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The Belated Spec Ops: The Line Spoiler Thread
#1


I know it's not usual to put up a spoiler thread for older games unless it's for the Gaming Club, but I know a few of us picked this up during the Steam Autumn Sale so figured I'd do this a) because I wanted to talk about it, and b) it's one of those cases where saying anything about it is a potential spoiler for something people should experience for themselves the first time. So, here's the place we can talk away about it if we want.

DISCLAIMER: It says 'Spoilers' in the title, and that's what's going to be here. If you're intending to play the game, or think you might at some point in the future, click out of here RIGHT NOW. Trust me, this game's impact relies upon you knowing as little about it as possible, and if/when you play it you'll be glad you didn't read on.



So...



I liked it a hell of a lot. In retrospect it isn't quite as successful a deconstruction of the military shooter as it strives to be, but it's a damned good stab at it. As a story it's hurt by its being about as subtle as a bag of hammers, but the game's real triumph is in how it uses the mechanics and visual motifs of action games to unsettle the player.  

IGN have a great article (I know! IGbloodyN! http://au.ign.com/articles/2012/07/20/th...s-the-line) in which the developers go into the extent to which they incorporated Walker's hallucinations into the game - clever stuff that does a lot to put the player on edge. In a lot of ways though, Walker's madness is very much in line with the cliched, lazy Hollywood definition, i.e. "we can do pretty much what we want because he's craaazy!!". It never feels like a genuine mental condition but an excuse for Walker's base drives to sculpt his reality, which is in turn indicative of the tone of military shooters and how we interact with them.

Basically, Walker's actions are dicated by two things: his training, which dictates that he always follows orders without question, and his own desire to be a hero. Unable to cope rationally with a situation where his foes are Americans and the benefactors of his potential heroism - the civilians - may not want freeing, Walker selects the slightly more comfortable route of following these principal drives no matter what, which leads to Bad Stuff.

Yager's method here is to make Walker's hubris and dogged refusal to question the processes in which he's been trained reflect the routines and expectations hard-baked into us as gamers. I realized this after the notorious white phosphrous scene, because the lack of choice there is kind of obnoxiously blatant. I picked right away that the cluster of unmoving white blobs were't soldiers and would've stopped firing and quit out of the aiming screen if I could've. However I couldn't, and it was quickly obvious that you were meant to fire on them. I shrugged, did so, and got immediately pissed off when a couple of minutes later the 'burnt civilians' cutscene played.

Frankly, I felt cheated by the game. Just a few minutes earlier the game had presented me with a choice (re: Gould) and it felt ridiculous that the game would take away my sense of agency so quickly afterwards. I read up on it, saw that the developers said that they deliberately wanted to confuse the gamer, to make them blame them just as Walker blames Konrad for the atrocity, and at first wrote it off as a cop-out response.

Thinking it more, however, I realized that they were right. Just as it was always possible for Walker to turn his man around and get out of there before real damage was done, I could've just turned the game off. However, as gamers we're programmed to plough through anything a game throws at us, to interpret events in whatever way makes them more comfortable to us as gaming experiences, and to keep chasing tnhat progression, those achievements, that XP.

Similarly, Walker's perception is shaped by his training and his desire for glory, to be a hero. As he puts the blame for the phosphorous attack on Konrad for setting up the ingredients that made it happen, we blame Jager for saddling us with a lack of choice in that moment; actually making a choice by turning off the game makes about as much sense as turning around and abandoning the mission becomes to Walker. An interesting idea, though admittedly one that's easier to accept when you're picking up the game for pennies off a Steam sale.   

As mentioned before, there are little spots where choices become available but they feel like minor notes with no real consequence to the story, and things start getting fairly predicatble once Walker starts having conversations with his hallucinations, but beneath all the jank there's a good attempt at subverting the tropes of shooters with some great touches.

Polygon also have a good 'making of' article with some great insights: http://www.polygon.com/2012/11/14/359043...s-the-line

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#2

I still say that "the moment", along with how the game slowly introduces changes in the execution moves, reaction shouts and the loading screens, makes it all a perfect deconstruction of the military shooter genre; also im glad the inspiration from Heart of darkness and apocalypse now wasnt strong enough to turn into a copy or homage, even if it made the endgame a bit of a cheat.

Finally, i DO NOT want to meet the artist responsible for the endgame painting.

