Spec Ops: The Line:
Operation FUBAR Part 2 of 2

By Shamus Posted Thursday Aug 23, 2012

Filed under: Game Reviews 170 comments

Last post. This will wrap up our series on the game. Just a reminder that the stuff in the gold boxes is Taliesin.

Part 3

“I get it. This is like Heart of Darkness.”

Actual loading screen.

Walker finds a radio that can reach Konrad. The two of them talk. It’s clear that Konrad has failed in his efforts to evac the city. He’d been ordered to stay out, but he broke from those orders because he thought he could help. His men mutinied, and he ended up killing his own soldiers. He now runs Dubai. The fighting between the CIA, the locals, and the 33rd has torn this city apart.

Konrad must be removed. Walker decides the best course of action is to cut through the 33rd and bring him to justice.

Your team is falling apart. You were a tight-knit unit when you arrived, but the civilian deaths, betrayals, and gunfights with fellow Americans has eroded everyone’s identity and sense of purpose. Compelled either by the tropes of the genre or sheer bloody-mindedness you march onward, shooting people and destroying what little of the city there is left.

I love how the story takes its toll on the characters. Yes, Walker & friends do get beat up, cut, and bruised as the game goes on, but it goes deeper than that. In most games character development is relegated to cutscenes, but here their unraveling creeps into gameplay. At the start of the game your combat messages and banter are clean, measured, and professional. As the game goes on they become more angry, desperate, and eventually sadistic. Walker’s melee attacks start out as clean maneuvers and degrade into savage beatings.

We’ve got the CIA with us now. I’m sure they can fix everything.

To take some examples, to begin with Walker’s voice clips are very calm and crisp. As the game goes on he becomes angrier, swearing ferociously at his enemies, or yelling in pain and fury. By the end Walker is a beast, cursing to make a sailor blush and growling at his gun when a magazine runs dry, as if it has personally offended him. There’s a clear progression from “He’s down” to “Kill fucking confirmed” and “I want him dead!

Executions go from a quick, merciful headshot or neck-snap to a dying enemy, through shooting out their kneecap prior to the killshot, all the way up to brutal beatdowns, or forcing the barrel of his gun into their face and pausing to soak in their fear before pulling the trigger.

But it’s more than just anger. Walker was angry halfway through the game. By the end several of his voice clips sound out of breath, in pain, even scared. He’s at the end of his rope, if he hasn’t run out already.

As a secondary concern, I’d like to take this point to mention that over time, the game also adds some nuance to your squadmates characters. Lugo, your wisecracking loose cannon, is happy to let orders go hang in pursuit of the objective, but he’s also the quickest to balk at the murky things you do. He’s the one who speaks out against the use of White Phosphorous, and he’s the one who comes closest to speaking out against Walker’s growing instability.

Adams, who could so easily have just been The Black Guy, turns out to have a core of sentiment to him. He’s more loyal to Walker and willing to put up with more. He tries to be decent, but his defining trait is definitely his loyalty. He trusts Walker, trusts that he’ll do the right thing even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

This is a good point, and I didn’t notice it until Tal pointed it out, but he’s right. The characters get deeper as we get to know them. Adams feels very bland at the start, like Jacob from Mass Effect 2. Lugo feels like a generic wise-cracking guy at the start. But as the game goes on we see their values and frustrations expressed as they react to or encourage certain decisions. They start off as NPC combat buddy sidekicks, and grow into fallible human characters. What’s most painful is that their biggest flaw is their trust in you.

I’ll just point my gun at this very annoying unarmed civilian.

The division between the two is exemplified by a decision roughly halfway through the game where you must choose whether to save the CIA operative who can give you vital information, or some civilians. Lugo will push for you to save Gould; “look, I know it sucks, but Gould’s vital to our mission; the civvies aren’t.” while Adams will push for you to save civilian lives, saying, “you know it’s the right call.” If you side with Adams, Lugo will get passive-aggressive at the end of it, grumbling about wasted time. Side with Lugo, and Adams will keep his own peace, although if you can find the executed civilians afterwards, he’ll comment on it.

If you’re paying attention to his character arc, it’s more than a little painful when, near the end of the game, Adams unshakeable faith in you is quite visibly fraying. It adds a personal touch to Walker’s faliure that complements the grander, more abstract disasters.

Part 4


Protip: Evacuations shouldn’t involve gunning down every single human being you meet.

Yes, Konrad botched his mission. And the CIA made it worse. But the whole time, the real villain was you. Flashbacks offer you a few helpful reminders of your orders, and your actions.

Why did you keep going? What pressed you? Why didn’t you follow orders? You thought you knew better than everyone else. You thought you could fix everything by shooting people. You did things the CIA told you to do, even though you don’t answer to the CIA and you didn’t understand their goals or their place in the conflict.

American soldiers died. Civilians died. The CIA operation was a success, meaning all trace of their actions here have been removed. You didn’t bring Konrad to justice. You repeated his mistake.

You’re the problem. You’re the bad guy.

Konrad is dead. Long dead. He was dead before you reached the city. He’s been playing Tyler Durden to your Jack all this time. Walker broke after he dropped the white phosphorous on the civilians, and conjured up Konrad to take the blame. The radio he found was actually broken, and Walker was just imagining their conversations. (It’s interesting to imagine what the real Konrad would have said if he’d been alive at the end. “What? I said what? We’ve never spoken!”)

Playing through a second time, you can see the game doesn’t cheat on this point. There are even moments in the game where you’re talking to “Konrad” and your teammates can’t make sense of what you’re doing or saying.


You win, you Big Damn Hero!

The writers could have botched this so many ways. They kept it personal, so that this feels like a statement about the horrors of war and the casual attitude towards killing in other shooters, and not like a ham-fisted political statement against Americans. They played fair with the dialog, not cheating to make the big Konrad reveal work. The story begins with the voice of Michael Bay and gradually transitions to the voice of Stanley Kubrick. It puts you into un-winnable situations without feeling like it’s just being unfair and arbitrary.

And on one memorable occasion, it puts you into a winnable situation and then doesn’t tell you how to win.

What would you do?

You should know this scene. A lynch mob of civilians has just killed Lugo, and now they look like they’re a hairs breadth away from doing the same to you. If you try to push through them, they’ll bludgeon you back. After a few seconds, they’ll start throwing rocks. If you wait too long, they will literally stone you to death where you stand. Beside you, Adams’ blood is up. He’s demanding permission to open fire on the crowd. The game offers you no alternative.

A friend of mine did it. Sprayed bullets into a group of screaming civilians, because he couldn’t see another way out. I didn’t do it, but I’d spoiled the moment for myself beforehand, something I curse myself for in hindsight. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d gone into that scene, not knowing there was another way. I had to very gently inform my friend, who was adamant that he “didn’t have a choice” that yes, he did have a choice, and he chose to slaughter civilians.

The developers, apparently, laboured hard over this section of the game to put the player in Walkers shoes: Boxed in, under a lot of stress, with no apparent alternative. It worked. Bloody hell, it worked.

To be fair, Walker totally did make them pay. A lot.

During this sequence I fired my gun in the air, afraid that Adams was going to hear the shots and decide to start killing. I was afraid I was being railroaded into killing people in an “us or them” moment. Like Tal, I was really feeling the pressure here. I’d wanted to help these people, I’d screwed everything up, and now they understandably wanted to kill me for it. There was a sense of relief when Adams joined me in shooting guns into the air to disperse the crowd.

This is one of the big reasons I urged people not to spoil the game. The whole point of moments like this is so you can react under pressure and see how you respond. Now you know how to “win” at this section. But would you have done the right thing if it hadn’t been spoiled for you? You can claim so, and nobody can prove you wrong, but it’s not quite the same as doing it.

The game really makes you care about the civilians even though you can’t understand them and the only time you see them is when they’re cursing you. There’s one image that’s used now and again during the game: A snapshot of a mother shielding her child from an attack. It’s just a glimpse. You never speak to them. You don’t see the kid frolicking and happy before the disaster. The writers understand that you understand how such an image would impact the mind of a man, and so they don’t feel the need to belabor the image to the point of melodrama. Silence can be sadder than long weeping and angst. Compare this to the “You can’t help me!” little boy in Mass Effect 3 and you’ll see how two different writing teams handle the same concept. BioWare bungled the idea, while developer Yager nails it.


Is the game condemning Walker? The player? The genre itself? Or is it critical of Soap, Price, Sweetwater, and Preacher? Is it critical of the USA? Of the general public portrayal of warfare as a simple conflict between good and bad? You can make a case for any of these. When I got to the end, the main question on my mind wasn’t “What is Spec Ops saying?” but instead, “What exactly are all those OTHER games saying?”

This is a superb game. I don’t know if I’d call it “fun“, but it’s a game about something. It’s a conversation-starter. The game itself is a series of questions, and it’s brave enough to let you come up with the answers for yourself.

I have no idea how they got the dang thing green-lit, that’s for sure.


From The Archives:

170 thoughts on “Spec Ops: The Line:
Operation FUBAR Part 2 of 2

  1. Vlad says:

    I tried to stay as spoiler free as possible before playing the game, and it worked. I did fire in the air though, hoping as you did that Adams’ AI wasn’t going to interpret it the wrong way. I’m glad it didn’t.

    I loved the game, although I did know what kind of game it was from the beginning, so I was never really expecting a bro shooter.

    One last thing I wanted to say: I like how so many people are saying that the white phosphorus scene was badly designed because the designers should have given you a choice for your actions to be meaningful (so basically just making it a copy of the lynch mob scene), all the while dismissing the “it was made intentionally to be blamed at the designers” argument. The arguments mirror exactly what Lugo was gelling Walker: “There’s always a choice.” “No, Lufo, there really isn’t.”

    Of course there’s always a choice: you could just stop playing. You didn’t need to follow the rails, if only you had just STOPPED.

    1. Anorak says:

      I fired in the air. I was absolutely terrified at that point, and I really, really felt the pressure.

      The overriding thought was “I can’t let this happen again”. I was feeling (Walker’s) guilt about all the civilians we’d either killed directly or condemned to a painful death by dehydration.

      I acted because I didn’t want Adams to lose it and start firing into the crowd.

      And I did all of this without spoilers.

      I felt such relief when I didn’t have to kill civilians, but that was replaced immediately after when I realised that Lugo was gone and there was no bringing him back.

      Then later on, the loading screens started to say things like ‘If Lugo were still alive he’d probably have PTSD, So really he’s the lucky one’. I interpreted these messages as Walker’s increasingly broken mind trying to rationalise Lugo’s death, because he just can’t keep piling more guilt on himself.

      This game did a phenomenal job, but how can I go and play any other “Modern Military” sim, and feel good about myself while playing it?

