game actually is mocking those people, while simultaneously asking, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

          As proof of this, I can provide any number of loading screen messages.

  5. zob says:

    I think choosing Nolan North for the lead was a brilliant decision. He has that “huh that guy again” quality to sell the bro shooter intro and he is a talented voice actor to show us how much change going on in our leads head.

  6. Stash Augustine says:

    Minor note: Executions do have an effect on gameplay. When you kill someone on the ground, you get ammo for whatever weapons you have rather than what they’re carrying. This makes it possible to use weapons that the enemy isn’t currently using. Didn’t bother me too much at first, partly because I did run around randomly punching people.
    Then later on, when Walker starts going nuts with the executions, it felt really bad. I was thinking, “well, I really need this rare ammo, but to get it I have to watch Walker savage this wounded person.”

    • Mephane says:

      Ouch. That mechanic sounds retarded in and of itself*, but combined with the ethical conundrum it is tied to, it is just plain wrong.

      • lasslisa says:

        I feel conflicted about that sort of mechanism. I really can’t stand it when games force you to not take them seriously (“My team has been captured and may be killed any minute! Before I go rescue them, let me search every locker in this hallway for loot!”) so I like the fact that this game makes the conflict be something internal to you and not just something you can shrug off. People benefit from doing the wrong thing all the time.

        On the other hand, I know people who are extremely talented at ignoring all plot and subtext in games, in favor of whatever meta-gaming strategy and optimization lets them ‘win’ (get all the achievements, dominate the multiplayer, etc). And I have a feeling that they will entirely miss/ignore the internal conflict you’re supposed to have, and just go around shooting everyone for the ammo because “If the developers didn’t want you to do it, they wouldn’t reward you for it”.

        • Deadpool says:

          Actually, I think in giving you an incentive, they are helping the point. Is a few more bullets of weapon you like REALLY worth the life of a human being? The fact that the executions seem to get bloodier and more violent as the game goes on just helps that point…

  7. shlominus says:

    This is critical. If the narrative calls for the players avatar to make a bad decision, and the player can, at the time, just say, “but why don’t I just do X instead? That would be a reasonable course of action, and it would avoid all these horrible consequences easily!” then immersion and narrative falls apart.

    well, for me it was exactly the other way around. several times i thought “this is stupid (not mad, stupid) well before seeing the consequences of the following actions and this broke immersion for me totally (actually the explanation at the end made even more stuff seem stupid). i was just hitching a ride, “watching” the game instead of playing it. the narrative didn’t convince me in the end and i would have preferred to really be able to choose different courses of action a few times and being presented with terrible consequences of MY choices (raid the water supply? wtf?!). that’s what i expected of the game, but it didn’t deliver. i just got to watch a story. it never feel like my story.

    this game has a lot of potential and a few great moments. i like the “idea”. crossbreed it with a deus ex-like game and you’d have a winner.

    • Keeshhound says:

      That’s just it though: You can’t give the player a choice and still be deconstructing the bro shooter. You don’t get to decide if you’re going to go back into the city before the nuclear strike in Modern Warfare, and you don’t get the option to not chase after the bullion in Bad Company.

      Bro shooter storylines always have you do something stupid, but it all turns out ok and the game congratulates you for it because that’s how the genre works. So Spec Ops makes you do something stupid, and then says no, it doesn’t turn out ok when you do stupid shit like that, and you’re an idiot if you thought it would.

      It might not have been executed as elegantly as it could have been, but providing the player with choice would have undercut the whole point of the game.

      • shlominus says:

        you got a point. i dont usually play “bro”-shooters, so maybe thats why it didnt work for me.

        • Klay F. says:

          Yeah, in games such as Modern Warfare or Bad Company, you routinely make equally retarded/monstrous decisions…or rather your squad-mates make retarded/monstrous decisions for you, and such decisions never have consequences.

      • SleepingDragon says:

        I’m sort of curious what’s the response to this from the core of the broshooter playing crowd since it does feel like a bit of bait and switch. I know I pretty much ignored the game from the moment I saw the boxart because hey, another soldiery brownish quasirealistic shooter (still not planning on playing it but from these description I’m finding the subversion of the shooter tropes interesting), and I assume it might have had the opposite effect for some people.

        • lasslisa says:

          Yeah, I know folks who totally ignore plot/subtext and only care about the “achievement” side of gaming (Have I figured out how to use every weapon to exact optimal efficiency?) and I’m feeling like they would miss the point entirely.

          Or, in my case, probably hate it for punishing me for following the rules (i.e. doing what the game told me to).

  8. swenson says:

    Okay, you guys are coming seriously close to convincing me to play this now. Last post will probably spoil story, right?

    …maybe I’d better just go buy and play the thing. I don’t have anything to do tomorrow, after all…

    • Mephane says:

      I felt the same way until Shamus mentioned the relation between the price tag and its duration. No way am I going to pay 50 bucks for an afternoon playthrough with possibly little replayability, especially when good bargains of games that offer a lot of entertainment are often available at steam or other places (e.g. SR3, 20 bucks, 125 hours of delicious gaming so far, heh).

  9. StranaMente says:

    The execute mechanic has even more to it.
    If you just shoot the guy from afar, or let him bleed, it gives you less or no ammo (grenades and stuff). If you choose to execute him, you will get more stuff.
    So the choice is on you. Do you really want more ammo? At what price?
    And quite often you may run out of ammo and need to down and execute an enemy just to get a bit more ammo or grenades so that’s how far just this mechanic alone can already push the concept.

    Also, before you go on into the analysis, I suggest you to read this article, if you already haven’t: link. It contains major spoilers but it’s fundamental to fully understand some parts, especially the part where you use the phosforus mortar.

    P.s.: also I think that spoilers may severely ruin your fun, you can’t unsee things, so let’s leave that as a choice to each one.

  10. LintMan says:

    I’m a bit confused. Shamus says that the game gives you dubious, stupid, morally questionable objectives bordering on war crimes (which I presume you’re forced to complete), but Taliesin states that your decisions aren’t dumb and couldn’t be improved unless you had knowledge of the future outcome or unlikely special talents.

    These two things don’t seem to jibe to me. You should know whether or not a decision is morally dubious or a war crime, whether or not you know the future outcome. The core of the ethics question is in the action/choice itself, not in some upredictble future consequence of it.

    If you load a bunch of civilians on a truck to escape some fighting, but the truck hits a mine and they all die, that was still an ethical action on your part regardless of the unfortunate result. If you fire a rocket at a fleeing civilian truck to destroy it, but instead miss and instead destroy an enemy tank that was also shooting at the civilian truck, so the civilians end up escaping, then your action was still unethical despite the positive outcome.

    • TSi says:

      I agree totally. But I think that what Taliesin said wasn’t mostly about moral choices but soldier skills and way of thinking. Anyway, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re still following a storyline… I wonder if the word Line has any importance… I’m probably gonna play it this week-end and i’ll see.

    • Stash Augustine says:

      Erm, trying not to spoil anything. There are several points in the game where the characters decide to do things that are morally dubious because they need to complete an objective. Sometimes, the actions are already morally iffy and then go into full-on bad territory because you didn’t really know what was going on. In other cases there might be alternate solutions, which can be thought of by a calm, sane, well-adjusted player who can pause and think about it, but not by a traumatized, desperate, wounded D-boy who’s in way over his head.

      EDIT: An example of the first would be: you’ve got a prisoner, but you’re out of supplies, so you’re forced to execute him. Then it turns out he was innocent. An already bad situation becomes flat-out evil. An example of the second would be: blowing up a building with a mix of enemy troops and civilians when one could, say, smoke them out. We may think of it, but Walker can’t.

    • Shamus says:

      Tal and I simply disagree on this point.

      Althought to be fair, the dumb decision you make are dumb decisions that ALL heroes make. For example: Disobeying orders or failing to seek new orders when the situation changes.

      • N/A says:

        I get the feeling we’ll be discussing this side of things quite fully in the next post.

        For my part (N/A = Taliesin), it’s my opinion that Stash is right on the money. Walker and co are trying to do the right thing, but their training and outlook on life makes them ill-equipped to make it work. They’re quite smart when you look at things from their perspective, but they’re desperate, low on options and possessed of a very particular set of skills.

        Smart people are fully capable of making bad decisions. The worst part is, they tend to follow through on those choices with startling efficiency. It doesn’t make the decision dumb, and it definitely doesn’t make them dumb. Sometimes you’re missing some vital bit of information, sometimes you get duped, sometimes you’ve got the wrong expectations…

        • shlominus says:

          they are quite smart? they are a recon unit and not once do they try to get any info about whats going on around them…

          • N/A says:

            Sure they do. The whole quest to find Konrad is ostensibly because Walker is certain his old commander will be able to explain what’s going on. They searched for Gould for the same reason.

            They were probably about to get info from McPhearson before the ambush.

        • Skillsets and, I dunno how to put it, habits of thought can be as important as innate brains to decision-making. As an early Dilbert put it “The right approach to any given problem is always, by an amazing co-incidence, the only approach you know.” When all you have is a hammer etc.
          The illustration has a finance guy explaining how this situation is a classic application of the something-or-other cash-flow analysis.
          Then the engineers say, no, we need to build a database.
          The scruffy union-ish-looking guy says we just need to kick a few hineys, that’s all.
          And the porcupine proclaims “Listen to me, people! We must prick them with quills, it is the only way!”

    • N/A says:

      For the most part, I agree with you. The military has a fairly clear opinion on this; the decisions of soldiers and officers must be judged according to the information they had. “I made the best call I could with what I knew, and then factors beyond my knowledge turned it into a clusterfuck” IS a valid defense.

