Kill Fucking Confirmed: Spec Ops: The Line

Nineteen days into the year isn’t too late to make another New Year’s resolution, right? It doesn’t matter, because I did it anyway – I’m blogging about each game I finish this year. If this year is anything like last year, there won’t be many of these posts. But that’s the real resolution anyway: to finish things that I start. Mostly books and games. So far I’m one book down for the year, and as of last night, one game down. That game is Spec Ops: The Line. This attempt at a series is named after a line that is repeated many times after blowing someone’s head off in the game. I think it works well for saying that I beat a game.

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Press any key for guilt.

Oh, and this has some spoilers, but not the ending(s), which would be the only thing worth calling a spoiler, in my opinion.

Were it not for all of the praise for its story, I would have never played Spec Ops: The Line. It’s a military shooter – I never gave a damn about the genre, and never intended to start. But I was promised by many a trusted source that The Line did something very unique: it had a dark story that criticized war rather than glorified it, and made you care about your actions in its gameplay. Once I got to about the third review raving about this aspect of the game, I thought okay, this is probably worth playing. And I’m glad I made that decision, but maybe not for the reason I was supposed to be.

I’m not a fan of shooters, as I said. I enjoy some co-op Borderlands (though it honestly loses my interest rather quickly in single-player mode), and I even bought Carl on Duty: Black Cops to give a staple of the military shooter genre an honest try. But they just don’t grab me like they seem to with others for some reason.

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You're not able to fire your weapon in this room for some reason.

It wasn’t very long into The Line that I realized one reason why: I just don’t like first-person games. Unless you count Grand Theft Auto, the last third-person shooter I remember playing was Playstation 2’s X-Squad. So The Line was a nice surprise, and I found myself enjoying the gameplay more than I thought I would. But what about this revolutionary story that tugs at your heart places?

I’ll be honest: I didn’t fully get it. Maybe you have to play more shooters to realize how different The Line really is. Sure, the cutscenes showed the characters verbalizing their moral conflicts, and there were some gameplay moments in which you had to make moral choices, but each one was bookended with long stretches of teammates shouting for cover fire and doing the only thing you can do to survive (and continue the game): kill everyone who is trying to kill you.

I just don’t have that big of a moral conflict with shooting people in self defense when I am 100% sure there is no other option, and that’s what the vast majority of it felt like. Maybe I just can’t lose myself enough in it, because I know it’s a game, and I know when the only way out of a situation is clearing out everyone shooting at you. The only real moral conflict for me was in Chapter 8: The Gate, when you had to use the white phosphorous.

Adams: “We might not have a choice, Lugo.”
Lugo: “There’s always a choice.”
Walker: “No, there’s really not.”

In Chapter 4, the game seemed to be giving me the option to kill McPherson, but I waited, figuring he would talk a bit and then shoot at us, forcing me to kill him anyway. But he escapes, and I realized that I had been given a real choice: either kill him or follow him. In Chapter 9, you’re told to make a choice between killing two men, and I figured that if I had not made a choice, the enemy would have just killed me instantly, and the game would have just reset to force me to make that choice. As it turned out, I could have successfully avoided killing either man. So it seems that this game allows me to make the moral choice, right?

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A moment where there is a real choice.

Wrong. Walker is correct in Chapter 8: you don’t actually have a choice there – the enemy soldiers will infinitely respawn until you use the white phosphorous on absolutely everything in the area, leading to the death of innocent civilians. The game keeps you on your toes by telling you to be ready for a moral choice at any moment, but then tears that choice away from you when it really matters. I’m sure they’re doing it to make a statement, but I can’t exactly feel personally responsible for the actions that the game forced me into by effectively cheating. But fine, I get the message: war is bad.

And maybe that’s what everyone was so shocked by that I wasn’t. Maybe other games really do glorify war in such a cliche manner that The Line looks like a rebel, daring to show players that it’s mean to kill people. While it didn’t personally affect me in the way it seems to have done for others, I really enjoyed the story, particularly the end – of which there are four, and they’re all really good. And I enjoyed the refreshing third-person gameplay – with so many game developers these days swearing that a first-person perspective is just so much more immersive (*cough*Bethesda), it’s nice to have another example to the contrary. It was so nice to play a third-person shooter again that I might even try out Gears of War.

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Most of the gameplay is like this.

Nah, just kidding.

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