      1. Vlad says:

        That’s what I’m asking myself as well. The MW series has a pretty phenomenal campaign, albeit quite nonsensical. I don’t think I’ll be taking it in with the same mind set after having played Spec Pops. It’s just… how can Price NOT have PTSD after the thousands of dudes he’s mowed down?

        1. Zombie says:

          Price is like over 100 years old. He’s probably been fighting since the Stone Age.

      2. Eruanno says:

        I didn’t think about just firing into the air in the crowd scene until just after I had fired into the crowd. It literally did not occur to me until I saw them running away. I tried walking past them, but they shoved me. I walked around, pointing my gun at them, hoping they would get the message. Then they started throwing rocks at me and I panicked. I aimed my gun at the nearest person and popped him in the head. I felt bad. REALLY BAD. And as the crowd started running, I thought to myself – why didn’t I just shoot some warning shots at their feet or something? Fuck. Fuck fuck fuckety fuck.

        1. anaphysik says:

          So, having just watched the endings to the game (which seemed quite well done, I’ll add), I’ve a question on this matter:

          imaginary!Konrad says that Walker killed 47 innocents. Is that number always the same, presumably only including the WP victims? Or does firing on/not firing on this crowd affect it? If it doesn’t, that sounds like it’s saying something about who Walker’s conscious considers an innocent. Which is an interesting topic of its own.

          edit: removed strike tags since basically everyone’s throwing around spoilers anyway.

          1. drkeiscool says:

            I think it’s a reference to the WP incident.

          2. Simulated Knave says:

            Because in hundred, nay thousands of other games, warning shots don’t do a damn thing?

            And also because, frankly, on a psychological level it makes sense to hit people who hit you.

            1. Simulated Knave says:

              Sorry. Replied to wrong person.

            2. Atarlost says:

              Because just because someone doesn’t have a gun doesn’t mean they’re an armed combatant.

              Man had killed man since the beginning of time and each new frontier brings new ways and new places to die, but that doesn’t make the old weapons stop being weapons.

              Now, I haven’t played the game, but in general if a mob is attacking you with deadly force retaliating with deadly force is morally acceptable to non-pacifists. The fact that one of your mates is dead is a sure sign that deadly force has already been used by the mob.

              1. pneuma08 says:

                This line of thinking is why the Rules of Engagement exists.

                1. WJS says:

                  Few rules of engagement forbid killing someone willing and able to kill you.

        2. Simulated Knave says:

          Because in hundred, nay thousands of other games, warning shots don't do a damn thing?

          And also because, frankly, on a psychological level it makes sense to hit people who hit you.

      3. Varewulf says:

        I was in a panic at the time as well, afraid that Adams would start killing them, that they would kill us. I didn’t fire into the air, but I rather started firing at the ground in front of them. They didn’t seem to be backing off at first, so I ended up firing a whole clip into the ground before I noticed they were running off. I guess Adams fired into the air. I didn’t really notice. I was too wrapped up in myself.

      4. PhoenixUltima says:

        I didn’t know you could just fire into the air to scare them away. If I had known that, I… still would have mowed them down. They just killed one of my friends/comrades. They circled me in and angrily shouted at me and my friend. I don’t care if you have friends and family, if you actively go to that much trouble to piss off two guys wielding assault rifles, you’ve earned whatever happens to you.

        If that sounds harsh, keep in mind you can hear Lugo on the radio as he pleads for the mob to just back off and leave him alone. He doesn’t threaten them, or wave a gun around, or otherwise act menacing. His arm is broken, so it’s not like he could have suddenly attacked at a moment’s notice. He even asks the mob to back off in both English and Farsi, so you can’t say the mob just didn’t understand him. They knew he wasn’t a threat. They killed him anyway. So fuck them.

        1. FFKonoko says:

          Knew he wasn’t a threat? Quite the reverse. Lugo and the rest of your team WERE a threat, you killed a whole ton of people with white phosphorus and have caused the rest to be doomed by dehydration. You are beyond clear and present threats to their survival, you have literally already killed them. Your murderous “fuck em, because they killed one/some of mine” logic is exactly the same as theirs, so you inadvertently justified them killing Lugo, by killing them.

    2. Anorak says:

      I probably shouldn’t have replied directly to you there :P oops.

      On your other points:

      One last thing I wanted to say: I like how so many people are saying that the white phosphorus scene was badly designed because the designers should have given you a choice for your actions to be meaningful (so basically just making it a copy of the lynch mob scene), all the while dismissing the “it was made intentionally to be blamed at the designers” argument. The arguments mirror exactly what Lugo was gelling Walker: “There's always a choice.” “No, Lufo, there really isn't.”

      This has been my argument all along. People who complain that you should have had a choice NOT to do it want to be playing a very different game.

      I think it’s important here that it’s WALKER, not the player, who makes the choice to use WP, so why should the player get any say in it? Along the way, like with the civilians mentioned above, the player does get some agency in the world, but you don’t often get a massive prompt about it. Telling a linear story is difficult if the player can just choose not to partake in the story’s defining moment.

      1. SoldierGeek says:

        So if it’s Walker, not the player making the decisions, why do you get to make the choice at the end? Why does the game only come off the rails in the closing scene?

        1. Varewulf says:

          I’m not sure, but I actually felt that was a really tough choice. I’m not even sure I fully understood the choice until after I’d made it. But even thinking back on it… I’m still not completely sure I made the right one.

        2. bionicOnion says:

          At that point, I think that it’s a question for the player: in his shoes, could you live with yourself? After going through everything that Walker had been through, and knowing that you alone were responsible for all that had gone wrong, with the blood of thousands on your hands, could you just go home to your life like nothing happened?

          Yager puts the gun in your hand because they’re finally asking YOU the player a question that all of the prior ‘choices’ led up to. The other choices didn’t really matter to the overall story (except to put your own personal flavor on the disasters so that you’d be connected to them). This choice comes at the end of a string of atrocities you committed, and as an ending, the story doesn’t really continue from there–they can afford to come of the rails for the last five minutes, and so they do, in grand fashion.

          That’s why the choice is so hard to make–it’s not about what Walker would do, it’s about what you would do.

    3. goatsgomoo says:

      I actually didn’t think to shoot in the air in that section. I simply tried to walk into the crowd, and when the guy in front shoved me, I did a melee attack to shove him back. Adams ended up firing into the air.

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      When you reach that scene where you have to choose between the thief and the soldier,I decided to be defiant,so I shot the snipers.It worked,and I was pleased with myself,and with the game for letting me choose through gameplay.

      So once I reached the section with the civilians,I decided to be defiant again,still set on not to intentionally hurt anyone helpless,and it worked again.Then those same people started throwing rocks at me,swearing,and urging me to leave,but I endured their insults.Later,I replayed the sequence,and sure enough,if you shoot them,they simply run away and dont try insulting you.However,I still feel like I chose the correct path.

      1. Klay F. says:

        Wait a minute, how did you kill the snipers without both the soldier and their dying? Every time I trying attacking the snipers directly, they would just automatically snipe both guys.

        1. Neil D says:

          Yeah, I shot the ropes holding them up first, thinking it would screw the snipers aim long enough for me to take them out. When it was over they were both dead, but I wasn’t sure if maybe I still wasn’t fast enough.

        2. drkeiscool says:

          I shot at snipers instead. The soldier and civilian both died regardless; Konrad said he didn’t think Walker was the insubordination type.

        3. Daemian Lucifer says:

          It wasnt easy.But if you go for the headshots,you can get two for the price of one.Then you can run back and hide,and take the other two in the same manner.It helps if you have a sniper rifle yourself at that point(I usually carried one).

    5. NihilCredo says:

      Personally, I approached Spec Ops: Line like a roleplaying game. Walker is characterised just enough that I felt I couldn’t quite use him as an avatar of myself, so whenever a choice was offered I tried to do what I believed Walker would do.

      I wonder if this approach of mine kind of ruined SO:L (I still loved it, mind you). To me, in the scene with the two hanging men it was pretty obvious that Walker still considered himself a hero, the antithesis of Konrad, and that he would have gone for the dramatic ‘taking a third option’ of shooting the snipers. And in the lynch mob scene, even more so, I don’t think I considered it for more than a second or two: the broken, ranting, raging Walker would absolutely have opened fire on the crowd. I didn’t even know the crowd would start pushing and stoning you; if they had been just standing there, I/Walker would still have shot them.

      Still, even though “what would Walker do?” makes a lot of the choices more straightforward (even as it makes the game less introspective and more like theatre), I’m still stumped as to which of the ending feels like the “true” one to me. The two choices involved – commit suicide or not, surrender or not – are the kind of deep, gut decisions that even a few hours in Walker’s skin did not quite equip me to properly make. And that’s very interesting on its own.

      (Although if we’re allowing some meta-narration cheating, the title drop in the “survive, attack the soldiers, get killed” ending suggests to me that this might have been what Yager considered the ‘true’ one.)

    6. The Hokey Pokey says:

      The stop playing argument really doesn’t work here, for one because I already paid $40 for the game. If I stopped playing, the story doesn’t get a resolution. There is very little difference between this scene and a movie beyond a few mouse clicks. Am I supposed to stop watching a movie before anyone gets hurt on screen? Does that make the story change somehow? Does continuing to watch make me culpable for the character’s actions?

      A meta-game action like exiting the program doesn’t affect the story at all, it just pauses the action indefinitely. The story remains the same and you just don’t get to see it. You can imagine that Walker and company leave, but that’s just fan fiction. There is no way for Walker to stop, the only thing he can do is pause.

      Oh, and I shot the ground expecting it to do nothing. I did it because I expected the rails again and I was trying to defy them.

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        It’s the tethercat principle.

        The Good Guys went off the air 2 years ago, and Samantha is still standing there in total shock after nearly being murdered, as the heroes go out to their car as far as I’m concerned. Someone get her a blanket!

        The thought occurred to me while others have talked about this: in movies and books and other art we don’t usually impute the views or actions of the work onto the viewer. This, I think, is what bothers me about every attempt to make this a meta-game rather than a very good tragic war story. In order to make this a story about gamers, it has to explicitly compare gamers to Walker, except that the gamers have a very real gripe that they are being railroaded while trusting the storyteller not to be jerking their chain. Walker is a walking pile of hubris.

    7. Mimir says:

      while i really liked this game, the ‘stop instead of doing an immoral act’ argument always feels like a copout to me. When the only way to do the right thing in a game is to stop playing, you’re undermining the experience, because you’re admitting that this is just a story, and you can put down the book if you don’t like where it’s going. that isn’t dealing with the themes, or trying to change the outcome of a story. what it means is that you, on a meta-level, are saying: ‘this is no fun, i’m gonna go do something else’

      but the story becomes meaningful when you do keep walking, because only when you’ve had the whole experience do you get the whole of the message the game is trying to impart. would the game really have been as meaningful as it is if you just stopped playing after the white phosphorous incident?