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#3

I also liked how Walker's mid-firefight behaviour gradually changed as well: looking like he's about to lose it when he's low on health, screaming at his gun when he reloads, etc. And it could just be my memory playing tricks, but I could swear that the headshot slo-mo flashes get slightly longer and more graphic as the game goes on. But then again, this is a game that delights in fucking with what the player's seeing so I could easily be reimagining that. The fact that I'm questioning it at all is very cool.

The only problem I have with the Heart of Darkness aspect is that Konrad, as in the Konrad of Walker's imagination rather than the long-dead man himself, is less interesting than the Kurtz of the novel and film because he's a manifestation of where Walker is going rather than an outside influence. While I can see Yager wanting to follow their own path, it would've been interesting to see where the game might've gone with Walker in the thrall of a flesh and blood Konrad, slowly influencing and molding his psychoses in attempt to bring him to his side. I found the Fight Club-by ending that was there slightly predictable, but it worked on its own terms. Then again, with Walker gradually losing his squadmates it's kind of fitting that all he has left is his own psychosis and the man inside his head.

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#4

Dont have the time just yet to dive in with my take on the whole thing, but I'd like to simply mention that this thread's existence fills me with happy.

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#5

The white phosphorous scene is a little too meta but it not being a choice makes sense to me. It's a continuation of what Bioshock's "would you kindly" said about the developer-gamer relationship. You don't really have a choice. Not an honest one at least. So by not giving you a choice at all and then blaming you for what they "made" you do they actually bring out the exact same feeling Mass Effect's ending created. Only that was an accident.

Diegetically though it makes perfect sense.

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#6

Yeah, if that sequence does one thing it gets us thinking about the mental framework we adopt when we play games. If we're enjoying and are invested in a game, we accept whatever it asks us to do without any analytical thought beyond whatever choices the game presents us; actually choosing not to play and turning it off is so ridiculous a concept, we don't even think it. So we plough ahead, because that's just what we do as the player. If only once choice is apparent, that's just what the game wants us to do.

Walker is a soldier; he doesn't question his orders and, as we gradually learn, doesn't want to either. Anything bad happens, he needs to blame on Konrad to facilitate his own sense of duty and ego. If he fucks up, his delusion has provided him a mental framework that lets him believe that his hand was forced by the enemy. That scene is crucial to this, because it's from here that Walker really does begin to lose it. It's also why the game has very standard achievements (Get X number of headshots, get X number of kills with X weapon); the game encourages this instinctive behaviour from us, then pulls the rug.

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#7

I've not beaten it yet so I don't want to get into spoilers, but while this game is beautiful and has a unique and awe inspiring setting, I'm upset to learn that the Burj Khalifa is not to be found in this game, instead it's been swapped out for a generic building.

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#8

This is a supposed chat between two friends, one of them a Marine, who is playing the game for the first time.

Good stuff, and surprising reactions by the marine, if you ask me.

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#9

That's a fantastic read. I didn't find the guy's reaction surprising at all; in fact, it mirrored a lot of my own gut reactions to the game. The point he perhaps misses (And which admittedly, only occurred to me after I sat down and thought about the white phosphorous scene) is that the game goes to pains to stress the fact that you're playing a character in a set narrative. Most games do this of course, but Spec Ops rams it down your throat repeatedly. Out of all the 'choices' you get in the game, the only ones that really make a significant difference are the meeting with Konrad and coming across the soldiers in the epilogue - and even those are debatable, considering where Walker ends up.

He made a good point about the Desert Eagle, I never noticed that. There is a reading of the game going around, which Walt Williams supports in the IGN article, that Walker dies in the heli crash and that the last section of the game is his dying fantasy. Interestingly, they use the crash as a flashforward sting at the beginning, but when the story catches up with it again Walker says "We've done this before", which is an odd thing to say about a flashforward. The audience should be familiar with it but not the character, and while there's lots of meta stuff going on in the game they always keep it within the context of the story or as a comment on the player. It makes me wonder whether there's actually any time jumping involved and the whole game is Walker fantasizing about his last few hours, the dream getting increasingly surreal as he starts to realize what he's done.

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#10

One of my favorite bits about the game is that the characters at the end aren't the ones you started out with.  Lugo starts off as the smartass wise-cracker, becomes the "we need to focus on our mission" guy and then eventually just goes numb.  The way he just casually kills the Radioman halfway through a conversation is just chilling in how nonchalant it is.  Adams starts off as the no-nonsense guy, then becomes the voice of conscience and finally winds up being an unhinged berserker by the end.