      Where Spec Ops: The Line shines is in presenting you with situations where there is NO right choice. You’re picking between various flavours of awful, and have to try and make the best of it.

    • Jay says:

      Lintman, I know this is may be a bit of a shock, but dubious, stupid, morally questionable, arguably criminal, and mandatory mission objectives are pretty much how the military actually works.

      • drkeiscool says:

        What? How does the military run on dubious, stupid, morally questionable, and arguably criminal mission objectives? Assuming your talking about the US military, the modern conflicts we’ve entered may not have been justified, but you can’t just sweep an entire organization, and the people serving in it, under such labels.

        • decius says:

          I’m not sweeping the entire organization under the same brush.

          I can say that in a very safe environment, I was given a direct order to perform a dubious, stupid, unarguably illegal, personally dangerous, and absolutely mandatory task, and the primary interest of the NCOs involved was making sure that the officers had plausible deniability. For their part, the officers maintained plausible deniability; even if there were someone willing to investigate claims of abuse, they all had something specific that they were doing somewhere else during the entire time that I was doing non-permitted confined space entry.

          They typically couldn’t prove what they were doing during most working hours, however- it was only when something dodgy was going down that they documented exactly why they couldn’t be directly supervising anywhere near the activity in question.

          The people who refuse to live in such a society don’t extend their enlistments, and so they don’t ever get to be in a position where they can change it.

        • zob says:

          You should brush up on your history. There’s nothing honorable about war nor a way to win honorably. It’ll always be morally questionable and arguably criminal.

        • Jay says:

          First off, I should clarify that I’m talking about actual war situations, and mainly counterinsurgency. Some soldiers get stuck guarding a shed in Idaho or Germany, and that’s boring but generally OK.

          The major fact of counterinsurgency is that we simply can’t distinguish between friend and enemy with any reliability. The enemy does not generally have this problem, at least in regard to Americans. As a result, we spend a lot of time shooting the wrong people, training the wrong people, and trying to get information out of the wrong people.

          • drkeiscool says:

            Ah, that makes more sense to me. I would think it’s morally gray. There are people out there who want to kill us, and we need to get them to keep ourselves safe; but because they hide behind civilians who don’t want to be involved, we risk hurting the kind of people we are trying protect.

            It seemed much more black and white back in WWII, but even then we sided with Stalin. War is just never easy, is it?

            • Jay says:

              I would call it a fairly dark gray; the damage that we’ve done in Iraq and Afghanistan is far out of proportion to the threat they posed to us. I consider the failure here to be strategic, in other words a failure of the brass and the politicians rather than the grunts.

              Getting back to the topic, I hear that in Spec Ops: the Line there are several occasions that someone initially looks like a threat, the player kills that person or group, and it later turns out that they were innocent bystanders. Reports from Iraq and Afghanistan indicate that this sort of thing happens extremely frequently, probably more often than not.

    • Syal says:

      Ethical/unethical is not the same as smart/dumb.

  11. Rick C says:

    Having not played this game, I don’t know how deep the sandstorm buries buildings, but there’s a LOT of sand in that part of the world, and a big sandstorm COULD bury small buildings. Just here in the US, this happens every once in a while:
    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/in-for-a-doozy-severe-oregon-sandstorms-come-early-burying-homes/

    • Jabrwock says:

      If you look at the pictures and videos in the article though, the storm piled up sand next to houses, and filled up their yards, but didn’t BURY the buildings up to their tops as the narrative for SO:TL is trying to imply. That involves a LOT more sand.

      Now look at this screenshot.

      http://gamereuphoriacom.ultranerds.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Spec_Ops_The_Line_2.jpg

      That is a HUGE amount of sand. And it’s not just a dune that is as tall as the buildings (which would be possible, dunes can get quite tall). It’s GROUND LEVEL that is now as high as the buildings.

      A bit much to buy.

      Inner city screenshots seem more believable. 2-story piles of sand, half-buried vehicles, drifts, etc.

      • N/A says:

        It almost looks like an earthquake was involved. Maybe that would explain it?

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Yup.Dubai couldve sunk,or maybe the neighboring land rose.

          • Jabrwock says:

            http://www.specopstheline.com/us/#info

            Ravaged by cataclysmic sandstorms, THE CITY LIES BURIED, reclaimed by the desert. Abandoned, it has become a no-man’s-land for refugees and outlaws. While most people fled the now-barren wasteland, U.S. Army Colonel John Konrad and the 33rd Infantry remained behind to PROTECT THOSE INCAPABLE OF ESCAPE.

            Caps are the marketers’, not mine. This is from their “about the game” page.

            • N/A says:

              Huh, guess not. Okay, chalk it up to artistic license and/or plothole, I guess.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Yes,but that says nothing about the altitude of the surrounding lands.If the relative altitude changed,or is different already,dubai could easily get burried by the shifting sands.

              • Jakale says:

                For that same reason, I think it could be reasonably assumed that the designers didn’t take that into account. Presently, Dubai is a coastal city so liquefaction sinking the buildings might’ve been a decent excuse, but it is probably out since Dubai sits in a nice stable area far away (124+ miles) from any fault zones. If there’s big seismic activity at Dubai, then the entire Arabian Peninsula is taking a huge blow. For the same reason, sudden uplift of landmasses, like the Colorado Plateau or some new mountain ranges, are unlikely in any modern setting. So we’re stuck at about sea level.
                Dubai does have a mountain range relatively close, but still far away enough that it wouldn’t be much of a wall for our sand plateau.

                Looking around, I found this. So that’s a 2.4 mile cube of sand, which would cover 23 square miles with 525 feet of sand. Thing is, the city area of Dubai is roughly 500 square miles and they’ve been on a skyscraper building frenzy for 10 years or so. It has near 90 finished skyscrapers over 591 feet tall. To be fair, the local desert has dunes up to 800 feet, but that’s still dune shaped, not flat and still leaves 30 or so skyscrapers above sand level, though we can see what might be downtown Dubai’s skyline relatively unmarred.

                So to get both the flat top skyscraper edge canyon and the more normal “just piled around the base” shots we’re looking at both absolutely massive quantities of sand and weird piling tendencies without the aid of significant seismic activity.

      • ps238principal says:

        I don’t think you realize how this could have happened. Ahem…

        “THIS… IS NO ORDINARY STORM!”

  12. Joshua says:

    I’m not likely to play this game ever in any case, but is the name “The Line” supposed to refer to “crossing the line”?

    • Stash Augustine says:

      Probably, I don’t remember anyone mentioning a line in the game.

    • shlominus says:

      very likely.

    • Piflik says:

      At least in one of the trailers, the someone says ‘There’s a line men like us have to cross’, don’t know if it’s from the game, though, or just promotional material.

    • Jace911 says:

      There’s a moment where one of your squadmates is mobbed by a group of angry locals and hanged just before you can reach him; you can choose to run from the angry crowd or gun them down to continue forward. If you shoot them you get an achievement called “A Line Crossed” or something similar.

      • Klay F. says:

        Also you can fire your weapon into the air or punch a civilian to get them to run away.

        • Jace911 says:

          See I never even thought of that; I was just so pissed about Lugo dying that I tried to force my way through the crowd, got pushed back, and said “screw this”.

          This game is really good at pushing you into tunnel vision and hiding the choices from you. Whereas if this game was made by, say, BIOWARE every fork in the road would be wrapped in glowing neon police tape with the town crier announcing your potential choices to the world.

  13. noneofcon says:

    There is a WH 40k for battlefield 2? How is it?

  14. paercebal says:

    I would encourage you to go into the game cold, without reading this post.

    Last time I read something like that on a game, I did continue to read, and it spoiled me the plot twist of Jade Empire.

    You’ve done it, damn you!
    :-)

    I’m buying this game as soon as possible.

    Then, I’ll read the rest of your post.
    :-)

    • Mephane says:

      My conspiracy senses are tingling and telling me that Taliesin was paid by the game’s publisher to gift the game to Shamus so that his article would invoke many more game purchases.

      But then my commone senses are tingling and telling me I have been playing too much TSW lately, heh.

      • N/A says:

        Man if the startup adverts weren’t skippable, I wouldn’t even know who Spec Ops makers WERE. You can mark that down under ‘things that make my teeth grind’ about Spec Ops.

        At least the cutscenes are skippable but… Come on, really?

  15. burningdragoon says:

    I haven’t decided if I’ll be playing Spec Ops anytime soon, so I’ll be skipping this post for now. I want to comment on something that stood out in the linked spoiling stories article though:

    Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.

    Maybe that’s because “surprise! It was a dream!” is a terrible twist approximately 100% of the time.

    (to be clear, that was a joke… the 100% part, not the terrible part)

    • Syal says:

      …I don’t see how that’s an ironic twist. Was the guy an escape artist or something?

      • kanodin says:

        The story is “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, which you can read here: http://fiction.eserver.org/short/occurrence_at_owl_creek.html
        The point of Owl Creek wasn’t to be ironic but to show the dying man’s escape into delusion and fantasy before reality snaps back. In addition this story shows how this confederate planter views himself as heroic and courageous when in reality he’s a failed saboteur on the wrong side of history.

        It’s funny that story got brought up because now that I’m thinking about it there are a ton of parallels between it and Spec Ops.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Or because “An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge” is freeking hard to understand the first time unless you know that alternating paragraphs are figments of his imagination.

      The movie did it better.

  16. rayen says:

    You what’s great about being poor? I don’t give a flying f*** about spoilers. I’m never ever going to play this game so i don’t care. Really looking forward to how this game shakes things up.

  17. X2Eliah says:

    So, uh, does it have multiplayer? Because clearly a game like this needs some of them deathmatch multiplayer lobbies.