      Its true that games are interactive, and you are therefore the driving force behing events. but if you really want to do justice to player agency, and give the player the option of stopping, you should have an ingame option of leaving dubai as a nonstandard gameover. Just putting the controler down is fundamentally different. stopping play is something you do outside the game, on a meta-level. ending the experience is something you do from within the game. it should always be an instory choice.

    8. decius says:

      I aimed at them, and tried to walk through. When they pushed me, I hit one of them with the butt of my weapon, and they started to scatter. I didn’t notice (or care at that point) if Lugo was firing into the air or into the crowd, but I did let the guy who shoved me run off.

      Then again, a little bit later one of them was heckling me from behind, and I turned around and tried to shoot him but missed because -he- ran away as soon as I aimed at him.

    9. Elias says:

      I tried to leave. One of the civilians hit me in the face, so I hit him back, then Adams started firing into the air. So I followed suit.

      It’s a good thing, too, I would have probably executed him.

  2. Zaxares says:

    *stands up*


    OK, I HAVE to play this game now. Even though I spoiled myself about how to “win” that section. Granted though, I’d have just saved before the scene and reloaded multiple times to see how various actions played out, the way I do in any RPG.

    You also didn’t say what exactly the CIA objective in Dubai was, but I suppose I don’t need to be spoiled about EVERYTHING. :P

    1. CTrees says:

      I dont plan on playing (Im not an FPS guy), but I almost hope tje CIA mission ISN’T explained. It would add some further “WTF did he do!?!” if Walker did more terrible things to help the mission succeed without ever knowing what it was or if it was something he should have aided or fought to stop.

      1. Chris says:

        The CIA mission was basically to cover up the fact that Konrad went rogue and declared himself ruler of Dubai. Having a nutso American declaring himself ruler of a foreign city using American military personnel and hardware would be a foreign relations nightmare. So they were sent in to make it go away, inciting rebellion in the Dubai citizens and going on strike missions against Konrad’s vulnerable spots. It’s why the 33rd assume you’re CIA spooks when you first show up.

        Ultimately, their goal is to silence everyone by taking out the only remaining drinkable water in the city, ensuring that everyone in the city will be dead in a few days. It was heavily guarded, and there was no feasible way a ragtag group of rebels and one or two remaining CIA agents could infiltrate it. Then you show up…

        1. MrWhales says:

          Oh… I feel dirty..

        2. Klay F. says:

          Its also worth noting that the CIA agents straight up lie to you about their goals also. They tell you initially that their plan is to force an evacuation of the city by “stealing” the water, thereby completing Konrad’s original mission.

          The you get to the stadium and see an ENTIRE OLYMPIC SIZE SWIMMING POOL filled with water, and you start seeing that things aren’t the way the CIA agent said it was.

        3. Wraith says:

          I was under the impression that Konrad killed himself before that point, and that a bunch of crazies in the 33rd killed his staff soon after and THEY declared themselves rulers of Dubai.

          EDIT: They use gators. *slaps self*

          1. anaphysik says:


    2. Freggle says:

      Tough luck then. There is no real “save” at this point. The game has a really good auto-save function so you don’t lose game progress when you die, but if you want to go back to a certain section, you have to play through the whole Chapter again. The times I wanted to return to see if I could have done things differently, I had already passed the next save point, and couldn’t restart before the choice moment.
      I actually thing this is a good thing here, because it means your decisions and actions have more “real” consequences and makes you really think about what your character should do. (and you can really feel the pressure the designers put on you, like with the angry mob).
      I hope more games will do this as, although I always like to try all possible paths in a game, I did feel much more engaged this way. Also the replay value of the game greatly increases because you want to try those other options.
      Example: Had to play Morrowind 3 times because the Great Houses had totally different quests, but membership was mutually exclusive. In Oblivion all factions were available in only one playthrough and I didn’t bother trying other character concepts because I had done most quests already.
      I could mumble on about what Skyrim does with this now, but I don’t want to turn this into a review in the comments section for another game, so thats it.

      Thumbs up for Taliesin (isn’t that inspired by a character from a book? Raymond E. Feist if I’m not mistaken?) and Shamus for the review of Spec Ops. Thank for showing me some of the finer points of the story and workings of it. Really enjoyed the game and your thoughts on it afterwards.

      1. Mrs. Peel says:

        Taliesin, kinda like King Arthur, is both a real historical person (I suspect there really was a Bretwalda named something like Arthur at some point) and a figure from Celtic mythology. He was a poet, or a bard if you prefer, and some of his poems still survive. But over the years, he’s morphed into an Arthur-like mythical figure. In fact, he even occasionally figures as part of Arthur’s court. Works in which he appears as the mythical figure range from Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King” to Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books to Silverlock, in which he plays the same role as Virgil does in The Divine Comedy.

        1. N/A says:

          Yes. I’m mildly proud of the fact that I take my name from one of the few Celtic heroes who DIDN’T earn their fame by killing a bunch of folk.

          1. CTrees says:

            Sir Not-Applicable, the Apathetic, Layabout of Nottingham!

            1. N/A says:


              Seriously though, I’m Taliesin. N/A is my handle on this blog.

        2. The Rocketeer says:

          You left out the obvious one: The Book of Taliesin. Although you might have just been talking about works not attributed to the man himself.

          Also the name of a Deep Purple album, but I don’t think that involves mythic Welshman. I mean, it might; it’s hard to tell with prog.

  3. Sean Riley says:

    And THIS is the one thing I really, truly loved about the game: How well they executed those choices. You actually leave out another one where there’s a ‘right’ answer that isn’t immediately obvious:

    The two hanging prisoners. You can shoot at the ropes. Or the snipers. You can’t walk on, but there’s a lot more options than it first seems.

    This is freaking fantastic. It’s a massive rebuke to Bioware’s style of doing things, with a lot more thought and smart design. I adored those moments. Loved them to death.

    1. Anorak says:

      I just shot the “prisoner” who’d killed people. I was kind of in the same mindset as Walker: I didn’t want to play this sick game of Konrad’s but didn’t see any other option.

      This is another amazing example of how well the choices are disguised. In most other games, it’s the opposite: the _rails_ are hidden, to give you the illusion of choice.

      Here, the _choices_ are hidden, to make it seem like you are on rails and have no choice. Really quite brilliant.

      Out of interest, what happens if you shoot the snipers? Do Lugo and Adams just stand there staring at you, as if you’d suddenly started punching yourself in the ear in an empty car park?

      Or do they attack the imaginary enemies too?

      1. Vlad says:

        They also attack the enemies. It’s what I did instead of shooting either prisoner, but the fight was very hard. They both got knocked out instantly at first and I had to fight them all myself. Which might seem like it would make sense when you know what’s going on, but they DO fight back as well if you revive them. But… I don’t know why they’d fight against your imaginary snipers. It’s a mind bending scene on a second play through.

        1. James Pony says:

          Realistically, you almost can’t see ANYTHING in a real battle. A lot of real footage from Iraq and Afghanistan involves ONE soldier pointing out that he saw a muzzle flash or a dude in that window (left-hand side window?) on the hut (which hut?) to the right of the green thing (the green thing on the left or the green thing on the right?) next to that tall thing (the one with the thing on it?), and the rest then just shooting there, some grenades or rockets. In games like Operation Flashpoint, ARMA-series, and Insurgency mod, getting killed by someone you never see is the norm. In Insurgency, learning the map is essential, and then you can score kills just by staking the usual spots or shooting grenades or rockets in there – in fact, if you couldn’t learn the maps and respawn over and over again, less than 5% of all players would ever get anywhere.
          Spec-ops types train a lot, which is necessary for programming the muscle memory required in combat, so if your boss says he saw a fucking sniper, you WILL fucking shoot at whatever he’s shooting at. If going unnoticed was the concern, your boss wouldn’t be shooting at anything, right? He’s only yelling and shooting because he’s sufficiently certain that you had already been spotted.

          So unless you show them the “dead snipers” and your boys get uncomfortable, it’s almost entirely irrelevant whether the snipers are real or not.

      2. Lovecrafter says:

        I shot the snipers, and Lugo and Adams joined in, so I assume those guys are quite real.

      3. Freggle says:

        Shame there is no “like” button for the comments ;-)
        Otherwise I certainly would have pressed it for this one for the remark on rails and choice.

  4. Nikos Saripoulos says:

    Loved it! I liked this review, better than any kind of review I’ve ever read. I liked the two different perspectives, with both views not agreeing exactly on the same points. More of reviews like this, but only from people that are passionate for a game, like Taliesin was.

    This review revived my long dead faith in the genre of shooters. I’ve played a lot of shooters in my younger years, but as Shamus said, there isn’t something you can take from a bro-shooter, just point and shoot without thinking. As a result, in my mind it was like, if you’ve played one, you’ve played them all.

    I was amazed at this kind of game and i want to see more of this kind of game. Before this review there was no chance that I’d buy a shooter game. It changed my perspective of shooters. The next time when i hear about a new shooter game, I’ll have the doubt. Is it going to be another bro-shooter or a thought provoking Spec Ops: The line?

    I’m glad that a game like this reached the stores. I also believe that as the gamers grow more mature, the industry needs to supply deeper games than just point and shoot. In the case or action RPGs the good, evil and neutral path. I think this is what drives mature gamers back to the old games. An age where, in my mind, the games where made for mature people in order to provoke thought and not just to make quick bucks.

    Taliesin, I don’t know if you are a professional reviewer or not, but awesome work on this review!

    Anyway, keep up the good work :)

    1. Sarachim says:

      “Good path, neutral path, evil path” isn’t an interesting choice. If you don’t have a clear separation between yourself and your character, you’ll do good. If you’re roleplaying your character you’ll just do whatever they would do. If you’re just powergaming you’ll do whatever gives the best reward. I loved Baldur’s Gate (to pick an example at random), but the way it and pretty much every other old-school RPG handled moral choices bears absolutely no resemblance to what making a moral choice is actually like in real life.

      Based on the review and some of the comments here, it seems like the amazing thing about the angry mob scene is that it recreates what making this kind of choice is really like, right down to convincing some people that the choice doesn’t exist.

  5. Squash says:

    This was a great review series, and it seems like a great game. Not sure if I’ll ever play it, as it is not really my cup of tea and I never by AAA games full price, but your review makes me want to.

    Great job as usual, Shamus, and kudos also to Taliesin.