Walker, on the other hand, might not have changed at all.  He's the one that wants to go deeper into Dubai instead of doing recon and evac'ing like his orders state.  He's the one that starts blaming everyone else for his actions.  He's the one convinced that he's the good guy.  Walker was a sociopath from the get-go, he was just great at hiding it behind layers named "duty" and "regulation".

I also love how the little things change before you even notice them.  The call-outs, for example.  You go from "Reloading!" to "Dammit, I'm out!"  to "C'mon!" to "FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT RELOAD", from "Target neutralized" to "Dropped him!" to "Heavy is fucking down!".  The executions go from efficient finishers to 'Walker tortures a screaming and crying enemy to death' and you and your guys start looking like walking corpses.

It's a wonderful way to tell the story without exposition: visual and audio cues.  By the time you start noticing the changes, you start to wonder how long they've been doing that.

Quick survey:  during the Lugo hanging scene, how did everyone deal with the angry mob?

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#11
AI shot in the air.
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#12

Ditto.

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#13

Same here.

I would like to see a chart of how many players earned which Trophies/Achievements first, just to see what their first impulses were at certain parts of the game.  I think it'd be fairly enlightening.

Also, I kinda wish this game had gotten an official soundtrack release.  There's some great licensed and score stuff in there.

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#14

Just finished this this afternoon. Though I suspected where it was going, I still loved the reveals. Between this and The Walking Dead I've had a stellar couple of weeks of gaming.

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#15

I don't view it as anti-war, it's more a critique of video games, especially shooters.

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#16
AIts not as much anti war in principlle as it is anti-war in intent. Killing people in this game is brought back down to being an ugly necessity, instead of a cheap thrill. Its kinda why I'm completely onboard with the developer who called bullshit on being forced to shoehorn multiplayer in here.
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#17

Loved this game, and I was really put off by how little credit it got from mainstream press.  One of my best of the year.

-LOVED Nolan Norths performance and the degeneration of the soldiers physically and mentally.  The whole getting beaten up Batman style thing was awesome, but the savage, brutally violent finishers late in the game were very effective.

-Loved the Apocolypse Now feel and tone to the entire thing.

-Loved the setting.  Such a gorgeous game.

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#18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Freeman View Post

Loved this game, and I was really put off by how little credit it got from mainstream press.  One of my best of the year.

The big gaming outlets really dropped the ball when it came to this game. Credit where credit's due though. Even though though Giantbomb is considered to be jokey and more light Jeff Gerstmann was the first guy I heard approaching what Spec Ops tries to do with any legitimacy.

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#19

Jeff is actually kind of half what I was referencing.  I do know what you mean, but he dinged the game I think more than it deserved for technical faults that I just don't agree existed.

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#20

Yeah, I like Giant Bomb but they can be a little... weird in their opinions. Gerstmann did a good job of going into the game's thematic concerns, but they do get a little hung up on technical stuff.

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#21

Nevertheless he was the first major guy that took it seriously. All the way back to when it was released. Not now.

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#22

My review:

Gameplay: decent.

*Animations were very 'gamey', without the smooth natural lifelike movement of certain other third person shooters and action games

Setting: amazing!

*Beautiful, evocative and haunting. This game definitely showed me things I'd not seen before in a game,

Story: ultimately underwhelming...

*I appreciated what it was trying to do, but in the end it felt like I'd been cheated. Tricking me is one thing (would you kindly style, with clever hints and clues that genuinely pull the wool over my eyes)... but flat out lying to the player about what they're experiencing and then pulling the rug out from under them robs that twist of it's impact. If they'd figured out a way to tell the story that reduced the "hallucinations" to audio based trickery only, then OK, but the cinematic where I was told that the two men hung from the bridge were actually desiccated corpses? That was a 'bridge' too far. I appreciate that this game was trying to tell a new sort of story, but I think it was told rather incompetently, rather than maximizing my complicity in the lead characters actions, I felt disassociated from them since the game straight up lied to me to get me to behave that way.

For the record I made all the bad choices I guess, but again, I absolve myself of responsibility since the game gave me an inaccurate impression of what was really going on.