    • kanodin says:

      There is a multiplayer, though I never touched it and I doubt very many people did. from what I can tell it’s the locals fighting the 33rd prior to Delta Squad’s arrival.

      • N/A says:

        It’s actually the 33rd fighting itself in a civil war, between those who were loyal to Konrad and those who wanted to go home. The soldiers you find hung from poles and such around the city are supposed to be the leftovers from that fight.

        There aren’t many people in multiplayer, it’s true, but it’s worth a look.

      • X2Eliah says:

        Oh, wait, it actually has a multiplayer deathmatch thing? Really?

        Bloody hell, and there I was just being sarcastic, in the sense of “You know what would be the most ridiculously incoherent and out-of-place thing to all this meta-message and deepness of story the game has? Bro-shooter MP!” And turns out.. it really has that? Oh wow.

        “lol”

  18. rrgg says:

    The spoiler question seems really interesting in this game. On the one hand from most descriptions it seems like people weren’t really enjoying it until a couple hours in when they started to figure out what was going on, but on the other hand the twists in Spec Ops appear to rely on exploiting a gamer’s knee-jerk reactions. It isn’t like movies or stories where the protagonist thinks whatever the author wants.

    In either case I probably won’t be getting this game because I’m a Philistine who doesn’t appreciate dark and gritty explorations of human nature and doesn’t like to feel bad or depressed or scared.

    • Aanok says:

      They say that you have to read a book three times to understand it. Of course it’s not three actual readings, you could go over it less or more times, it’s to say there are three degrees of depth with which you can approach a work of literature. Or any other media, for that matter.

      First degree is the narrative: you read for the story, how it makes up, how it’s told, how it’s structured.

      Second degree is for themes, styles and revision: you read to catch conceptual and esthetic references, to delve in the atmosphere, to understand the psychology and reasoning of the characters, to get meta-references, to thoroughly go into the story and catch those subtle particulars you missed the first time.

      Third degree is for actual meaning and concepts: you read to understand the message put in the book by the author, or the lack thereof, in all its implications.

      To completely experience the book, you need to go through all three phases. Spoilers quite heavily disrupt the first one, of course, so they should be avoided.

      Spec Ops, being fairly deeper than your average videogame, makes a nice example of how this theory applies, given how important its plot twists are. I don’t think going in knowing of the blow it strikes you with mid-game could improve your experience, unless you knew the entire story and were looking for details and subtleties.

      As a matter of fact, most of the people who’ve enjoyed it that I know have gone through it at least a couple of times.

      • Grampy_Bone says:

        Meh. I don’t need to play it again to fully appreciate it. Summing up Spec Op’s story: War is Hell. That’s important, but I already knew that. It would probably be more effective if it were set in a realistic conflict, instead of the mythical sand city Iram of the Pillars.

        • thebigJ_A says:

          But that’s not really what it’s about, at all. If it were, it’d be trite, and none of us would be talking about it. That’s not even the surface of it, so you’ve made Aanok’s point for him.

          What it’s really about (one of the things, anyway) has more to do with you and me, the gamer. Here, read this for some insight.

          • Grampy_Bone says:

            But that is the point. War is Hell, and we treat it like a game. Look, I get it. I’m just not impressed. Just because I wasn’t deeply impacted by something doesn’t mean I don’t understand it. I just don’t care.

            Adding to that; if I had paid $60 for a mediocre five hour FPS that is a lesson in trivializing violence masquerading as an entertainment product, I’d be pretty damn mad. As it is I’m only mildly annoyed at wasting a few hours on this nonsense.

            Imagine the same story as Spec Ops taking place in Mushroom Kingdom or the Diablo world. Imagine Mario agonizing over the death of hundreds of goombas while Luigi calls him a murderer. Suddenly seems ridiculous doesn’t it? That’s how I feel about it.

      • Vegedus says:

        Wait, you don’t pick up meaning until the third time reading? I guess that should be my battleplan for finding out what the hell Braid was about.

      • krellen says:

        Spoilers absolutely do not ruin the first level. That’s a rather insulting thing to say, even. I tend to figure out mysteries far before the reveal, and the ones I do not are almost always cheats, with vital information never revealed to the reader beforehand. I do not need to be surprised to appreciate a well-wrought tale, and the surprise is not the experience.

        I believe the Sixth Sense is among the best films ever made, and I knew Malcolm was dead before I had ever seen the film. I am still able to fully appreciate the tale as it was crafted, see what it was doing and how it was doing it and why what it was doing was so effective. To say being spoiled ruins that insults my ability to feel, reason, and intuit.

        • thebigJ_A says:

          The surprise is not the experience”? Sure it is, if you’re being surprised. And a spoiler isn’t even about twists, not necessarily. A lot of stories don’t have twists, yet can still be spoiled.

          And you’re speaking in absolutes when absolutes aren’t appropriate. Spoilers absolutely DO disrupt the first level, for me and others. Even using your twist example. I tend to figure out twists early, too. But if I’d heard it before, *I* didn’t figure out anything, and that’s inherently a lesser experience for me. I’d suspect it would be for many people.

        • Aanok says:

          Well then I’ll say I do not envy you! To be surprised and led by the author is an integral part of any narrative experience. If you can’t help but turn the story over as it goes, so that you end up foreseeing what’s going to happen, then you are missing something out indeed. Wether it’s important or not that you do, we could argue over that, but there’s something you’re not getting.

          I do believe you’d better leave in-depth analisys to successive readings/playthroughs and just relax and enjoy while the thing is going on.

          Of course, as thebigJ_A is saying, we should not be talking in absolutes. There are works in which the story is capital and works in which it’s absolutely secondary. My avatar, say, is a shot of Martin Freeman from Nightwatching, an awesome film with a rather solid intrigue story. Yet, as interesting as it might be, such story plays an absolutely secondary role in the movie’s economy. So, while spoilers would be disruptive, they wouldn’t destroy your experience. Of course this has varying degrees from case to case.

          • Sumanai says:

            It took me a moment to notice this, but you do realise you’re basically saying that Krellen is experiencing stories wrong? That the way he goes through them the first time, scrutinising them, is inherently worse than yours because he’s “missing out” on something?

            From a certain point of view he is actually getting more. In the case of the Sixth sense he can tell, with confidence, that the reveal was a logical part of the narrative, not just something the creator pulled out of their ass at the last minute and only appears natural because of hindsight screwing up the assessment.

            He can also tell, from a single viewing, that the story didn’t suffer simply because the reveal was “ruined”.

            I don’t consider either approach wrong, but I do consider it wrong to judge either to be inherently lacking because of something intangible.

            • Aanok says:

              You too, though, are making the assumption that hindsight would bias somebody’s deduction logic. From your very point of view, you are as wrong as I am.

              It seems evident to me that, if you can separate the enjoyment you get from scrutinizing the story and the one you get from being surprised, so that you can max out on both, you should do it.

              You could argue that you also feel good foreseeing the reveal, that you actually enjoy feeling smarter that the author. That’s perfectly fine! But then, you probably shouldn’t be watching a movie, you should buy a puzzles magazine or play a point and click adventure.

              • Sumanai says:

                And again you’re telling someone else how to enjoy something, with the added suggestion to “go enjoy something else, if you’re not going to enjoy it the way I am”.

                I have actually seen people claim that “X and Y are clearly hinting at the reveal” and afterwards hearing the creator specifically state that no, they didn’t and there were in fact no hints, as the reveal wasn’t planned and was a complete asspull. So it’s entirely possible that an interpretation of a story can be affected by hindsight.

                Therefore it’s possible that Krellen gets something out of the story you’re not, and it’s wrong to claim that your way will, for a fact, give the viewer/reader/player more than his. Let alone telling people to stop watching/reading/playing movies/books/games and go away.

                I fail to see how my stance of “either way is fine, but don’t push your way down other people’s throats” is just as wrong as “your experience is inferior to mine”.

                Edit: Also I would like to note that it’s unlikely Krellen’s way is based on “wanting to feel smarter than the author”, otherwise he’d be dead set against spoilers. But good job on the stealth insult, all the same.

                • Aanok says:

                  I can’t quite honestly see how being mistaken about inexistent hints can be affected by hindsight. It seems to me you could catch them anyway, either knowing the whole story or not, otherwise they wouldn’t be hints.

                  You might like it or not, but I do believe my way to be better than Krellen’s. Otherwise I’d be agreeing with him and we wouldn’t be having this argument!

                  And about that thing on feeling smarter not being what Krellen means? You’re absolutely right and I probably lost track of the topic between replies. But I never intended to offend anyone and, if that was the impression I gave, then I apologize.

                  • Aanok says:

                    I think I got what my disoriented self was pointing at before with that smartness thing, about the whole hindsight topic.

                    Krellen’s method involves going in knowing beforehand what’s going to happen. That is, he is kind of experiencing everything in a sort of hindsight.
                    My way, on the other hand, has you initially making a clueless pass over the book/movie/whatever.

                    So, by saying that hindsight might ruin your experience, I’d say you’re actually proving my point. Either that, or I completely misunderstood what you’re saying.

                    • Sumanai says:

                      But Krellen’s method is figuring out the story before it happens, so it’s not hindsight by definition. He has seen hints or signs for the events and has made a prediction that is accurate. The only question would be if his logic was sound, but that’s a question that can be risen about anything.

                      On the topic of how hindsight could make one see things that aren’t there:

                      Look at the Mass Effect 3 Indoctrination Theory stuff. From what I’ve understood the extended cut directly contradicts the hypothesis, yet the supporters vehemently insisted that it was “the only interpretation” before the EC came out, because of reasons that had completely valid other explanations. That was a clear case of Confirmation Bias, but it’s basically the same. They were seeing things that weren’t there or interpreting things through unlikely connections to support their view. Yet few realised they were doing it.