  6. Mephane says:

    About the “disperse the crowd before they get to you” moment – I estimate many shoot because typically, shooters don’t give you such subtle options. When you have to choose, it is usually “shoot either this guy or that guy” or “push this button or push the other button”. It would not have occurred to me in any shooter, so far, that it is indeed possible to solve the situation by shooting in the air, as such requires that the game is explicitly programmed/scripted to react to that realistically – and that kind of realism, is generally not expected from shooters.

    If I had been at that point in the game, I would probably have died from inaction, reloaded, shot as soon as possible, and cursed the game for blatantly railroading the main character into being a monster.

    So my question is – are there enough hints in the game that such a thing as shooting in the air is a possible action that the scripting reacts to? Are there other, less subtle surprise moments where the player thinks “wow, did not expect that this is actually possible in this game” in order to build a sense of immersion and realism that you intuitively assume that shooting in the air is even recognized by the game beyond “your magazine is emptied, no enemies hit”?

    1. Lovecrafter says:

      You can also melee the crowd, which counts as if you shot in the air. Melee attacks have, of course, already been established as non-lethal, so I assume that’s actually, from the developer’s point of view, the primary method of not killing the civilians, while shooting in the air is an alternate way of doing it.

      1. WJS says:

        That’s a pretty stupid option, though;
        – There’s an angry mob closing on you. (I believe I read they just got done killing your squadmate?)
        – You have a gun.
        – You attack them hand-to-hand?
        Shooting at them or in the air is hoping you’ll scare them off rather than kill them all (and shooting in the air is less likely to do that; a greater risk – are you willing to risk your life to save people who want to kill you?)
        Punching them, though? All that’s likely to do is piss them off (more (if that’s possible)).

    2. Phill says:

      I’ve not played the game, but…

      In a normal shooter the idea of the game engine understanding firing into the air is close to nil – as you say the crowd wouldn’t be programmed to react to that. The fact that a number of people did in fact chose to shoot in to the air suggests to me that the game does something to prepare you for this as an option. I don’t know what subtle tricks could or were used, but stuff like showing firing in to the air dispersing a crowd in a cutscene earlier (and subconciously bringing it back to mind by the use of a repeated phrase in the cutscene and the current situation). Probably a rather a heavy-handed example, depending on how it was handled. But there are any number of psychological tricks for ‘priming’ the user to consider or overlook certain choices.

      For those who have played the game, did you notice any groundwork that was done to plant the idea of firing into the air as a possible solution, because it does seem very unlikely to me that it is something that any significant number of people would try unprompted.

      1. Mimir says:

        i suspected the game might give me the option, judging from the way it had presented its choices up to that point.
        i was also pretty convinced by that time that anything delta force had been doing or would be doing would only make the situation worse. i didn’t think killing some angry civilians was going to make the situation any better

        that’s one of the most admirable things about this game. from about the truck ride forwards i was sure that everything walker tried could only mkae the situation worse, but i could not point to any particular moment and say ‘this is when we went over the edge’

    3. Vlad says:

      No, there are no other points in the game that I recall where shooting in the air is used as a mechanic, but the game does offer you at least another scene where you can “take the third option” instead of the two already grey-and-grey options presented to you.

      Then, other times the game MAKES you choose between two solutions to a problem, and then shows you that neither the paragon nor the renegade choice changed anything at all.

    4. karln says:

      I was going to say this too. How on earth would it even occur to anyone that the game might respond to you firing shots that miss, other than possibly by aggroing the mobs?

      1. anaphysik says:

        Presumably one reason would be out of frustration. Frex, at the end of ME3 pre-Bioware’s little ‘fuck you, player’ tantrum when you do it that was added in the Extended Cut, people weren’t shooting little spacederp thinking that it would have any actual effect. They were doing it because they wanted so hard to have /any/ other way of interacting, even if all they managed to do was vent consequence-free and because MrB included it in his TUN video and everyone realized how actually-kind-of-fun it was.

    5. Neil D says:

      I don’t know that they do anything in particular to prepare you for that. You’ll notice that the majority of people here who said they tried that option did so not expecting it to work at all. I was one who felt forced (very reluctantly) into shooting at them, but then immediately reneged, reloaded, and looked for another way (shooting at the ground in front of them worked).

      To a very large extent, it just throws you into the situation and says “what are you going to do?” But unfortunately you can never fully escape the knowledge that this is a video game, and the constant underlying battle between the player who wants the freedom to do whatever comes to mind, and the normal limitations of what the developers can realistically anticipate and program for. We’re accustomed to being disappointed 95% of the time, and so we fully expect that shooting into the air will at best just waste a few rounds of ammo, and at worst count the same as shooting right at the civilians. But that other 5% of the time, man does it feel good.

      1. Neil D says:

        I guess I will add that just the very setup did kind of scream “This is a test! We are watching your reaction very closely here. What Do You Do?

        But then again, so did the White Phosphorus incident, so, yeah.

  7. Solf says:

    I’m not sure I’ll want to replay the game second time just to check things out… But I’m curious — would soldiers shoot at me if I didn’t use white phosphorous on them, if I didn’t even shot at them, if I just tried to walk to them?

    I don’t buy in a “don’t play” choice. It’s a commercial product. You need to pay money to get access to it. “Not playing” is not really an option in my eyes.

    So did player have any real choice in this matter? Or in any other matter? And if player didn’t have any real choice whatsoever, this game cannot be considered a critique of player actions in any way. It can still be the critique of the genre of course.

    Oh, and I wonder whose “fault” is that I had no idea that Walker went ‘bonkers’ until I’ve read Shamus’s text here. I was just thoroughly confused as to what this is all about. Maybe I’m that stupid. Or maybe game fails to clarify enough.

    Hell, what rationale is there to think that in that ‘nuke them all’ schene 33rd *was* actually helping civilians? Or that Walker actually killed civilians in that scene? They looked like some mummies from god-knows-when to me.

    1. Vlad says:

      I believe I read that you CAN shoot at them, but they get you with tanks and stuff.

      And of course, nobody tells you not to play. But it IS one the choices. You cannot say “I didn’t have a choice”. There’s always this choice, however undesirable not may be to have lost 60 dollars, that is the choice you make to make, even if it’s not easy.

      1. Solf says:

        Sorry, maybe I didn’t express myself clearly — I mean do you have option to NOT fight these guys? Maybe talk to them or something? Or is it simply one of us is going to die here — me or them?

        In which case it’s not really a choice in the scope of the video game.

        I mean if I was okay with *not* playing this game, I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place? :)

        1. Vlad says:

          The main character tries talking at the beginning of the story when they met fellow Americans, but they were hostile on sight. The scene we’re talking about takes place (if I remember correctly) after another pretty large battle with the same group of individuals. So talking was out of the question from before, and the way it looked like was that these guys were gonna kill the civilians unless you stopped them immediately.

          So no, the game didn’t give you a dialog wheel, but I felt it was in the spirit of the game and the genre. Soap and Price never had dialogue wheels either, and nobody seemed to complain.

          1. Solf says:

            No, I mean the scene where you get to nuke the entire ‘army’ with targeting computer & phosporous. Unless I’m missing something there weren’t any civilians immediately in danger.

            At any rate, what you’re saying seems to confirm the opinion I have — you are pretty much railroaded the whole way with only a couple of ‘insignificant’ (because they don’t really affect the following gameplay, not because they are easy) choices to make.

            If we consider “don’t play” as not an option (and I’m certain quite a number of people would agree with me here — although obviously not everyone), then, well, you (as a player) don’t have any choice and thus cannot be held liable so to put.

            1. Vlad says:

              That’s the whole point they’re trying to get across though. “If we consider “don't play” as not an option […], then, well, you (as a player) don't have any choice and thus cannot be held liable so to put.”

              Compare with, “If we consider “don’t shoot” or “don’t do the right thing” as not an option, then you, as a soldier, don’t have any choice and thus cannot be held liable”.

              The metaphor seems to be that just like you, the player, paid for the game and are now willing to play it to the end no matter what, Walker feels like he’s there to save people and bring justice to Conrad, the bad guy, no matter what. Look at all the evil he’s done. He must be punished! Look at all the money I’ve paid for the game. It must be played!

              I’m not saying that you shouldn’t play the game. I did as well, but I find the developers managed pretty well to make their point that there’s always a choice.

              1. Solf says:

                Well, we buy the game to play the game.

                We don’t, as a rule (I think), go to war in order to go to war. Nor we shoot people in order to shoot people (mostly).

                So no, I don’t think it’s a good metaphor — although I certainly see where you’re coming from.

                On the yet-another-hand — if we assume that the game IS giving player a choice, why there’s no choice to turn back? Or shoot yourself (in-game)? I think it’s very difficult to defend a position that the game is giving you a choice when there are only two options: play exactly according to their railroad plot or don’t play at all. It’s a fake choice, imo.

                1. anaphysik says:

                  (disclaimer: basically agreeing with you, with some tweaks)
                  Walking away from the game is a perfectly valid response; the problem is that having to do so is *NOT* something you should praise the game for. If we want to talk failure states, that’s a pretty obvious failure state for a narrative. You don’t walk out of a movie that disgusts you praising it for making you walk out, after all o_O
                  (The simplest way to rectify this would just have been to out in a non-in-your-face means to phone-home/evac once shit went down, that gives a non-standard ending. If this were a tabletop, of course, you’d get a whole different adventure out of doing so, but alas constraints.)

                  I think the real thrust of the problem is that The Line (and its designers, especially) seems far too concerned in its edges with identifying the player with Walker. As someone else brought up (Sabr?) in the prior thread, I could get behind it as a tragedy, one that lets you nudge the narrative only after its defining ‘cracking’ moment (the WP incident, which honestly sounds like it needed to be better played out – for starters, it sounds far less well presented than the examples where unpresented third options *are* available – but lets ignore that for now). But as what seems like a lesson? It doesn’t work for me. It may work on a broshooter, which I suppose is good and likely necessary, but it doesn’t work with the actual story.
                  Basically, the main narrative thread of The Line that I keep hearing sounds good, but the almost-smugness of the developers just doesn’t fit for non-shooter-lovers, and I think it undercuts the rest of the story.

                  Though really, I dunno; haven’t played the game…

                  1. Deadpool says:

                    I don’t think the point of the game was “Duh, you shouldn’t have played it!”

                    I think the point was to get you to blame the developers for your actions and then, at the end, remind you that you chose to play this game.

                    And to make you ask yourself, WHY did you play this game?

