THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO VIDEO GAMES PART 2: SPEC-OPS: THE LINE

SPEC-OPS: THE LINE

Bloody hell, I can’t believe I thought I knew what horror was before this game. Strong titles like Amnesia or Alien: Isolation had led me to believe that the definition of horror was wandering around semi-linear environments, hiding from whatever hideous aberration wanted to eat my skin and wear the flayed corpse like a Duchess’s stole. But boy, was I wrong. Horror is not avoiding a creepy monster with moments to spare as you listen for the footsteps to go away. True horror is looking in the mirror, and thinking “YOU are the monster.”

Spec-Ops: The Line is the game I go to when people ask me to provide a game with a truly phenomenal story. Hell, I’ll say it – Spec-Ops is nothing less than a true work of art, because those writing it clearly understood that gaming is a medium in a unique position – one where they can immerse the player more than any other, and make them feel responsible for whatever decisions have to be made. You can’t do that with a book or movie, those events are always happening to somebody else, and we are only observing. But in Spec-Ops, YOU are the one at fault. Don’t kid yourself with this one, you are coming out of this story with blood on your hands.

A bit of context is useful here, I think. The game was released back in mid-2012, a point when the brain-dead, meathead shooter was riding high and mighty. We’d had Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 the year before, and no end to either series in sight, when both titles were long past their prime and getting dull. But Spec-Ops actually had a story that mattered, and reminded us of two very important things. First, that when you pull the trigger that there is a human being as complicated, and as flawed as you are at the other end of the barrel. And second, that ethics are something you may have to give up on if you want to get through this. They are the first casualty of war. In fact, Spec-Ops does a good job of deceiving you at the start, making you think that it’s going to be like all the others. You’re an elite group of commandos, you the experienced leader, with a pair of jovial squadmates behind you, cracking off one-liners and gunfire alternatively

But it’s not long before you’re in a true hell, navigating death and terror as your mind and morals break away. You want to live? OK then. Let’s see what you’re willing to do to stay alive.

Bear in mind that I am recommending this game only for the story, mind you. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the gameplay, but there’s not much inherently right either. It’s a very standard form of third-person, cover-based shooting, that does its job alright and there’s not much more to say on it, quite frankly. If you want a kick-ass shooter when it comes to mechanics, go to Team Fortress 2. But if you want a game that will challenge you morally, intellectually, and emotionally, Spec-Ops: The Line can kick you in the balls like no other. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Love being dropped into immersive narratives and fascinating worlds? Once you’re done with this one, give Star Wars; Knights Of The Old Republic and The Wolf Among Us a look-see, or even the Bioshock series, as long as you ignore the second one. Seriously, that just isn’t worth it.

TOMORROW: THE ULTIMATE CLASSIC

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