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#23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr Harford View Post

My review:

Gameplay: decent.

*Animations were very 'gamey', without the smooth natural lifelike movement of certain other third person shooters and action games

Setting: amazing!

*Beautiful, evocative and haunting. This game definitely showed me things I'd not seen before in a game,

Story: ultimately underwhelming...

*I appreciated what it was trying to do, but in the end it felt like I'd been cheated. Tricking me is one thing (would you kindly style, with clever hints and clues that genuinely pull the wool over my eyes)... but flat out lying to the player about what they're experiencing and then pulling the rug out from under them robs that twist of it's impact. If they'd figured out a way to tell the story that reduced the "hallucinations" to audio based trickery only, then OK, but the cinematic where I was told that the two men hung from the bridge were actually desiccated corpses? That was a 'bridge' too far. I appreciate that this game was trying to tell a new sort of story, but I think it was told rather incompetently, rather than maximizing my complicity in the lead characters actions, I felt disassociated from them since the game straight up lied to me to get me to behave that way.

For the record I made all the bad choices I guess, but again, I absolve myself of responsibility since the game gave me an inaccurate impression of what was really going on.

To me it felt like if you really had a choice in certain matters it would undermine the message of the game, to me the true message the game was putting out there is that if you want to stop awful things from happening you need to turn off the game. If you kept playing you must enjoy how horribly things keep going, right?

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#24

I just feel like the game was flat out lying to me about the reality of the situation, rather than presenting a true delusion where I am complicit in buying into the "get Konrad" mission without sufficient evidence like the hero supposedly does. I can accept a crazy hero who ends up doing  a bunch of bad things because he gets the wrong idea in his head about the nature of the situation around him, but I feel it's a cheat when the nature of the world around me is revealed to be false because of completely fabricated hallucinations indistinguishable from the gameplay.

Putting it this way, if this twist was pulled with the same means, only it happened in a movie instead of a videogame, I'd think it was cheap and an undercooked way to present insanity. While I admire a videogame is attempting to deal with this issues at all, I still think the handling undercut the impact.

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#25

The game, without fail, crashes whenever I try to load Chapter 3.  I've restarted my system a number of times, downloaded new drivers, etc., and yet I can't continue with the game.

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#26

Late to the party, but I have to agree with the general accolades here and even if the game comes up short in some areas I can't help but admire the brass fucking balls on the developers for making this game. Especially loved all the small touches, like how the loading screen taglines go from your standard "conserve ammo/press A to sprint" stuff to openly taunting Walker/the player.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Master Shake View Post

Same here.

I would like to see a chart of how many players earned which Trophies/Achievements first, just to see what their first impulses were at certain parts of the game.  I think it'd be fairly enlightening.

Mob scene is interesting, I didn't end up firing on anyone but I did walk up and belt the first guy in the face with my rifle. I think that moment in particular goes back to what was discussed in the Walking Dead thread of how context, pressure and time shape how you make decisions even in a fictional setting (at least when you're engaged in that fiction). I'm curious to know if anyone else ended up committing suicide at the end? Honestly, while I felt it was an appropriate conclusion and the metaphor fairly obvious in hindsight, in the moment I didn't glean to the meaning of "Konrad" shooting Walker and so it was a bit abrupt. I ended up going back and trying the other three endings as well (drop your gun, fight and get killed, kill all the soldiers) and to the game's credit there doesn't really seem to be a "right" ending, though I'll admit the one where you kill all the soldiers was probably the most impactful outside of the suicide one, if only because it felt like a true descent into madness.

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#27

As time passes, this game just looms larger and larger as a masterpiece of narrative video-gaming.  Looking back over reviews, even the reviewers who paid lip-service to "getting" the game still dinged it for issues that were clearly intentional and built-in to support the narrative structure.



I have never looked at shooters the same way.  In a similar vein to Fight Club, I always come back to the question of "how did a mainstream media company ever greenlight something with this type of content?"



If you haven't played it, don't read about it, just play it.

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#28

Yeah, this is probably one of the greatest achievements in videogame narrative and potential of the medium as far as Im concerned.


Hell, the last game that hit me that hard emotionally and intellectually was either A Mind Forever Voyaging or I have no Mouth and I must scream.


Also, loved that the game slowly turns into a "Fuck you for thinking War is cool" statement, which probably offended those who expected a COD experience from it.

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