                  2. Chargone says:

                    i get the impression that it’s very much aimed at the ‘shooter lovers’.

                    much in the same way as a kick in the nuts is aimed…

                    (haven’t played it either. apart from split-screen of modern warfare 2 (i had absolutely no interest in the campaign. most fun i’ve ever had with such was Spotting for one of my friends while they were playing), about the only shooter i ever really got into was Mass Effect (and ME2 to a lesser extent, though it mostly pissed me off.) … … and even then what i liked most about it was being able to load HE rounds into my shotgun or sniper rifle :D)

        2. Thomas says:

          You can still ‘enjoy’ the game though, if you detach and treat it like a Heart of Darkness thing, I mean Chris and Shamus (Couple name = Chrismus :D ) played it through to the end and got something from it. All they’re forbidding you is from playing _and_ feeling moral about it, and if you want to be moral, that options there and has some hard hitting things to say about the rest of life too. There’s plenty of things of evil things we do by default because of the ‘you can’t just stop’ excuse. I mean every war ever is because enough people are willing to fight it. A dictator needs a couple of hundred + men willing to do his work before he has a chance at coercing the rest. And even then, you could always just all stop

          1. Solf says:

            Well, you certainly have a point here even if I’m not prepared to agree with you (on the subject of ‘not playing’ being a valid choice for a video game).

            A somewhat tangent point is the one I tried to make before — after nuking the big part of 33rd with phosporous, I didn’t feel like I’m responsible for slaughtering innocent people as such — what is the reason to believe that guy who said ‘we were only trying to help’? The whole place is bonkers, maybe his ‘trying’ to help is actually murder people with prejudice so they can be ‘saved’ (inquisition-style)?

            And those dead civilians — I actually thought 33rd did this (or whoever else) — it never clicked that bombarding is supposed to be responsible — they looked like long-dead mummies to me, not just-killed people.

            So it’s like this — Walker/I shot only people who shot at me first. Killing hundreds is, of course, not nice nor easy on conscience, but it is in the whole lot of different league compared to say, slaughtering innocents even if by accident.

            I guess what I’m saying here — the game didn’t work for me. Maybe I’m too dumb (via playing too many of the standard-variety shooters and the like), but I didn’t even connect the dots that it was supposedly me who killed the civilians. Which made the rest of the game quite strange.

            1. N/A says:

              “And those dead civilians “” I actually thought 33rd did this (or whoever else) “” it never clicked that bombarding is supposed to be responsible “” they looked like long-dead mummies to me, not just-killed people.”

              White Phosphorous does terrible things to the human body. But before firing, you can see the civilians moving around.

              1. Solf says:

                Wish I could easily go back to that point in time and double-check. I don’t think I have that option, do I? (only last checkpoint is saved?)

                I don’t remember seeing any civilians and I certainly don’t remember squad members commenting on their presence (before bombardment) — but I most certainly can be wrong — playing late at night at highest difficulty isn’t probably a smartest thing to do to enjoy a story.

                1. N/A says:

                  You CAN replay the chapter to see for yourself, though – it’s ‘The Gate’, I think.

                  But the squadmates don’t comment on it prior to the bombardment, no. That’s what damns you; the game doesn’t hint much at the civilians until it’s too late.

                  1. Kian says:

                    You can tell they’re civilians in the screen. The soldiers were in small groups, spaced and had visible weapons. The civilians were enclosed, close together, milling about and had no weapons.

                    I fired because there was one more target, tried to avoid the civvies but on the last shot the area of the explosion was huge. When I saw the fire leap into the trenches I knew I’d messed up.

                    However, regarding the meta discussion, I don’t think the point of the devs is that “You shouldn’t play war-games”. The criticism to the player, I think, doesn’t lie on the fact that they could have avoided this particular instance if they had stopped playing. The criticisms leveled at Walker aren’t the same as the ones leveled at the player. The player isn’t Walker.

                    The punch aimed at the player, I think, lies in giving them overwhelming power, and then showing the actual consequences of using that power when you don’t know the whole picture. In any other game, getting these kind of weapons is a thrill. A reward of sorts. The player has been slogging through the game, getting shot up, and suddenly you give him a weapon that overpowers all opposition while you remain safe. It’s like squishing ants. You get to unload any pent up frustration from annoying enemies and really lay into them.

                    Spec Ops subverts the trope. They give you the weapon, the power, but they strip all the cathartic elements. First, they show you beforehand what the real effect of the weapon is. These aren’t clean deaths that just blow away the opposition. The targets are still there after you fire, you know what their deaths are going to be like.

                    You then have one of your allies telling you that what you are doing is horrible. No high-five after you blow these guys away, the way bro-shooters generally play it. This is a terrible weapon you are unleashing on your enemies. On the other hand, tt’s the only way forward, and there’s a certain amount of karmic balance in turning against these guys the weapon they used on looters. After all, if they hadn’t been using the weapon, it wouldn’t be there ready for you to use.

                    You then have to walk through the field after the weapon fired, and confront what you did. Culminating in the scene of the burnt refugees.

                    The point isn’t “the player is such a horrible person for not turning off the game before”. The point is “look what actually happens when you use these weapons. Now think back to all the other games that used these weapons and how they made you feel when you did.” You’re not supposed to try to find a solution, a way to ‘win’.

                    The story is tragic, and bad things will happen. Ignoring the bad things that happen isn’t the answer, the point is thinking about these things, why they happen, and how they make us feel. Here and in other games.

                    1. pneuma08 says:

                      Exactly. Tragedy as a form of art doesn’t exist to describe things we should avoid, it exists because real tragedy exists, and that creates a bridge to let us look at the terrible things that happen in real life, to recognize such things as terrible, and to consider the ramifications of such things, rather than overlook or ignore them.

                      Spec Ops doesn’t ask you to stop playing shooters. The game only asks you to look at what you are doing, and why. It isn’t a call to action; it is a call for contemplation.

                    2. Shamus says:

                      I really like this. Well put.

  8. Mephane says:

    Okay, this is completely off-topic, but I have now made the observation twice and don’t believe it is by accident.

    I wanted to edit my comment above (add a word to the first sentence to make it a bit clearer) and Firefox hung up. It used one CPU core at 100%, kept allocating memory until it consumed about twice as much as before, then freed that memory and kept repeating the cycle… and never stopped. I have never seen this behaviour on any site, so I guess a specific script here in combination with a bug in Firefox seems to be the cause of this problem.

    I had the same before, but dismissed it as a random, singular incident, but now I saw it again, right when I tried to edit a comment like the other time.

    I will now perform an experiment if it happens when I edit this comment…

    Edit: Funny, this time it worked. Seems it is not always happening (which means harder to track down and solve… I hate this type of bug).

    1. Deadfast says:

      Do you have any addons?

      1. Mephane says:

        Adblock plus (though deactivated for Shamus’ site), Firebug, that’s it mostly.

  9. Joshua says:

    I have to say I think it’s awesome that you get choices from subtle actions and not a dialogue box prompting you to “Would you like to shoot at the people or in the air?”

  10. Bentusi16 says:

    I’m not going to pretend: I saw several advertisements for this game (by several I mean the same ad several dozen times), and was completely sold on the fact that it was a standard brown shooter trying to cash in on the craze, and I even commented to some friends that “it was so generic looking I couldn’t even remember the name unless I was watching the advertisement”

    It’s always humbling to be reminded that we shouldn’t always judge something based on preconceived notions.

    Now they just need to clean up the mechanics a bit and it’ll be an all around perfect game.

  11. Phantom Hoover says:

    “I had to very gently inform my friend, who was adamant that he “didn't have a choice” that yes, he did have a choice, and he chose to slaughter civilians.”

    Uh, I’m not sure you can reduce defending yourself from a murderous lynch mob to “slaughtering civilians”. I understand that the alternative is to scare them or something, but most games simply don’t give you that kind of choice — the AI is too dumb for self-preservation, and we’re all too used to being merciful only for the fleeing wounded to start attacking again (Skyrim, for instance).

    1. N/A says:

      When you’re a veteran soldier with a machine gun, and you’re faced with a mob of people with fists, harsh language and rocks that are laying around, you don’t ‘defend yourself’. Your power as a combatant is so far beyond them that they are simply not a threat to you unless you stand there and do nothing.

      If you fight them, you WILL win. So yes, if you open fire on the crowd, I count that as ‘slaughtering civilians’.

      1. James Pony says:

        If they’re attacking an armed soldier because they think the soldier shouldn’t be allowed to (or simply won’t) defend himself, the soldier isn’t slaughtering civilians, he’s slaughtering morons.
        If they’re attacking an armed soldier because the chose to fight, the soldier isn’t slaughtering civilians, he’s winning a very one-sided battle.

        If the only alternative to killing civilians is “bend over”, then it’s not a real choice.

        And being properly prepared for the contingency doesn’t make defensive violence automatically wrong.

        1. N/A says:

          Given that the scene does have an alternative solution, it should be fairly clear that “bend over” is NOT the only alternative.

          Defensive violence isn’t wrong, no, but when the power disparity is that huge it should be possible to disperse the enemy without killing them. That’s the relationship between force and intimidation; the more you have, the less you have to use.

          1. Chargone says:

            unless said weaker people are morons and attack you Anyway.

            the problem with the high-powered weaponry is that it doesn’t make YOU any less squishy. at the point where they attack you with lethal intent/force (and rocks Can count, though not always) any attempt to justify NOT using said force goes out the window and earns you the label of ‘suicidal’ or ‘idiot.’

            having the MG and being intimidating Should result in them backing off. if it Doesn’t, and they actually Attack? you damn well DO use that force.

            another thing of note: everything else aside, the one thing I’ve learned about shooters is you NEVER aim anywhere but at the threat. shooting up in the air guarantees that something will kill you before you can realign. except in this case. because this game is actually intelligent.

            so… ok, yeah, when they’ve not actually attacked or anything, you shouldn’t be shooting them, true, but I wouldn’t shoot in the air. not because i wouldn’t THINK of it, but because of the odds that the moment i aimed anywhere but at the mob would be the moment some Idiot decided to hit me in the head with a rock and they rushed me. If not surrounded, my natural inclination would be to run. if surrounded, to talk. if talking didn’t work… actually, i’d probably try the melee option if no one was actually attacking Yet but it was obvious they were going to. which is kinda stupid now that i think about it, but apparently also works. and were i a trained soldier shooting would probably replace that last one.

            basically: disparity in offensive power does not have any moral impact at ALL if the Weaker party still has enough to cause serious injury or death to the stronger, and They are the aggressors/attack (the line is pretty much: as close to the point at which that offensive superiority vanishes as possible without crossing it. needlessly before that point puts you in the wrong. After that point makes you dead.)

            ugh. this isn’t coming out how i want it to. i hope you get the point.

            1. N/A says:

              There’s a difference between actual gunfire and the mere sight of somebody with a gun. One is definitely more intimidating than the other. So if you have an MG and they don’t back off, yes, you fire over their heads, or at their feet. You push as hard as you can to resolve the situation without killing them, because it is almost always possible to disperse a crowd of unarmed, untrained civilians with intimidation tactics.