                      When someone is convinced of the high quality of something they’re very likely to see brilliance where there is none in order to justify their view about that something.

                    • Aanok says:

                      Maybe there’s a limit to how many posts can be nested into each other? Cause I’m not seeing a reply button on yours…

                      Anyways,

                      >Krellen’s method is figuring out the story before it happens

                      uhm, no, Krellen’s method is going into the story knowing beforehand what’s going to happen and thus analyzing the plot, as a whole, as it goes on. It’s the exact opposite.
                      When he spoke about the Sixth Sense he implied that he approached it without spoilers, and then he said that it didn’t matter anyway because he figured the reveal very early. So he ended up watching the story already knowing what would happen, which I believe to be counterproductive for a first pass.

                      As per the Indoctrination Theory, I think that’s more of an example of people being very smart in a very dumb way. I mean, it’s just a wrong interpretation, regardless of hindsight.
                      Or are you saying that a proper analisys of any work can be made, or even must be made, without considering it as a whole, in all its constituents? How am I supposed to judge a story if I don’t know it completely?

                    • krellen says:

                      The Sixth Sense wasn’t a mystery – there’s a difference between a mystery and a twist. I was spoiled – as in, someone had told me the twist already – before I ever saw the film. Knowing this allowed me to get both the first level – the story with the twist – and the second level – all the bits that pointed at the twist – at the same time. And viewing those two levels simultaneously allowed exploration of the third level as well.

                      It really was a masterfully crafted piece, earning Shyamalan the reputation he proceeded to slowly piss away thereafter, and I never would have developed the appreciation for it I have were I not spoiled from the start.

                      Mysteries are things like typical crime dramas, and I tend to not enjoy them at all, because, like I said, I either figure them out really early or can’t because of an ass-pull end reveal, neither of which are particularly fun. The only mystery-style shows I’ve really liked are ones that are more about the characters and their journey during the mystery than the mystery itself – things like Monk or Psych.

                    • Sumanai says:

                      Aanok: There’s a limit to nesting.

                      I don’t think you understand what “hindsight” means. If an engineer comes to the conclusion that a building will come crashing down within five years, basing this on his expertise, and then it does, he wasn’t acting on hindsight. He saw the signs and came to a correct conclusion.

                      It’s not true in this case with the Sixth Sense, as Krellen clarified he had been spoiled, but it would be true in the case of any movie he or someone else had seen where they predicted the outcome from data given by the story.

                      There’s only potential for hindsight bias if the viewer had come to the conclusion without any clues and would then start working on finding supporting signs.

                      And I was never saying hindsight is ruining anyone’s experience. I was saying it can affect the second run, in a way that logically coming to the conclusion couldn’t. With the implication that this means being the first run can have the same effect if spoiled, but that’s just combining the first and second run together, which isn’t worse in my opinion either. In fact my argument was never that one way is worse than the other. I just didn’t see the point for “equal representation” as you had already mentioned the potential loss for the other method.

                      Note that I wrote “can”, not “will”. The same potential for losing something vague, and impossible to measure, exists in my opinion with both methods, and therefore arguing that someone is definitely losing something* by following the other isn’t right.

                      * Without gaining anything, which I think is implied when you think their method is inferior.

                      Silver Harloe below hits closest to my view on this matter. I attempt to experience things either spoiler-free or spoiled on a case-by-case basis, and I see both as having equal merit.

                    • Aanok says:

                      Alright, let me put it another way.

                      If you know how the story is going to unfold before you’ve seen it, whether because you’ve read it somewhere or you figured it out on your own, then you know more that the characters in the story do. This inevitably impedes, at least partially, your ability to empathize with the characters themselves. It creates a layer separating in between.

                      In other words, you’ve at least partially broken your immersion. If this is true, then you have inevitably reduced the enjoyment you get from the story, in the form of emotional involvement.

                      In Spec Ops, for instance, they wanted to absolutely avoid this. The game’s lead writer plainly stated so in that interview StranaMente linked above. This is why the first hour or so of gameplay is extremely dull: they expressely wanted to surprise the player.

                      I also want to rectify something I said before, and it’s my fault for initially wording it in a wrong way:

                      >To completely experience the book, you need to go through all three phases. Spoilers quite heavily disrupt the first one, of course, so they should be avoided.

                      This, you’re right, is not true at all, or at least is too vague.
                      Spoilers do not impede your understanding of the message put in the work or of the techinique and skill with which it was crafted. They reduce your emotional enjoyment.

                  • silver Harloe says:

                    “I do believe my way to be better than Krellen’s. Otherwise I’d be agreeing with him”

                    I believe this to be a false dichotomy.

                    There are no doubt many, many positions between “I agree with Krellen” and “I think my opinion is better than Krellen’s,” but I’ll just list two I can think of:
                    * “I do not agree with him, but I find the positions have equal merit and the choice is arbitrary”
                    * “I think my opinion is better FOR ME, and his is better FOR HIM”

                    The first would probably be equivalent to Sumanai’s suggested position of “either way is fine, but don’t push your way down other people’s throats”

                    The second would probably be equivalent to “I do not agree with him, but the matter is subjective. People do not enjoy art the same way and therefore it’s impossible to make a universal ‘better/worse’ comparison. However, a ‘better/worse’ comparison can be made with respect to a particular subject, and the only subject I can speak with authority about is myself.”

                    This is not to say you can’t hold the position that your way of approaching art is superior to Krellen’s. I’m just saying you don’t have to choose between superiority and agreement if you don’t want to.

                    • Aanok says:

                      If you consider my statement per se, then you are right by all means.

                      I will say, though, that my impression of this discussion is that both Krellen and I are convinced that our own way is better than the other, so we are debating the drawbacks and benefits of each.

        • The study Shamus linked wasn’t in depth, and actually caused me to recall the latest Errant Signal (Aimless Diatribe on Fun), in the fact that they were only testing for enjoyment, not other emotions.
          While it is certainly the case that recieving spoilers increses enjoyment, the manner of enjoyment changes.
          While spoilers do not disrupt the first level, they cause it to become something different, almost a combination of the first 2 degrees.
          And maybe, for you, you enjoy a story with spoilers. But others would prefer to be surprised, or to feel as if they figured out something themselves (see thebigJ_A’s comment).
          IN fact, if we include movies with no twists, they can spoil themselves.

          • Urthman says:

            That spoilers study is ridiculous. It’s basically no better than an opinion poll (worse, given the tiny, unrepresentative sample size) and certainly no basis for making decisions about spoiler etiquette.

            I could use the exact same methodology to “prove” that people like chocolate ice cream better than vanilla. Therefore, no one will mind and there is nothing wrong with going around and snatching people’s vanilla ice cream and replacing it with chocolate. Because we just proved that people like chocolate better. So stop whining about your stupid vanilla and eat that delicious chocolate I just gave you.

            I don’t care whether 9 out of 10 people like “The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” better after having the ending spoiled. Lots of people liked Transformers 2. I don’t like Michael Bay movies and I don’t like spoilers and I’m grateful for warnings helping me avoid either one.

  19. Grampy_Bone says:

    I immediately dismissed Spec Ops as just another Brown Corridor Shooter. It wasn’t until I saw Yahtzee’s review and read various posts along the lines of “Zomg amazing story” that I decided to check it out.

    And you know what? Story or no, it *is* just another Brown Corridor Shooter. Yeah yeah, it’s a deconstruction, War is Hell, blah blah blah. I guess I’m over these kinds of insights. As Shamus points out, it is still 60$ for a five hour game. Renting recommended.

    I did like it more than Max Payne 3 though. :P

    • Aanok says:

      Well, it’s not that much about war as it is about suspension of disbelief and gamer-game relationship. It’s about the very structure of the videogame medium and our interaction with it.

      Maybe you could check it out via… alternative methods? You know, very very cheap ones.

    • Klay F. says:

      If you thought that the point of the game was “war is hell” then I have serious doubts you actually played it.

      The game is a critique of the bro-shooter power-fantasy military-hardware-fetish genre.

      • Grampy_Bone says:

        Yeah I played it. My opinion of the game turned during the level where you are supposed to run from the helicopter. I died about twenty times there. Terrible design. Then you have the awful level where you are hanging off the truck shooting grenades. It’s a cover shooter, and they take away the cover? What the hell?

        But these criticism “don’t count” because it’s not about the gameplay, its about blah blah blah deep story derp derp derp whatever.

        Look, I *got* the game, I just didn’t *like* it. Is that okay? Is that allowed? Is that a valid opinion?

  20. PhotoRob says:

    There’s another aspect of the execute optiknthat occurs to me… there’s a bit of a moral dillema behind itthat goes beyond the “more ammo” mentioned above. If a wounded soldier is bleeding out, which is worse: to give him a quick death (the “war crime”) or to leave him to die a slow, painful death? Besides, I’ve always thought the term “war crime” to be problematic. Depending on your views of war, it is either, redundant or a contradictionof terms.

    Also, I’ve never understood the “stick with it, it gets better later” mindset. I’ve heard this applied to games, TV series, movies, books… If it’s not good *now* why should I stick with it until 1/3 or 1/2 way through, sometimes even later?

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      While if you’re not having fun, I can’t quite argue for continuing to play, if you’re merely having a “meh” experience, I can see giving it time to develop. Some stories just start slow for thematic reasons, or because it took the developers some time to get a grip on what they’re doing (this is a better defense for something like a TV series).

      As for executions, there was a time when finishing off the wounded was considered merciful. It was a few centuries ago, but there it is. Now, once incapacitated, a soldier is a non-combatant and is protected -though I suspect everyone would look the other way for true mercy kills. The difficulty is going to be on the word “incapacitated.” If he’s moving and not surrendering (let alone shooting at you) he probably still counts as a target.

