Community Opinion: Spec Ops: The Line is as subtle as a sandstorm, and far from a thoughtful critique
The surreal ruins of a contemporary Dubai is reason to at least give Spec Ops: The Line a shot. An oasis of modernity and cosmopolitan civilization completely ravaged by a violent turn of sandstorms and war - it’s a captivating piece of fiction. Repelling down Dubai's glass skyscrapers in glinting sunlight, inching your way up the blue-lit aquariums, grand auditoriums, and velvet mansions, hugging up against priceless furniture and marble pillars to shield yourself from incoming shrapnel... It’s an engrossing city to explore. Just the absolute scale of it! And maybe it speaks ill of the numbing battles, but as you stop-and-pop behind cars and slabs of concrete, you may find your eyes wandering away from targets and instead toward the gargantuan billboards in the distance. Admittedly, an ad for mascara is often more alluring than the game's combat.
The following editorial contains spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line that describe the nature of the game and its "twist." The author avoids any concrete descriptions of what players encounter late in the game. Nonetheless, consider yourself warned that spoilers may follow. For a radically opposed take on Spec Ops: The Line, read PSU's review.
Sandstorms continue to swirl around the center of this metropolis, rendering it a no-mans-land and an isolated fantasy environment for Yager Interactive to work its magic within. Unfortunately, Yager plays their initial sleight of hand awkwardly. A three-man American recon team is tasked with investigating a radio transmission penetrating the storm wall and hopes to find evidence of a surviving company of allied troops. As outlandish as it sounds, the premise itself does not tug the curtains on the phony wizard. Rather, the ensuing characterization of the squad leader, Captain Walker, gives Spec Ops the appearance of a child fumbling the routine of an unpracticed card trick.
At first, the voice of Nolan North smoothly conveys Walker’s down-to-earth air of command, ripe with professional finesse and stoic judgement. Today’s mission is simply to locate survivors and radio in the cavalry, he explains to his bored brothers-in-arms, and in just a few short minutes they find the SOS signal in question: a makeshift broadcast tower endlessly looping the same message. Walker’s got a hunch this might be a trap, and--sure enough--a small mob appears, hollering in a foreign tongue at the marines and pointing their AK-47s menacingly in your direction. Civilians? Insurgents? It’s uncertain, but they’re angry and this is quickly devolving into a matter of who loses their cool first. During the shouting match, you’re given control of the situation with an active crosshair. You open fire.
Similar moments of interactive ambiguity arise throughout the game and mean to form its backbone, but of them, this first showdown is perhaps the most intense. It is, after all, the last intelligent decision Walker makes and the only believable dilemma among many thrust upon the player. After dealing with the ambush, Walker does the unthinkable - he presses forward. It is the tallest of orders, both insane and unnecessary, and only leads his squad into more suicidal confrontations. Still, he presses forward, never thinking to radio back. And by the time Walker realizes it may be a good idea to report the existence of a massive, hidden civilian resistance, they are too deep behind the impenetrable storm barrier to call for extraction.
Having accomplished what it set out to do, the game now has you in its clutches, and from here, will continue to bend rules and characters where convenient.
Before you can ask, 'What's this all about?' Yager spills the beans in the opening hour. Wave after wave of insurgents with a clear death wish attempt to halt your advance, and as you take your pot shots and leap over counters, working your way through a blasted-out hotel lobby, you hear it: Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, a radio blaring tunes from the 60s and 70s, and a loony disc jockey’s voice welcoming you to the city as “tourists." Spec Ops has gone bananas, and with no subtle use of allusion does it admit it’s the "Apocalypse Now" kind of bananas. Dubai’s desert is the metaphorical jungle; the dunes are the rivers that send a man into the darkest depths of his psyche. Hell, Walker is even chasing ... (continued on next page)
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