              If the attempt to disperse the crowd without loss of life is made, and in the face of gunfire and a plain willingness to use lethal force, the mob presses forwards, then I will entertain that actually firing upon the crowd may be justified.

              But armed soldiers opening fire on civilians without taking these measures, is nothing less than butchery.

              I will freely admit that it is understandable. Soldiers are not police officers; they aren’t expected to have extensive training in non-lethal pacification. In the heat of the moment, their training tells them “aim centre mass, soldier,” and this is why the military makes shitty police. I can understand why somebody pursues a course of action, I can even forgive them for it. That does not make it justifiable, and it certainly does not make it right.

          2. WJS says:

            Are these the same “harmless civilians” who just finished killing one of you? Or is this a different group of civilians? There’s a difference between being armed and being a threat.
            Shooting over their heads is a huge risk. It’s not so likely to work, they’re already way too close for comfort, and they’ve just demonstrated what their intentions are.
            (So naturally, some people said how they went and got closer)

      2. Phantom Hoover says:

        But what if they keep attacking, either because they’re calling your bluff or they’re too enraged to think rationally? Are you meant to just sit there and let them stone you to death because it would be unfair to fight back?

        1. N/A says:

          Toss a flashbang and run.

          Failing that… Yes, fire on them. But not before at least TRYING to disperse them without needless death.

          1. James Pony says:

            Do you have a flashbang? How do you know they won’t mistake it for a frag grenade?

            Run how far? You sure you can outrun them with all your gear on? You sure running won’t make them think too highly of themselves and push their luck?

            You sure they won’t just panic and trample each other to death?

            How much exactly is “needless” death?

            1. Keeshhound says:

              You’re missing the important part here: Try something else first, then if that fails, go ahead and use lethal force. But shooting them isn’t going to stop being an option after less-lethal means have been implemented, so try something else first. Yes, the attempt might fail, but it’s better to try to find a non-lethal solution than to just default to shooting people when the other options haven’t been exhausted yet.

              1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

                I’m happy to allow that the game has given an alternate choice, but I’m not convinced on this point. War doesn’t give second chances and mobs can be lethal even without rocks. If firing into the air didn’t work, Walker would have been dead.

                Soldiers aren’t police, but I’m not even positive a police officer in this case would have been considered out of policy had he fired into the crowd (actually, on the usual rules of force, he might be in more trouble if he fired into the air).

                1. N/A says:

                  And if firing into the air hadn’t worked, I would not object so much to firing on the crowd afterwards. I’d be appalled that it was necessary, but I’d be much less able or willing to object to it being necessary.

                  1. mixmastermind says:

                    This is of course under the assumption that a player would even consider warning shots an option, considering it’s the only game I can think of that has them.

                  2. WJS says:

                    If firing in the air hadn’t worked, there wouldn’t be anyone to fire on the crowd! You don’t seem to get it; there are no do-overs in combat. If the mob kills you, you don’t get to respawn and try it again. Even shooting into the crowd isn’t guaranteed to work, but it’s the best chance you have.
                    EDIT: That is assuming your objective is to stay alive. If you want to argue “You shouldn’t shoot them even when the alternative is them killing you”, that’s fine. I don’t know if I agree, but at least it isn’t some magical “there’s always a third option” bullshit. Sometimes there isn’t.

                2. zob says:

                  US is not at war with Dubai and Walker has no right to be there. So shooting those civilians will make you a war criminal. You are the aggressor, you can’t hide behind “self-defense”.

                  1. Sarachim says:

                    It sounds like that makes a big difference here. It’s not just people throwing rocks at you, it’s people throwing rocks at you because you deserve it. Yeah, you meant well and you’d like to fix the mess you made, but it’s clear to see that these people are defending their home from you with suicidal bravery. If you open fire on them, you’re still alive, but you’ve made things worse again.

    2. watermark0n says:

      In Skyrim I believe you have to sheathe your weapon to accept a surrender, then they’ll walk off. If you don’t sheathe your weapon, they assume you haven’t accepted it and become aggressive again. This is kind of stupid and not very clear.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I love the ending messages before the epilogue.The difference between “Death toll:Too many”,and “Survivors:One too many” is brilliant.On that note,which ending did you guys do first?For me,the first one was the shortest one,and it seems like the perfect ending of walkers story.

    Also,this is not really tied with the game,but this comic deserves reaching as many people as possible.

    1. Lovecrafter says:

      I first chose the one where Walker shoots himself. Afteer being confronted with everything he’s done and how everything went (even more) to hell since he came to Dubai, it felt to me like the most natural choice.

      1. Robyrt says:

        Me too – except I just let the timer expire instead. It seemed fitting somehow for Konrad to complete the mission.

      2. Anorak says:

        I actually took the action myself just before the timer expired. I wanted Walker to do something clearly and rationally, instead of doing it from the insanity. So just before Konrad said “one!” Walker put the gun under his chin and pulled the trigger.

        I might have imagined it, but the expression on his face looked like relief.

      3. Jace911 says:

        “It takes a strong man to deny what’s right in front of him.”

        1. Gahrer says:

          “How did you survive, sir?”
          “Who says I did?”

          1. StashAugustine says:

            Freakout there: Whenever there’s a scene transition, it fades to black. When there’s a hallucination, it fades to white. That ending fades to white.

            1. Jace911 says:

              …Wow, I never even caught that. The more I uncover about this game the more I’m starting to love Yager.

    2. Chris says:

      I originally chose the ending where you do nothing and Konrad shoots you. What’s great about this is that as soon as Konrad “shoots” the animation for Walker cuts to an animation of him having shot himself, the gun falling from his temple. It’s so subtle I didn’t see it until I was editing the footage after the fact.

      1. Bentusi16 says:

        So out of curoisity, how would you stack this up against the messages behind something like The Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now? And I suppose due to the ending, Fight Club. I mean, were the messages the same, sort of thing?

        Or were the messages vaguely the same but the conclusions were different.

        1. Chris says:

          The structure is very similar to both, but I think all three are going after different targets with similar themes. Conrad’s novel was primarily interested in colonization, the bestial nature/duality of man, and what it means to be civilized (Kurtz was, after all, a bit of a Renaissance man despite ruling over a tribe of headhunters). Apocalypse Now took those concepts and turned them towards the Vietnam War (and war in the abstract). Heart of Darkness, despite being violent and terrifying, didn’t match up the “madness” concept with military warfare. Coppola’s film is so iconic that the idea is sort of old hat now, but there’s a reason it’s an oft-referenced work for the loss of humanity at wartime (“I love the smell of Napalm in the morning,” etc). Spec Ops takes elements from both previous works – the duality of man as both beast and civil individual, the juxtaposition of military combat with a lose of sanity and dehumanization, traveling to a foreign land that represents some sort of hotbed of men leaving civilized life behind, moral ambiguity where there are no clear victors, etc. But it uses those thematic elements to attack/indict military shooters and even shooting games in general. So I’m not sure they can be directly compared (none is a direct adaptation of the other, but all cite the former works as references), but they all have key thematic similarities and an overall story structure that relates them.

          Fight Club is its own beast. Both Spec Ops and Fight Club have the protagonist discover that they have another personality with them, but while Spec Ops was mostly just a projection of guilt Fight Club has an all-out alternate persona that occasionally takes over. Konrad/Walker’s relationship is an allegory of the player’s relationship with the developers – they want you to be able to use them as a scapegoat and blame for the horrible things you’re ultimately doing. Fight Club’s Tyler Durden was the the id of the Narrator. The Narrator is a flaccid, emasculated, powerless individual worn down by the dull safety of modern middle class life. A life whose worth is determined by material goods and things that are owned, a life devoid of meaning and emotional resonance. Durden is the other extreme – a political radical who engages in fights because it makes him feel alive; a person who rejects material wealth in favor of spiritual enlightment, activism, and sometimes simple chaos and unpredictability. I guess both play off of the duality thing – that all men are simultaneously wild animals that desire conflict, action, and conquest while also being civil, placid thinkers capable of reason and empathy. The difference is how that logic is applied – Spec Ops asks how a “good person” like you could continue to play a game where you drop white phosphorus on civilians and then march on to kill more people, while Fight Club sort of discusses the dissonance between emotionless, deadened, dull materialist lifestyles and how those conflict with our base instincts that, while destructive and violent and scary, are also powerful/ever present/core to being human.

          Also, I type too much.

          1. James Pony says:

            “Also, I type too much.”

            No, you don’t.

          2. Bentusi16 says:

            It’s only to much when it’s irrelevant, and you never seem to go to far irrelevant.

            Thank you for sharing your opinion, and it is interesting to think about, definitely.

            To let you know, I didn’t think fight club was a big shared thing either, but I figured we might as well ask the question and get it out of the way. Bit of a dialectic fan, as it were.

          3. Daemian Lucifer says:

            “Also, I type too much.”

            As long as we are reading,its not too much.

          4. Paul Spooner says:

            Unlike the rest of us, when you make a long post it is neither rambling nor pointless. Also people actually read it.
            Good work. Keep it up.

          5. RubberBandMan says:

            As someone who’s heard of Apoc. Now and Heart of Darkness, but hasn’t seen/read them, can you confirm that for the most part the story isn’t a redone version of it, but Walker for the last 1/3 of the game wants to think it is?

            Walker wants to believe Conrad went crazy and warped him into a monster, so he can blame everything on Conrad for giving Walker ‘no choice’. But at the end from the info items, you see Conrad deeply regrets the things he had to do, and does not want the world to see what horrors happened to people.

            So did Walker just try and act out Apoc. Now, in order to pretend he’s not a ‘bad guy’, when in reality the game and movie’s themes are very different?

            1. Chris says:

              It’s clear Walker wants to deny culpability. But both Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness have different outcomes.

              Marlow, the protagonist in Heart of Darkness, comes out the other side scarred but otherwise okay. He returns to England after seeing Kurtz basically become an insane dictator of a small tribe in Africa in the name of ivory trading, only to recant his actions (or at least realize the depravity of what he’s done) after he dies from an illness. Marlow is more an observer to depravity than anything, and remains mostly uncorrupted. He even lies to Kurtz’s fiancee upon returning to England about his last words to preserve the memory of the man he was.

              Willard is almost more of a disciple of Kurtz. He identifies with the colonel, and goes to great lengths to understand and sympathize with him. And, in the end, Willard takes Kurtz’s life, then airstrikes the Vietnamese and Cambodians he had allied with. The film also comes to an abrupt end after that – basically a fade to black. No epilogue, no follow ups on the state of Willard after the fact. The result is more ambiguous – is Willard a hero for destroying the insanity that had been plaguing these lands, or had he only brought that much more death to a senseless and bloody land? Did Willard kill Kurtz because he took to heart Kurtz’s message of doing what must be done? Did he do it because it was his mission? Does it even matter?