      This has long bothered me about Call of Duty. Why must the Russians keep shooting with their pistol once injured and on the ground? I would happily leave them to be captured if they’d stop shooting me. Gears of War removes the dilema because wounded locusts can get back up if they aren’t finished off, so “down and not out” isn’t “incapacitated.”

      And this may be why my favorite shooter is SWAT 4. Maybe we can convince Infinity Ward to include zipties in future shooters.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Indeed I always found the concept of “rules of engagement” in wars laughable.Its forceful taking of other peoples resources,you are already doing things outside of rules.

      As for stick with it,Ill mirror Sabrdance’s comment.

      • zob says:

        There is a complex reasoning behind RoE. Simplifed version, if you know you are to be treated reasonably and not executed just for fighting for your cause, you’d be more inclined to surrender when against odds. If you know your enemies are dicks and going to torture you and keep you infinitely detained you’d fight until the last drop of blood and kill/maim as much enemy as possible.

        • Lovecrafter says:

          This.
          Also, as horrifying as war is, without those rules it would be far, far worse. Just having the concepts of “noncombatants”, “out of combat”, and the rules that come with those, makes survival more likely for civilians, wounded soldiers, medical personnel, and others.

          • krellen says:

            The worst thing is we didn’t learn those lessons until the Great War. That’s a long time of war being absolutely barbaric and brutal.

            American forces in WWI enjoyed a great number of victories simply by virtue of being American; the other side knew we treated prisoners exceedingly well, and thus were willing to surrender instead of fight (as they would have against other allied troops). The “exceedingly well” Americans treated prisoners back then is now the conventions for prisoners written into the Geneva Convention.

            • N/A says:

              Ehhh… Less than you’d think. Much of the damage caused by pre-industrial warfare was more administrative and infrastructural than pure bodycount. Crops were trampled, towns were looted, but armies were more often captured than massacred. Noblemen especially could expect quite civil treatment by their enemies.

              The thing is, those ‘rules’ were fairly informal. Unwritten codes of expectations between Gentlemen. The Great War forced the formalisation of these rules because industrialised warfare caused the death toll to SKYROCKET.

  21. Jez says:

    Regarding the executions it seemed like every time I finished off an enemy like that I got more ammo for my currently-equipped weapon. So I did it. A lot. Maybe I’m just completely numb to this kind of thing after chainsawing people to death in Gears of War, but the whole execute thing being a moral choice didn’t even occur to me. I also actually enjoyed trying the execute button with different weapons equipped in order to see the different animations, but then I play a lot of bro shooters. >.>

    SPOILERS IN NEXT PARAGRAPH

    My only real remaining issue with the story of the protagonist’s character being mentally ill from the start is that it begs the question of why his two companions kept following him for so long even though he was quite clearly talking to people that weren’t there. Maybe it’s some kind of military loyalty thing, but I’d like to think if your commanding officer starts talking to himself then it’s time to take the radio and the gun away from him and get out of the wartorn city.

    I mean one of the endings makes it seem fairly clear that it isn’t *too* difficult to get in/out of the city. Several hummers full of guys drive up, and it gave me a feeling of: “you mean we could have called these guys? At any time? Why didn’t we?” But to be honest both of those gripes were suppressed simply because I enjoyed playing through Spec Ops so much, and it’s such a breath of fresh air into this particular genre.

    • Jace911 says:

      Considering that Walker’s heavily-burned and thrashed face is mostly healed by the epilogue I’d wager a decent amount of time passed between the final confrontation with “Konrad” and the arrival of the military.

      Plus the reason they didn’t just leave Dubai was pretty well covered; they’d get cut down by the 33rd’s choppers while trekking out in the open desert fairly quickly.

    • N/A says:

      I think it’s partly military loyalty, partly personal loyalty, partly fear of command and partly lack of options. I get the implication that Adams and Lugo have served under Walker for a while. They have a sense that, he’s steered them right so far, he won’t let them down. He fights with them, bleeds with them, jokes with them – there’s friendship there, not just a chain of command. People will go through, and overlook, a lot for their friends.

      But I think on some level, Adams and Lugo might have wanted to take over, and shied away from the thought because they realized it would have meant THEY’D have to make the calls Walker is making, and face the terrifying reality that they don’t actually have a better idea.

  22. Vegedus says:

    I am getting a very Bioshock vibe for this game, namely, the whole “subverting it’s own genre” thing. It sure worked for that game.

    • TheRocketeer says:

      For better or for worse, Bioshock’s plot balances precariously on a single plot point. One single moment makes or breaks the entire narrative.

      Spec-Ops: The Line does not do this. Oh, there’s a twist, sure, but the narrative consists of so, so much more than just setting it up to be executed.

      If anything, it’s the other way around; most games restrict foreknowledge from the player to recontextualize or invalidate the events that led up to that knowledge being revealed. This is like setting up a pyramid of glasses, then pulling a cloth out from under them. The spectacle was great… but now all our glasses are broken.

      Spec-Ops explores a plot in which every scene and event has its own meaning and value, which, for lack of a more specifically-revealing explanation, lead up to a twist later on by virtue of having created it along the way. I’m gonna use an advanced simile for this, so get ready: Spec-Ops bakes a turkey, right? Then it takes the drippings, AND IT BASTES THAT SON OF A BITCH.

  23. John The Savage says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out why I felt just as terrible playing this game as I did “World at War”, but was still able to keep playing. After I used the flamethrower in WaW, I put the game down. Now I know, it’s the atmosphere of the game. WaW treats its atrocities as nothing out of the ordinary, whereas spec ops treats them as what they are.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      Indeed, World at War, despite it’s increasingly grim tone where man commits atrocity against man, always kept up it’s nationality centered jingoism to the very end. All throughout, the game had a seemed to be assuring the player that everything was cool because you were one of the good guys and that your enemies were the bad guys.
      One moment that stood out for me was when during one (potential) sequence, one of your squddies gets killed, and the other goes apeshit on the Japanese forces, calling them “animals” because they killed an enemy combatant. It struck me as rather hypocritical, seeing as how we had brutally murdered several hundred Japanese soldiers getting up to that point, (burning them, stabbing them, dismembering them) but apparently they were the “animals” because they had done the same to one of us.
      The game’s narrative did not seem to understand the irony of it all, which irritated me greatly.

  24. thebigJ_A says:

    This game actually moved me, and that’s saying a lot for someone who despises the bro-shooter.

    I’m actually not done. I put it down the other day (I just got the game from Gamefly) after one of the big messed up moments, and needed a think before playing on.

    Without spoiling it, I liked that the biggest make-you-think moment *isn’t* a choice. But you *can* try to choose. Which is what I did. The scene comes up where there’s this thing you have to do to continue, that you may not wish to do. One of your AI guys doesn’t want to do it either, but your character explains that there’s no other way.

    I tried not to do it anyway, and it turns out that the game lets you try to play it that way. However, the results are what you would expect if you tried to do something like that irl (rather than in video game uber-hero mode like most games) without resorting to the expedient I tried avoiding. You fail. It takes rather a while to fail, too.

    So, my thought process ended up being that of the protagonist: Damn, there’s no other way. There’s *really* not, and for a sensible reason. I’ll just have to go through with it, then.

    And then, the reveal. I was slack-jawed. Bravo, Spec-Ops.

    This game is NOT fun. But it isn’t meant to be. I really am surprised a game like this got made at all.

  25. krellen says:

    I have a feeling I was called out specifically just so I would not so comment again. :)

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Won’t work. I’ll just have to pick up the slack. A story which relies on not being spoiled in order to have an effect is a poor story relying on shock to cover over narrative faults. One might avoid spoilers out of deference to another, but absent that cause -if it is necessary to the review making sense and not being greviously vague, spoil.

      • lasslisa says:

        I think they make a good argument about subverting expectations. It’s a very different experience to go in to a movie, book, or game knowing that, say, your good-guy-helper-mentor is going to turn out to have been grooming you for eeevil reasons. It’s one I enjoy – parsing out exactly what clues were there, how all the ‘good deeds’ had loopholes in them, etc – but it’s very different than the feeling you get if you’re in the same place as the main character, having no reason to doubt their good intentions.

        Similarly, going in to the game with a “It’s a Bro Shooter! I am so badass!” feeling leaves a lot more room to feel surprised (or, on the down side, betrayed). That isn’t there if you’re going in with the disengagement that comes from knowing in advance that the player character is unreliable and that the game never really intended to be a Bro Shooter in the first place. I can’t really tell you which is better – I can’t say I like the idea of feeling betrayed by a game – but there’s a definite difference.

  26. TheRocketeer says:

    This right here really makes the whole game. This game competently embraces the familiar mechanical trappings of the genre to subvert and utterly scandalize its spirit.

    It is superbly written, impactful, thought-provoking, and though there are twists in the narrative, its strength does not rely on them. It really is a journey, not an ‘a-ha’ destination.

    Spec-Ops embraces large, serious ideas and approaches them with a clever and subtle hand; they place the nails where they want them, and give the player a hammer.

    We need more games with aspirations like this. Maybe just not always so bleak.

    But oh my GOD I hate that part when you fall down the hole and you fight like THIRTY FRICKIN GUYS by yourself, what the crap! NO I DO NOT WANT TO RETRY ON AN EASIER SETTING!

  27. You know, I served in the military during a war. I’ve shot an M16 many times (and won an award for being the best shot in my company). I’ve thrown a grenade. I even shot a LAW.

    So why, oh why, oh WHY does every military shooter game insist that I play as a DUDE????

