WARNING: If you’ve yet to play Spec Ops: The Line then I highly recommend you go play it before reading this. Or you could just read this if you’d like, but you’ll be doing yourself a disservice.
Spec Ops: The Line was arguably the sleeper hit of 2012. Yes, I have a calender and yes I realize that it’s 2013 but Spec Ops: The Line was such a sleeper that I managed to avoid hearing even whispers about it until very recently. It’s a shame, it’s a damn shame especially considering that Spec Ops: The Line is easily one of the most unique gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Period. Sure it has its issues but ultimately it’s a game that deserved significantly more exposure. Whether or not you’re a fan of the shooter genre, it’s definitely worth a play through for the story alone.
So why does Spec Ops: The Line deserve a sequel? I’ll answer your question with a question.
How many shooters or video games in general have made you stop to think about the consequences of what you just did? Have you ever questioned why you killed someone while you’re playing Modern Warfare or Battlefield? What sets Spec Ops: The Line apart from its predecessors and even its successors, is that it’s able to not only evoke an emotional response, but a psychological one.
A defining example of this takes place towards the latter half of the game. After mistakenly killing the same civilians you were hoping to protect, you’re asked if you feel like a hero yet. You sure as hell shouldn’t. I didn’t. I felt horrible. This experience is not only jarring to you, the player, who’s likely trying to justify what you just did, but it’s also a turning point for the game’s protagonist, Captain Walker, who is attempting to do the same.
What also helps make Spec Ops: The Line so powerful is that it is essentially art intimating life. By no means does it attempt to glamorize war, rather it dissects it. The line between good and evil is blurred, leaving everything a bleak shade of grey. This informs the story, fostering a gripping narrative from start to finish. Just as the game’s protagonist, Captain Walker, is looking for answers, you too find yourself driven to piece together what’s really going on in Dubai.
As the story unfolds, you realize that there’s more to Spec Ops: The Line than what lies on the surface. You’re forced to make tough moral choices at several points during the game. There are choices which directly impact the ending of the game while others turn out to be no choice at all, some can even be completely circumvented. Sure, at the end of the day it’s still just a video game, but that doesn’t necessarily make the choices you’re presented with any easier.
At the end of the game you finally confront Konrad, who you’ve been looking for since arriving in Dubai, who tells you that someone has to take the blame for what happened. You’re given a choice, you can either shoot Konrad, essentially shifting the blame onto him or to let him shoot you, accepting responsibility for what you did. Honestly, I was so demoralized at that point that I just sat there and waited, not believing that he would actually pull the trigger. He did. And Walker died. If instead you decide to shoot Konrad, you get the closest thing there is to a “happy” ending in this game.
There are four different endings which all stem from this point. After seeing each ending, I appreciated the subtlety laced throughout the game that much more. If there ever were to be a sequel, I would love to see it having multiple endings which are obtained depending on the decisions you make throughout the game rather than only at the end.
Spec Ops: The Line showed flashes of brilliance but after completing the game, for as much as I enjoyed it, I felt like there was still more to be realized.
The game’s broken game play mechanics are the most obvious feature which could be improved on. The controls are often frustrating and near the end of the game they’re downright infuriating. Modeling their cover system closer to the model used in Splinter Cell: Blacklist would alleviate most, if not all, of the issues present with the game play. It’s believed that the game was intentionally made to be broken in an effort to break you as you struggle through the last couple of battles. While novel, I’d much prefer the game to be challenging on its own merits and not have to rely on faulty controls.
As it pertains to the story elements, despite being thoroughly gripped by the narrative, I felt as though the characters, especially Lugo and Adams, could have been more fleshed out. You learn bits and pieces about Walker but it would have been nice if they explored just why Walker felt the need to be a hero. There’s also much more to be told concerning the relationship between Konrad and Walker, and their time in Kabul.
It would be interesting to see a prequel that takes place in Kabul where you learn what drove Walker to want so strongly to find Konrad and also what happened in Kabul that made Konrad discount Walker’s heroism.
Spec Ops: The Line was a flawed, yet brave effort. It’s a dark yet gripping story with echoes of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It shares many core mechanics of your run of the mill shooters while still managing to carve out its own identity. It’s a departure from the norm and the team behind it deserve another opportunity to create something truly memorable.
At the end of the day, when you play a great game you want to be able to continue that experience. Which is why some franchises never seem to go away. In the case of Spec Ops: The Line it would be a shame if we never see another game like this again when it has so much to offer.