              In short, if Walker thought he was more like Marlow in Heart of Darkness then yeah, the projection/comparison makes sense because it frames Walker as an observer of crazy and not a partaker. But the situation is also undeniably closer to Apocalypse Now (military theme, etc) and if Walker was trying to act out that film it paints him in a rather negative light. Consequently I don’t think he was willingly projecting either story to justify his actions, I think he was just projecting Konrad the character.

              The Heart of Darkness stuff was played up, really, to frame the narrative “gotcha” the way the game sets up its gameplay “gotcha.” The gameplay says “I’m just another dudebro shooter” and then destroys those expectations by making you do awful things. The narrative, with all of its Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now references, implies a video game where you go down a tunnel that gets more and more warped until you meet the big bad. And then you do, and it’s you. The Heart of Darkness stuff wasn’t really what Walker was projecting (the guy’s name really was Konrad after all) it was a smokescreen used by the developers to convince you that you really were chasing some epic climax – that the end of this story is your Kurtz.

              1. Disc says:

                It’s two years late and aside the issue, butWillard killing Kurtz is through the former’s narration implied to be more of a mercy kill than anything else. Calling in the airstrikes might as well have been a symbolical gesture of closing the books for good, eradicating the place from collective memory or however you want to interpret it. The mission itself has very little meaning left at this point in the film.

    3. N/A says:

      I played Walker as somebody who was very hubristic, but still wanted to do the right thing. ‘My’ Walker pushed on after the White Phosphorous incident because, ‘I’m never going to make up for this by standing here’. I looked at all four endings, but the one I settled on as my headcanon was where Walker gets to go home. He’ll need mountains of therapy and probably wind up court-martialled, but he was TRYING to do the right thing, even if for less-than-entirely noble reasons, and even if he did screw it up. I think he deserves at least the chance to heal.

      Your Walker may vary, of course.

  13. Cahoun says:

    I think the argument that “Oh, well you could have stopped playing the game” being a ‘valid’ option is really silly. We all payed for this game, a pretty nice dime if you bought it on release, though it was half off literally days after on amazon. Still, its a pretty pricey buy-in for the amount of time. Though I agree the entire thing is fantastic.

    But I don’t honestly think the developers would have been thrilled if everyone had just gone ‘Oh, right. The only way to win is not to play. Whew, glad I spared myself of THAT! Time to work on world peace!’.

    I don’t even think its an implicit criticism of the standard tropes of the genre or war in general. I just think its trying to raise questions. I don’t see why it can’t ask the hard questions without being inherently critical. Curious is more how I’d phrase it. I don’t think its trying to condemn the player on a personal level, but it does want them to think about what they’ve done.

    I’d also like to point out the character progression was top notch. My own personal disposition matched Walker to perfection throughout the game. Honestly I think above all the character progression carried the tone and made the whole thing work. I started out going in with standard operating procedure, and by the end of it, I really was just telling everyone to fuck off. When I got to the point where you blow up the fuel trucks, I let the CIA agent burn. I was done. That was about the third time I’d be completely screwed. I wasn’t going to take it from anyone anymore, and neither was Walker. It was good.

    1. James Pony says:

      Just as good ol’ Patrick Harper said in Sharpe’s Rifles, “freedom to starve is no freedom”.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “We all payed for this game”

      What if it was a gift?

  14. MrWhales says:

    I imagine, but reallly hope this isn’t that case, Is that to get the project green-lit, they basically deceived the publishers. The beginning of the game is a bro-shooter after all, so they could have showed whatever they had about it, and likely it was green-lit. But I reaaaaally hope that you don’t have to deceive and possibly lie just to make a game you want and that others want to pay you for.

  15. Tobias says:

    You know, in Alpha Centauri, if you Quit the game a short audio clip played, while the confirm prompt was open. It asked you to stay because your people need you.

    This would have worked great in this game.
    You click on Quit… And a confirm prompt appears.
    But you can hear Walker radioing in to base to ask for evac from his pickup point… maybe add a small cutscene of a picture of him walking away in the background.

    If you have the confirm prompt open for too long the message might change into some radio transmission asking for help or something. Making you feel like you ran away.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “It asked you to stay because your people need you.”


      1. Sarachim says:

        “Please don’t go. The drones need you! They look up to you!”

        It was the last part that always gave me a bit of a jolt whenever I tried to quit Alpha Centauri. If one of the characters I control ever starts to emulate me, something has gone drastically wrong. :p

  16. The Hokey Pokey says:

    Now that I think about it, I am having trouble making sense of the story. If Konrad was dead the whole time, who was leading the 33rd? Someone must have taken over, or else why would no one have contacted the States? Who ordered the capture of civilians from the nest and the use of white phosphorus on the rebels? I highly doubt that radioman would be able to command military personnel to do things like that. There should have been a ranking officer next in line, but we never hear anything about it.

    Dubai is a coastal city, so why didn’t the Navy do the evacuation? They wouldn’t have had to deal with sandstorms over water. I guess the storm wall is used as an excuse for the inability to communicate with the outside world, but there is a whole side of the city that is open to the water.

    1. Klay F. says:

      Um… sandstorms DO cross water. In fact they cross water all the time. The strongest of the 2010 Chinese dust storms reached California for Chrissake.

      1. WJS says:

        Well yeah, but while a sandstorm is a hazard for men on foot, does it really have that much effect on a ship made of steel? Those things are hardened against NBC attack, aren’t they?

  17. anaphysik says:

    A point: it seems to me like the post-death ‘weird’ pop-ups (“You are still a good person” / “Lugo would’ve had PTSD if he’d lived, so really he’s the lucky one” / etc.) would have fitted better with the tragic nature of the narrative if they were more clearly from a character to a character (Walker to himself likely being the best, although Konrad to Walker or squadmates to Walker might work if handled carefully (imagine Lugo saying the “I’d’ve gotten PTSD anyway, man” line; creepier, eh?). That way, they fit better into the self-delusion / dismissive rationalization narrative concept, instead of sounding like ‘hey player, you are BAD and you should FEEL bad.’

    (Again, post-death-screens also seems like a bad place for them. Loading screens seem like a better place.)

    1. StashAugustine says:

      I didn’t mind the post-death screens, because by this point the fourth wall is pretty much destroyed. Also, IIRC, there are no loading screens except at death.
      EDIT: Also, I just read an interesting idea: The loading screens are Walker trying to blame you for his actions. I’d have to play again to see if this is a good interpretation.

  18. Deadpool says:

    Two little things:

    1. Game DOES cheat a bit on the Konrad reveal. When talking to him he offers up the two people for Walker to kill. The two are guarded by 4 Snipers wh will NOT shoot you, even if you are in range. If you refuse to kill either of the (later revealed to already be dead men) you will be ambushed by Konrad’s forces.

    It was the only nagging mistake about the game.

    2. Super minor nitpick: Norton’s character was not called Jack. He was nameless.

    1. anaphysik says:

      Apparently the script does explicitly designate him as Jack. (Though still I imagine even there it’s intended more of a name of convenience than of fact.)

    2. kanodin says:

      Actually you get ambushed even if you do shoot them, I think the only thing that changes is the dialogue between Walker and Konrad about the ambush.

    3. Astor says:

      I decided to kill the snipers. Interestingly, the snipers immediately kill both hanging men and start shooting at you, and whilst I was shooting back, both Lugo and Adams went down (in that way you must heal them), as soon as I killed the last sniper they were both back up as if nothing had happened. And then yeah, you follow the corridor and you get ambushed just you would if you decide to kill the hanging man/men.

      I’m not sure if your companions get insta-healed after dealing with a wave of enemies anywhere else.

      1. zob says:

        They do heal after waves automatically.

  19. Bentusi16 says:

    Oh, I have a question.

    How precisely and when is it revealed that Konrad is actually dead?

    1. Wraith says:

      The very end, when you walk up to his body.

      1. Vlad says:

        The radio man also offers a hint by talking in the past tense. Although I did not pick up on this until the very end, since the situation was pretty intense during the radio tower level.

  20. Lunok says:

    first time through in that section i fired off into the air and was about to pull it down into the crowd when the started to flee in panic. I was so relieved that i didn’t have to commit another massacre in this game and was really impressed by the developers.

  21. Deadpool says:

    Here’s a curious question:

    How many of you tried to go back? How many of you, when meeting survivors shortly after being told your mission was to go back and radio for help after meeting your first survivors ACTUALLY tried to go back after meeting your first survivors?

    1. Astor says:

      sorry. didn’t mean to reply to you.

    2. The Rocketeer says:

      I didn’t, because I heard Walker say to go further in and, well, it’s a game, sooo…. Sure felt like an ass later.

      What was a lot worse was that near the end, Walker (that is, YOU) is asked if he, in the midst of the endless rampage to reach Konrad, could even remember what his mission was. I realized that I could not. That… hurt….

      1. WJS says:

        Yeah, that one really doesn’t have anything to do with the “Bro Shooter” genre, most games provide fairly explicit direction to the player. Even open world games let you know what you should be doing before you promptly ignore it and go off to do something else.

  22. Astor says:

    At the very end when shit gets kinda weird I started thinking (specifically when you get to the painting and Konrad magically disappears) that you were in a clinic and that the painting (painting about your white phosphorus killage!) was all your doing… that you were interned with heavy PTSD and the docs were using painting as therapy, trying to bring you “back to the real world”. lol!

    And it actually has many ME3 points of comparison. Obviously, two cover-based third person shooters with a three-squad-members set-up. As the story progresses the protagonist is haunted by visions/dreams and at the very end it gets real mind-screwy: you have been blown-up, you are making a ravaged body march on in a slow and haphazard walk to meet a magical being who’s at “the top”. Of course one game brought you flawlessly to said weird ending, left you with questions aside from “WHAT IN THE NAME OF THE CRAP?” allthewhile showing a progressive psychological crumbling, and actually giving you an organic way of making several choices that had an actual impact in the character and the story endings.

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Oh,one more interesting thing about walker going mad is when you reach the helicopter level,the one the game starts with.Walker comments about that already happening.And after that,multiple times,if you die the screen fades to a bit weirder death scenes,and when it reloads,walker shakes his head off,like he was dreaming or something.

    1. Jace911 says:

      I thought that was a very nice touch. So many little things in this game point to the devs taking its message very seriously and working the screws in every opportunity they can get.

  24. LB says:

    Not a lot left to be said of the game, but two questions about periphery matters:
    Since when was Shamus using alt-text/titles on images? I hovered over by accident and am suddenly worried about how much content I’ve missed!
    EDIT: Turns out just on this post and the first half of the previous Spec Ops one? Spec Oops indeed.