    I’m enjoying these reviews of Spec Ops and would like to give this game a try. But I’ll have to hold my nose and squint through hours of play as I’m forced to stare at the back of yet another MALE head.

    Sigh…

    • krellen says:

      It’s probably because, whatever the reality, officially it’s still supposed to be only men on the battlefield, and video games are too immature an artform to really tackle true reality yet. They play off the official story because they’re too afraid to tackle the truth.

    • zob says:

      Well, women are not allowed in spec op divisions (besides support roles). So a female delta operative with years of experience would sound weird in this game. Both Modern Warfare and Medal of Honor series depicts supposedly elite forces so same limitations apply.

      Real reason is much simpler. Women who like to play military shooters would still likely play them regardless of avatar, but 14 year old adolescent males (target audience) might go for another title if said avatar is female.

      You can go for multiple choice for avatars (like Rainbow Six Vegas 2 did) But it doubles devs work and adds development costs (especially if we are to include voice acting.)

      TL;DR: having 30ish white male for lead is more profitable.

      • Sumanai says:

        Doubt it. The cost of designing a female soldier shouldn’t cost a lot more, since the body shape has very little changes that are visible from under all that combat gear (shoulders and hip, really). Considering that adding female options would open up more potential clients it would be entirely possible to actually end up more profitable with the whole thing.

        Unless of course the designers feel the need to “up the sexy”, but it’s safe to say they’re idiots at that point.

        In this case I’d say it’s part of the satire, as Aanok says above.

        • Jonathan says:

          Actually, women have different bone structures (notably in the hips) and walk/move differently. To do it right, you have to do a separate set of animations for motion.

          • Sumanai says:

            I commented on the bone structure already. Narrower shoulders, wider hips. Well, smaller hands also, but I doubt those would be a lot of trouble. And the “wider hips” varies in the real-life enough that you could get away with ignoring it, especially since combat gear covers so much.

            Facial features of course would have to be done separately, but if that’s going to push you over the budget you should probably plan on giving everyone gasmasks anyway, derailing the topic.

            Most of the different type of locomotion is learned while growing up and is unlikely to be noticed in the heat of an action game. Especially since the animation for walking is in general not all that good, so players wilfully ignore problems there anyway.

            I’d like to note that in Mass Effect the female Shepard uses the same animations as the male one, yet few have actually complained.

            Edit: About ME, it should also be noted that it’s a 3rd person perspective game, and therefore the animation gets more scrutiny than 1st person games would, even in multiplayer.

            • zob says:

              Actually I used to complain a lot about Femshep’s body language. I’m not doing it anymore because it’s one of those things that can’t be unseen. It becomes really weird sometimes (like anderson touching shepard’s abs)

              • krellen says:

                Talking to Garrus while wearing the dress from Kasumi’s mission. Oh man.

                • Stash Augustine says:

                  The best part is that you can kinda excuse that cause it’s DLC, but they didn’t fix it in ME3. I gave up wearing it about an hour into the game. (Also helps that I wore it in ME2 cause it was the only clothing without the Cerberus logo.)

              • Sumanai says:

                You can easily avoid moments like touching abs, especially since that’s not really possible through a damn vest, and stuff like giving the character a dress.

                Before anyone brings more of these things: take note that the clothing in Mass Effect series is a lot closer to skin tight than military uniforms, and shows off a lot more of the physique of the character than a uniform with a full combat gear would.

                For example “Boob Armour” is a bad, bad idea in real-life.

                Also, think about how many of these “body language is wrong” conversations would actually happen that way in a bro-shooter, or shooters in general.

                  • Sumanai says:

                    I don’t get what you’re saying here. Cutscenes where someone touches the main character’s abs happen? Cutscenes where the main character wears a dress happen? Cutscenes where the main character wears tight clothes happen? Cutscenes similar to the ones in Mass Effect happen in bro-shooters/shooters?

                • LunaticFringe says:

                  A good way to highlight this issue (in a somewhat extreme circumstance however) is to go back to Saint’s Row 2 and make a female character and cycle through the male walking animations (then vice versa). Note how women ‘walking as men’ seem to have back problems while men are too light on their feet.

                  • Sumanai says:

                    I’ll install it later and check, although that sounds a problem with the animations themselves. Military people, at least in my eyes, tend to move differently from the average gang member.

                    And the average rapper/hip-hopper seems to walk like they’ve either shat their pants or like they have back problems in general. They don’t really need a female body for that.

                    • Shamus says:

                      Women have shorter torsos than men, and longer legs. They also have thinner hands and longer legs as a proportion of height. You can’t just drop a male animation onto a female skeleton and expect it to work. You’ll get clipping problems. Hands will seem to float around a gun handle instead of gripping it. Arms will clip into the chest instead of holding a gun against the chest. And so on.

                      In Spec Ops, the characters shove, clap shoulders, hold people down, and perform other high-contact animations. They pick up objects in-frame and hold things close to their torsos.

                      This is why the animations in Mass Effect feel kind of “floaty”. They use interchangeable male / female animations, and you end up with femshep acting like she’s got this half-inch forcefield around her body. Note how in cutscenes, people almost never touch. Handshakes usually take place off the bottom of the screen.

                      You CAN get away with unisex animations, but it ends up being a bit “loose” and “floaty”, and you have to keep the contact to a minimum.

                    • Sumanai says:

                      Checked. The only one that doesn’t look screwy on both is Thug Life 3 (or something to that effect. It’s the only one that has numbers running up to something like 12.) Almost all the male ones look like he’s suffering from back problems (the torso doesn’t bend at all, checked with both and they don’t even fit the male model well) and the females walk with a more pronounced swagger than I’ve seen women do in real-life (two of them looked kind of okay with the female model).

                      Shamus: I haven’t seen a whole lot of on-scene contact in shooters, especially bro-shooters, in cutscenes. If Spec Ops is a good example of the cutscene trends in them, then okay, it would be extra work.

                      I still question how many of the different proportions would be noticeable, especially in action, with full combat gear.

                      Now I wonder how much perfecting them would really matter, if all the player wants is a choice with the player character’s sex, and if it would really damage the experience of the people who will play as male.

                      Does anyone have anything to say if any of this would actually push the price of the model and animations above the profit brought by attracting people who demand the option?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      If you were anything like me,youd enjoy it.I prefer playing women in games because its something I am not,and I know/can guess how the story would unfold for a male in such a situation,so playing a female offers breath of fresh air,and more flexible suspension of disbelief.

      • Sumanai says:

        Well, playing as a female is a rare option, while playing as male is basically mandatory for a lot of the time. So I imagine playing as male would have lost quite a bit of its charm by now for any female who is like you.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Being a commentary on the bro shooter (a genre which appears to think girls have koodies), it wouldn’t work with woman protagonist.

      So while I wholeheartedly agree with you in principle, I believe this is the one particular instance where it’s ok that it’s a dude.

    • Jace911 says:

      The sad truth of it is that video games are an extremely male-dominated industry, as most entertainment industries tend to be in their infancies. Come twenty years from now things will probably be different, but that’s small comfort to those of us who are sick to death of playing as Desmond Miles in every video game ever.

      Hell, when I play an RPG or other character-free game I tend to lean towards female characters just to try and balance things out since I tend to play a lot of shooters.

    • Shamus says:

      While I’m in full agreement that leaving out females is silly and self-defeating, I’m kind of glad they didn’t use THIS game to break the mold. Considering the context, it would come off as offensive.

      Male bro shooters: You are a MAN! And you kick ass! You win at being a hero!

      Female Spec Ops: As a female, you screw up the mission, make bad decisions, get people killed, and you’re unstable.

      I think it would screw up the message.

      • Michael says:

        That was, ironically, something that genuinely bothered me about playing Bishop as female in a couple of the mid-game missions in Vegas 2.

        Male and female have exactly the same dialog through the game, but when you get about a third of the way through the game you’re sent on a wild goose chase after chemical weapons by someone from NSA. By the time you actually find the weapons, they’ve been deployed on a stadium full of civilians.

        Initially, Bishop reacts pretty well to this, but after the missions over Bishop whines a bit about how this actually is his/her fault. Ignoring that it’s a bit out of character for Bishop for a moment, it really does edge into that territory when you’ve selected to play a female character.

  28. Alan says:

    Ok, I read this post and found it intersting, and yet the thing that I came away with was this:

    “we’re talking about a five-hour shooter with a $50 to $60 price tag”

    I can’t imagine that I would ever buy a game with that much gameplay for that price, possibly if it had a solid multiplayer, or lots of replay value, but I am a little surprised at that cost.

    • Astor says:

      The game is less than 40 bucks on Amazon and STEAM. If you had moved during the summer sale you could have paid around 25. For the quality you get (gameplay, story, art direction, etc) it’s a good price. It also took me a bit more than 5 hours, heh.

      And don’t forget even Shamus said he was considering replaying it (though I couldn’t find the quote, maybe I dreamed it?). So, all in all…

      I do understand you, believe me. New games (specially if they are a mere download) are extremely overpriced (Skyrim for 60 bucks?? C’mon!)

    • thebigJ_A says:

      In this case, I’d say you’re paying for an experience. It was more like seven hours, for me. I don’t like to compare games to movies in most cases, but in this one I think it’s apt. It’s the price, and length, of several movies.

      ‘Course, I just had it on my gamefly queue, so it’s not like I actually paid that much to play it.

    • Klay F. says:

      I honestly despise this mindset. The thought process that leads people to believe, “I must get X hours of entertainment for Y dollars,” is like a parasite on the industry. I am willing to bet a years wage that less than half the people who are fans of Portal would have ever bought the game had Valve not given the game away. In fact you saw this same mindset at work with Portal 2: people complaining about the length even though Valve fulfilled all previous promises regarding length.