    Also out of curiosity, who are Sweetwater and Preacher and what are they from?

    1. anaphysik says:

      Oh, alttext, you so crazy. Spec Oops.

    2. Shamus says:

      Sweetwater and Preacher are your dudebro companions in Bad Company and Medal of Honor. I had to look them up. Didn’t play MoH and Bad Company was years ago for me.

  25. The Rocketeer says:

    That scene when you’re trapped by the crowd made the whole game for me. It’s genius. And one of the things I like best about it was that if you choose to kill the civilians, you get an achievement. I didn’t mistype that; it’s brilliant. You are at perhaps the critical decision of the game, the tension is at maximum, and then you choose to gun down desperate, unarmed civilians to save yourself because there’s “no other way.” And then you hear that happy little ‘beDOOP’ or ‘tling!’ and you get a little ‘Good job!’ token from the game. If that doesn’t stop you and make you think, “That’s fucked up,” the games is probably just wasted on you.

    And if you realize just how wrong that is, well… maybe, just maybe, you’ll think, “How is it any better in all those other games I’ve played?”

    This is the defining trait of satire: take something that is inherently wrong, but which people simply accept. Show it in its most extreme and obvious form, and let the audience recognize it for what it is. When it works, that personal revelation is far, far more powerful than simply stating the lesson outright. Spec Ops: The Line satirizes the cavalier killing sprees of the shooter genre with rapier precision (+3).

    (For the record, I shot in the air first. I was as surprised as I was delighted that the game ‘allows’ that. I kind of wanted to cheevo hunt after finishing the story, but… I don’t know how bad I want that.)

  26. Reach says:

    “I have no idea how they got the dang thing green-lit, that's for sure.”

    “Alright, thanks for taking the time to pitch your game to us, first off, what kind of game is it?”

    “It’s a modern military shooter”

    “Alright then, here’s twenty million dollars, your team is waiting on the eighteenth floor.”

  27. Higher Peanut says:

    This really is a good game, but one you only go through once. The actual game play seemed fairly mediocre.

    I feel the phosphorus scene needed to disguise the rails far more than it did. After the cut scene argument I decided to try without using it. By abusing game mechanics; aiming behind cover and then switching to a longer range weapon it’s possible to take out the enemies. Then the game brings six infinitely re-spawning snipers on both opposite roofs who can shoot you behind cover to force the choice. The snipers don’t even walk out onto the roof, they just instantly reappear when shot. It really ruins the impact of the moment when all I could think about was damn infinite snipers made me do it.

  28. zob says:

    For what it’s worth the game is bundled with Bioshock 1 & 2 in amazon for 20 bucks. http://t.co/UUfpYveR

  29. SatansBestBuddy says:


    I played this game just yesterday, finished early morning today, and I just felt the weirdest sense of relief when I read that you could shoot the civilians. Cause I never even considered that while I was playing the game, and almost died wondering how I could get out of there without killing anyone. I actually fired into the air in desperation, scared that Adams would start shooting people and that I’d have to actually fight him before he’d stop. (cause he was seriously unhinged by the time I opened fire)

    I mean, I knew in the back of my mind what the game wanted me to do, but I would probably have died and had to restart from the last checkpoint before I’d even consider actually doing it. At least, I think I would…

  30. tussock says:

    “I have no idea how they got the dang thing green-lit, that's for sure.”

    It’s the standard line that when US troops slaughter the innocent it’s the fault of low-level officers driven mad by the strain of war and who do not know what they’re doing. Nothing at all to do with the infinitely noble intentions of those at the top. That Iran-Contra was a bad apple in the CIA. That Vietnam was a battle for freedom against communist terrorism where a rare few soldiers went over the edge. Because you’re the good guys, and the people you’re invading are all in need of your protection.

    Yes, it’s got a plot, but it’s a pretty conformal one. It’s hardly “Wag the Dog”.

    1. WJS says:

      You think game publishers give a damn about that? Chip on your shoulder much? The question is how a game that attacks it’s audience got made, not how a game that’s… I don’t even know what it is you’re suggesting, honestly. Anti-American? Is that what you’re saying?

  31. Alan says:

    I’m slowing making my way through the game. It is amazing. On one hand, these writeups convinced me to play it. On the other hand, I was spoiled. One thing stuck out:

    I knew about “fire over their heads to drive the angry crowd off” scene. Tonight I got to it. I recognized it. And I almost shot them anyway. Not in a panicked moment, but deliberately. They had just murdered Lugo. I felt I had been trying to help the civilians, no matter how incompetantly and this felt like real betrayal. I was angry and I wanted them to pay. Ultimately I resisted, but it was damn tempting.

    Oh, and the loading screen test is an absolute dickbag. That they might be “me” and I deserve it just makes it sting harder.

    An amazing game. That it mangages to be fun (assuming you’re into military shooters) while simultaneously making you feel bad is a hell of a feat.

  32. RCN says:

    Just played the game in one go. It really is as good as people said it is for the way it manipulates you. I went in as spoiler free as I could beside the fact I knew the game was going to trick me. Even knowing that the white phosphorous was going to bite me in the back I thought it was more in the “you’re gonna be called on the hypocrisy of condemning its use not half an hour ago”. It really shocked me when I found the civilians and they managed to make it a very powerful scene.

    I too have no idea how this game got published. I wonder if it involved quite a bit of management juggling avoiding too much to go up the chain of management. I would totally believe that whoever was supervising it never got past the first half-hour of gameplay.

  33. Dreadjaws says:

    Really late for this. I JUST finished the campaign and came right here to read this. I have to say, this game really made an impact on me. I’ve been grown quite accustomed to the tropes of the genre, so I used to just do things when I was convinced there was no other choice, even though I might dislike those things or their reasons for doing them.

    But then, the white phosphorous scene came and I couldn’t help but think: “Oh, God, what if there was any other choice?” From that moment on, I started feeling furious with myself, as if I had been the one making those decisions. I really got into the protagonist’s mind, reacting how I feel he would have even if I would never react the same way in real life.

    When the villagers killed Lugo I knew they had all the right to be mad at us. But I was so mad at his death, even though I knew it was my fault I launched a grenade to them out of rage. When I found out about Konrad and saw him pointing the gun at me, even though I knew he wasn’t real I panicked and shot him. Then, at the epilogue, I shot the soldier offering help, because I knew I didn’t deserve a happy ending.

    Now I really want to play the game again. Let’s see how different I can do it all.

    1. WJS says:

      From what others have suggested, not a whole lot different. That seems to be a common criticism; you’re attacked for choosing to do horrible things, when most of the time you either really didn’t have a choice. And they throw in one where you actually do, perhaps to deflect this criticism?

  34. Tasrill says:

    Bit late to the game to but I have to say the moment with the crowd had a bigger effect on me then even the Willy Pete. Here I was standing in front of the angry crowd my dead team mate at my feet my other one crying out for blood. I try pointing my gun at them and just walking through only to get pushed back as the mob yells and screams, working themselves up. My team mate begging to let to just mow the civilians down and I am sure the second I pull that trigger he will open up on them even if I shoot in the air as we are both on the breaking point. I try and push through the crowd again trying to think of something else only to get pushed back again.

    Then through the air I see a grenade. It flies in that perfect arc toward the two of us from the back of the crowd. I fire a burst into the crowd and run forward trying to get away before the grenade explodes and then as the crowd of civilians run and scream in terror… there is no explosion. It was never a grenade it was a rock. I had just fired into the crowd in panic over a rock.

    I don’t know if I killed any civilian or if Adams did as I didn’t look back. I probably did and so he did to but it was all such a blur and then I ran away never looking back.

    With White Phosphorus I sat at the screen trying to find some way to exit it as I could handle one truck and those did not look like soldiers and then the game didn’t let me. With the crowd there was only myself and my own panic to blame. Panic that has happened to soldiers in real life and let to so much death in riots.

  35. Disc says:

    I’d see the main fault of the game as relying too much having the player in a specific set of mind. When you’re unable to get into to the story and the gameplay, like I was for the majority of the game, everything the game tries to build up falls flat and you start to see what they’re trying to do. Reading this it almost makes me wish I could somehow have seen at least some of the.. cleverness instead of an obnoxious writer with an agenda trying to point embarassingly obvious things about war and video games and what felt like a demand to feel conflicted about them.

    To give you an idea how it was like:

    In the civilian mob scene, I definitely was angry and felt like pulling the trigger, but it wasn’t because of what the mob did to Lugo. I just wanted to reach through cyberspace to punch the writer in his smug stupid face. It’s not that I cared about the plot much at this point, but I just wanted to get through with the game after already investing several hours into it. In a different context, the scene could definitely have been very powerful.. instead it boiled down to me just putting my business face on and trying to figure if I can’t get away from the mess without being forced to make yet another shitty choice.

    To their credit, shooting in the air actually worked and I do remember feeling mildly surprised. Though the game was beyond saving for me at this point, in retrospect I can appreciate having it there.

    I don’t know if it would have made for a better narrative, but after thinking it over, a lot of the (occasionally very false) dilemmas could have had a lot more impact with more choices. For a game trying to critique the things it allegedly does, it just feels unbelieveable that it doesn’t recognize even surrender and/or quitting as an option at any juncture. The optional ending at the the ultimate gameplay end of the game hardly counts when it’s all said and done already. Just having the option somewhere, even only once, would have been huge.

  36. The Railway Man says:

    “During this sequence I fired my gun in the air, afraid that Adams was going to hear the shots and decide to start killing. I was afraid I was being railroaded into killing people in an “us or them” moment. Like Tal, I was really feeling the pressure here.”

    This pressure that you felt; did it come from the moral decision you felt you had to make? Or did it emerge as a consequence of the manner in which you felt you were permitted and encouraged to interact with the game world? You very much seemed as though you wanted to save the civilians, and would have chosen to do so, if given the choice. The issue was that you didn’t know if the game would let you…

    The player’s moral choice is directly impacted by the manner in which they feel they can interact with the game world, then; if the player expects to be able to ‘think outside the box’, their decision in this moral issue becomes a question of ethics (shoot civilians or not). If, however, the player does NOT expect to be able to interact with the gameworld in any way other than violently, they may conclude that – in line with expectations formed by an entire genre of this sort of game – that the only input they can have upon the game world is a violent one (thus leading to their shooting the civilians).

    This sort of thing convinces me that the game seems to be a quiet tirade not only against the genre of game it is (you call it a ‘bro-shooter’, I think), but also against the fact that most games only allow the player to interact with the world violently and (usually) against enemies who will never surrender.

    A moral question enfolded within the confines of gameplay mechanics and player knowledge, then; we might well need more games that ask these sorts of questions…

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