      Spec Ops is more engaging than any 60 hour snooze-fest you care to name.

      • krellen says:

        The problem is the standard pricing of games at $60. That’s a lot of money.

      • X2Eliah says:

        Yes, but 60 dollars is still 60 dollars (or 60 euros for europe-folk and devil-knows-how-much for aussies), and that’s frankly a bloody high amount to pay for sitting at your tv / monitor for just a third of a day at best. Yeah, pure hours are not all there is, then again, the game doesn’t really come across as a good deal no matter how you look at it.

        Cinematic experience? 2 movie tickets are cheaper.
        Gameplay? … Yeah righ, ~5 hrs of bro-shooter meh-clichetastic third person cover shooting. There’s free-to-play games that offer better gameplay.
        Story? If you want pure epic story experience, then buy a book. Even top-rated epics ofthe literary world still all cost no more than 15/20 dollars at most, cheaper if it’s a kindle/nook, and free if it’s a library thing. And no, imo no game has come close to literary story quality (if we look at the good literature, of course. There is a lot of crock as well – but we’ll compare the best of both worlds).
        Story WITH gameplay? Okay, yeah, the game’s story actually is meant for the gameplay. This then implies, do you want to sped 60 dollars to experience a meta-commentary of videogames? Esp. when you can read all about it on the internet… Idk. Maybe it is just me, but I’m not crazy about all that “meta” junk.
        What else.. experience? Well, what is it if it isn’t the personal consumption of the story and gameplay. See previous 3 points.

        Bottom line being, for 60 dollars, I can easily find better things to buy/do/have. Even if I am limited to just videogames.. because who says that I need to buy a 60-hour snoozefest game? I could get something that’s interesting for me and will last for 400 hours (Skyrim), or a 1000 hours (X3:R).

      • JPH says:

        I’m right there with you. I can’t stand how people use length as a determining factor in a game’s quality.

        • Shamus says:

          Everyone has a different breakdown of free time vs. disposable income. If you’ve got lots of cash and only a few hours a week to play, then Spec Ops is a slam-dunk. If you’re out of work (more common now than in the past) then paying ALL your available spending money to entertain you for 6 of your 60 free hours is a really dicey proposition.

          This isn’t an unusual idea. Consumers that pay $10 to see a two hour movie would probably avoid one that’s only ten minutes long.

          Length ALONE isn’t appropriate for measuring the value of a game, but it’s perfectly reasonable for it to be a factor.

          • Sumanai says:

            Considering that I have low income and lots of free time it’s rather curious (and I am not being mocking here, I really find it curious) that one of my metrics is “enjoyment compared to time spent”. So Portal* was worth its asking price, while Zelda has a hard time at 30e.

            * I bought the Orange Box (40e) because of Portal and Team Fortress 2, didn’t care about Half-life. If TF2 wouldn’t have interested me, then I would’ve bought Portal alone (20e).

            On the other hand I’m bothered by design mistakes more than I think I should be and I’m loathe to continue on a game once it feels like it has outlasted its welcome.

            Edit: My definition for “enjoyable” is the same as JPH’s “fun”, that is it can be a wide variety of things and experiences and in short can be translated roughly as “something that makes the investment worth it”.

      • Daimbert says:

        Spec Ops is more engaging than any 60 hour snooze-fest you care to name.

        Well, the issue here is: what if it isn’t?

        Part of why Shamus can’t recommend it that strongly, it seems to me, is that he isn’t sure that people will like the gameplay and theme of the game. If the game is only 5 hours long and you don’t find it more engaging than some of the 60 hour games, then that was a bit of a waste because $12 a hour is a lot to pay for mild entertainment. Now, $1 a hour, on the other hand, is a lot more reasonable.

        That’s a problem for the shorter games. If they aren’t easily replayable — and this game sounds like it isn’t, since once you find the twist your thoughts on the game will change — then it has to generate all of its value on the first play, and it has to be, then, a great experience. If it’s only lukewarm, you could spend $60 on a game that at least would provide you with lukewarm entertainment for more hours. And it isn’t clear that everyone will like Spec Ops enough to make it worth that investment.

        • N/A says:

          It’s replayable at least once to catch the foreshadowing. The spoiler-centric episode might take a look at those.

          • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            MW3 was only 6 hours and people paid $60 for that. Well, I didn’t. I waited and paid $35 and felt a little like I’d overpaid, but playing Special Ops with my brother has dulled some of that pain.

            The problem here is that -given the game -the multiplayer options feel a bit limited, or maybe ironic, that is if they aren’t totally tone deaf. So if I already thought $35 was too much for a mindless, but well built shooter that at least had a fun multiplayer, $40 for Spec Ops: The Line is probably off the list.

            When it gets down to $35, I’ll think about it. But then X-Com will be coming out and I’ll actually pay $60 for that…

  29. WWWebb says:

    I can understand why Shamus would want to play a game like this. He’s all about narrative and this is apparently narratively unusual. What I don’t understand is…why would most people want to play this game? It’s similar to Halo: Reach…why should I play though a narrative experience when I know I’m going to lose? Is there really a AAA market for masochism?

    If you do any research at all before you buy it (and $50 is a decision worth researching), you’ll get the idea that your character doesn’t exactly come out a hero. I don’t mean that he’s just another anti-hero/bad boy/rebel/etc…those are a dime a dozen in games. He’s a BAD person… foolish and tormented at best and Evil at worst.

    I can sort of understand watching a movie or TV show about a character like that, but why would someone want to PLAY that character? How is that an immersive experience I would enjoy? Yes, yes, games can be art, etc. etc. I’m sure I would “appreciate” the experience, but most art museums charge a lot less (and it sounds like they offer a longer experience).

    Looking back at the heavy TV and print marketing, there was no indication of a thematic twist or anything that would make it deeper than the other shooters. Did the developer and publisher set out to punk everyone? “Hah hah! You thought you got to be the hero? Sucker!” Would someone who went into this game expecting some lightweight escapism be pissed off? Should they be?

    • Jace911 says:

      IMO the problem with Reach’s storyline wasn’t that you knew you were going to lose in the end, it’s that it was simply a shitty story. They took one of the biggest events in the Halo universe and reduced it to a laughable sludge, gave us unlikeable two-dimensional heroes, turned the Covenant into incompetent buffoons, then tried to hide how bad it was with SAD MUSIC and A TALE OF SACRIFICE and SPARTANS NEVER DIE and OH LOOK A REFERENCE TO HALO CE’S PLOT.

      A game that told the story of the Fall of Reach could have been very good, even if the main character dies in the end and you saw it coming. The pile of feces we got was not the way to do it.

      /offtopicrant

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        Reach was billed as a war movie in game form, but it really suffered from being a series of set-pieces which were only barely tied together. A few levels here, a few levels there. The sequence from the taking of the corvette to the evacuation of the city was some pretty good storytelling -not great, but pretty good. Alas, that was only the middle third or so. The rest of the time, your just going places because you’ve been told to go there. An aweful lot of telling, not showing, let alone doing.

        Imagine is Saving Private Ryan had skipped from D-Day to the Machinegun Nest to the final battle. That’s Reach.

        • Jace911 says:

          With a healthy dose of stupid thrown in at every juncture (HERP DERP OUR TINY SPACE FIGHTERS CAN’T REACH ORBIT WITHOUT GIANT ROCKET BOOSTERS), plus a hearty middle finger to fans of the book…

    • JPH says:

      I really liked Halo Reach’s ending.

      And I wasn’t bothered in the slightest by the fact that I died. In fact, that reinforced the narrative and enriched the experience.

      (Mind you, I’m not saying the narrative is good as a whole, because it really isn’t. But anyway…)

      To most gamers, myself included, dying at the end of Halo Reach doesn’t count as “losing,” because you did exactly what was needed to progress the story. The difference between “winning” and “losing” isn’t whether your character lives or dies; it’s whether you progress, whether you get to turn the page.

      I don’t know about you, but I don’t throw a fit after a Supposed To Die fight in an RPG.

      • Jace911 says:

        I’ll admit that the last level in the game was the one truly “good” part in it. Pretty much everything about it was done right…but set against the backdrop of everything else they screwed up it just soured my enjoyment of it.

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        Meyer’s Rule: It isn’t a matter of killing him, it’s a matter of killing him well. If it feels like the working out of a clause in a contract, the audience won’t accept it.

        I wasn’t fully on board with why Noble 6 ended up left behind, but having been left behind, the epilogue made perfect sense (though I might have had it happen without the time skip to a different location).

      • Sumanai says:

        For a lot of people it depends on how the Supposed to Die fight is done in the rpg.
        If you first have to defeat them only then lose by writer fiat, it’s going to sting a lot of people.
        If you waste bunch of single use items in a desperate attempt to win it, that’s also going to sting.
        If the game makes it a point to mock you for your “failure”, it’s pretty damn irritating. Of course if it’s possible to respond in kind, then that would be fine, but usually it’s not.

        • JPH says:

          I agree with everything said.

          I guess I should have said I don’t think supposed to die fights are inherently bad. They can be very frustrating if done poorly.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            That goes practically for any mechanic.

            One of the most irritating things about supposed to lose fights is that you get a different outcome at that point,but if you die before and after,its game over,and usually no explanation as to why(save for the “because the developer says so”).Spec ops has an interesting twist at about half way,when it starts screwing with you and your deaths become a bit different.You still get a “game over,reload” screen,but you also get a few subtle touches that incorporate these deaths into the game itself.

      • If the “Supposed to Die/Lose” fight is very well done, then I generally do not care either. That’s a good way to use gameplay to reinforce story.

        But if the game doesn’t do it plausibly then I cry foul. And god help the designers who put my defeat in a cutscene, especially if I win a battle and THEN get beat in a cutscene. That drives me up the wall!!!

        I’m okay with being beaten by an ancient god/skilled assassin/powerful monster (in a battle, not a cutscene), but should little Timmy catch me off guard with a kitchen knife, I will want blood.

    • Klay F. says:

      You know I was going to prepare a whole long diatribe in response to this, but I’ll just post Chris’ Video on the subject.

      Short answer, if people only played games to “have fun”, videogames would get insanely boring, insanely quickly. This is partly why the vast majority of games adopt stories as framing devices for the game play, as opposed to the NES era where stories existed entirely in game manuals.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The same reason why someone would want to play as the opposite gender.Or as a young girl that you can lead astray to be raped,tortured and killed in a gruesome way.Or as someone lost in a nightmarish world slowly losing insanity.

      As an escapist form of art,games are there to provide you with experiences you wouldnt be able to find in other ways,be they good or bad.

  30. Shamus there is a nice point in the game where you and one of your “bro’s” are surrounded by locals in a shanty town. He’s somewhat upset to put it mildly and want to shoot everyone.

    At that point I aimed above the heads of the crowd and shot, I was expecting a cutscene with bodies dropping but instead this effectively dispersed them with no casualities.

    If anyone else remember this part, did you do the same or did you shoot at the crowd? (never tried to shoot them so no idea if it plays out differently)

    But if there is a difference then I really like how the devs actually gave you a choice where it seemed there is none. (considering the crowd is right in your face throwing rocks).

    • Klay F. says:

      I actually gave one of the civilians a knuckle sandwich, which made the crowd disperse. It was one of the few times in the game where I clearly saw that the designers were trying to fool you into doing something despicable, so I did what I thought was the opposite of that. I was actually pretty surprised that it worked.

      And yes, it plays out like you would assume if you start shooting into the crowd.

      • 3rtx says:

        So they fooled you into condemning them to slow dehydration instead of quick deaths by gunfire?

        • Jace911 says:

          Unless in the end you decide to be a “strong man” and call for evac instead of committing suicide.

        • Klay F. says:

          The initial stated goal of the CIA operatives was to STEAL the water trucks, to force an evacuation of the city. While it turned out that the goal was to actually destroy them, I still had no problem trying to steal the trucks. Also, even though Walker’s inner Konrad voice is quick to blame Walker himself for the trucks’ destruction, I accepted no responsibility for it, because it was the 33rd that was actually responsible. Also, Walker’s inner Konrad keeps trying to convince us that evac is impossible, which I also knew to be bullshit, since Walker and company had zero trouble getting inside the storm wall in the first place. That whole schpiel about condemning the whole city to death by dehyration was just a mind game Walker was trying to play on himself, and consequently, us.

    • Astor says:

      I did exactly that! At first I tried walking past them, but they would punch me back to the corner, so I started shooting at the sky and yeah, I too was expecting a non-sequitur cutscene of innocent blood. The game went on to keep surprising me with all the choices you can make during the ending(s).

      I was totally tempted to shoot at the stragglers though, just to see what would happen, but I restrained myself… damn you video game cruelty potential!

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I loved that scene too.I aimed high to see how the companion would respond,and he too shot in the air,and I loved it.But there is one other difference in that scene:If you shoot the air,they will then taunt you,and even throw rocks at you.But,if you shoot them,they will all just run away in fear,and no one will bother you.

      • Gahrer says:

        That was an absolutely brilliant scene. It was powerful, emotional and really, really tense. I have to admit that I fell for it. After trying to move through the crowd and being pushed back (and taking a lot of damage in the process) I caved in to Adams demands and killed one of them. I didn’t even realize you could beat one of them down or shot in the ground/air.

    • Neil D says:

      The first time I thought it over for a few moments, then tried to just walk through them. Someone hit me, which pushed me over the edge and I opened fire on them. But immediately a voice in my head said “No. Wrong.”, so I reloaded. Then I tried shooting at their feet, which sent them running.

  31. Dang it. http://www.yager.de/ why aren’t there more games by these guys? a studio with 100 employees, from 15 nations? And two games so far…
    If Spec Ops: The Line is anything to go by (and it really is the only thing to go by) then the unannounced AAA title seems intriguing.

    SO:TL may not be a box office hit, but it is a solid game, which means that it’ll have a darn long tail. (or should at least)

  32. Mark says:

    “Your video-game instincts have caused you to become morally compromised!” is a pretty banal twist, but then, so is anything if you describe it glibly enough. I don’t think I’ll play it but I am glad it exists.

  33. Neil D says:

    One of the moments I liked best came in a period of deep frustration. I was having a hell of a time with the part where you (and Adams) have to use the RPG to take out a mortar, then advance on two machine gun nests. Things had already started to go seriously to hell story-wise by then, and I was starting to have serious concerns about my character’s actions, and getting a good sense of where the game was going with this.

    So I had seen the loading screen about a half-dozen times already, and this time when it came up, in the place where it usually has a handy combat tip, or plot summation, it simply said “Feel like a hero yet?” Then, on the next one: “You are still a good person.” It really did give the flavour that these were messages coming from your own subconscious, an indication of the conflict going on inside your psyche. It rocked me back a little.

    • Gahrer says:

      Or: “The US Army does now allow the killing of unarmed combatants, but this is just a game. Why should you care?” That one really jolted me, especially since i fired on the crowd.

  34. [...] Olympics. One of those movies that's so bad in all the right ways that it ends up being awesome. Shamus Young discusses Spec Ops: The Line. This recent shooter from Take2 Interactive not only has a decent story, but [...]

  35. some random dood says:

    Have I missed the “one more post” about this topic? Can someone kindly link it for me please?

  36. Astor says:

    post is lacking the ‘spec ops’ tag! shame on you.

  37. [...] two posts break down the entire game, bit by bit. Another post looks more generally at The Line’s themes and how it conveys them, and another post looks in-depth at The Line’s visual art style. [...]

  38. [...] One of those movies that’s so bad in all the right ways that it ends up being awesome. Shamus Young discusses Spec Ops: The Line. This recent shooter from Take2 Interactive not only has a decent story, but [...]

  39. Nicksaurus says:

    On your point about the sandstorm being unrealistic – I think it’s possible to assume that it wasn’t actually as bad as it was portrayed, but Walker’s imagination exaggerated it (and many other aspects of the plot) to make himself feel like more of a hero.

  40. Even says:

    I’m not even sure where I really want to start with this game. The plot felt forced and the main protagonist’s motivations are just irresponsible from the get go. Wanting to go that extra mile to try to save the prisoners of war in the start felt reasonable, even if it went all against his original orders. It’s just after that the whole plot just took me out of it and everything felt disjointed and hammy.

    YOU’RE JUST THREE GODDAMN GUYS! YOU’RE NOT AN ARMY! YOU’RE CRAZY!

    The bro-shooter game mechanics combined with the attempt at something serious, it just doesn’t mesh. Even worse, I made the mistake of tuning up the difficulty to “Suicide Mission” soon after start, since it just felt too easy. If you seriously want me to accept your ridiculous premise of three people taking on what is more like a brigade than battalion (it’s ridiculous either way, but I digress), then at least give me the goddamn courtesy of giving team mates who actually have some grasp of squad combat. I died way too many times because my teammates are goddamn retarded. They charge in and out of cover at random times and wind up getting themselves killed at the worst goddamn times, making reviving them in time without dying next to impossible. There was too many scenes where the average amount of shit coming down at you made it next to impossible to try and get anything done on your own, and trying to order those two jackasses to do anything sensible would only lead in disaster because they have no fucking grasp on tactics.

    My most memorable death must be getting knifed by a batshit crazy unarmed specialist coming from a blind angle, who my teammate reported coming and could have easily shot. It doesn’t help when in the same scene I’ve got 99% of the gunfire focused on me which makes doing most anything a pain in the ass since I go down in just a few bullets.

    I did turn the difficulty down towards the end, because I got sick of the way-too-damn-long loading screens, but it was just too late to salvage the game. Whatever emotional connection the game tried to make, just never was there. Even scenes like the aftermath of the white-phosphorous mortar shelling just felt goddamn disjointed and forced crap. I kinda realized at the time of shelling that it’s going to be a nasty scene, so it kinda failed to make an impact from the start. The dead civilians just made it absolutely outlandish. The way they were portrayed, they looked more like some very gruesome sculptures than dead bodies. The reveal at the end of the game just felt like the final “fuck you” from the writers.. Was that really fucking it? (In retrospect maybe I should have seen it coming, but I was way too busy raging at the stupid mechanics for a good part of the game.)

    Only way to story would have only made some goddamn sense if the main protagonist’s orders were actually to try and reclaim the city somehow and they were there in force. Like with at least the equal amount of fighting men, gear and vehicles to the 33rd. If you actually want to see something that explores the same themes and be able to enjoy it, go buy/rent/whatever Apocalypse Now and watch it instead. This garbage just isn’t worth it.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Friday Links, a day early... on August 9, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    [...] Olympics. One of those movies that's so bad in all the right ways that it ends up being awesome. Shamus Young discusses Spec Ops: The Line. This recent shooter from Take2 Interactive not only has a decent story, but [...]

  2. [...] two posts break down the entire game, bit by bit. Another post looks more generally at The Line’s themes and how it conveys them, and another post looks in-depth at The Line’s visual art style. [...]

  3. By Friday Links, a day early… | MidniteTease on January 1, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    [...] One of those movies that’s so bad in all the right ways that it ends up being awesome. Shamus Young discusses Spec Ops: The Line. This recent shooter from Take2 Interactive not only has a decent story, but [...]

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