The way Walker's sleeves are ripped perfectly to show off his arms after the truck crash. It's impossible he could've done it himself since we never leave his POV and his sleeves are just gone when he regains consciousness. Actually, he probably did do it himself and doesn't remember it, thinking it's normal Clothing Damage. It's an overused look for the typical action hero, and Walker is trying to be a hero, is doing a good job of convincing himself he's a hero, and is in reality, of course, anything but.
What is the answer given by the imaginary remnants of the 33rd to Walker about Konrad's location? "Where he's always been sir. Upstairs, waiting for you." At first glance, you'll likely take this to mean that Konrad has simply been upstairs on the top floor, waiting for Walker to finish his mission and arrive there to meet him. It takes on an entirely different meaning when you realize that Konrad is just a figment of Walker's imagination due to dissociative disorder and that the real Colonel Konrad has been dead for two weeks. Konrad has been figuratively "upstairs", namely in Walker's brain the entire time, not the type of "upstairs" Walker was expecting.
Somewhat related to the above point, when asked by Konrad if Walker thinks he is insane, Walker responds that he wishes that to be the truth. Konrad says that it would have made everything simpler, but he is "just as sane as you (Walker) are." When you take into consideration that Konrad is a figment of Walker's own imagination, then Konrad literally is as sane as Walker is, as this "Konrad" is an extension of Walker's personality and thoughts.
Amusingly, if you take the story as a deconstruction of most shooters that have been out on the market, you know the type that encourage mindless violence and don't showcase the consequences that such violence would have in real life, then Konrad is addressing not only Walker but the player as well. His brutality is just as "sane" as our mindset is, showcasing such mindless brutality makes us no better than Konrad is. It reminds me a great deal of what Colonel Kurtz said to Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now, "I have seen the horrors, horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me, but you don't have a right to judge me." How can you judge a man that you are the same as? It would be like judging yourself.
This one crosses over with Genius Bonus. At the end of the game, in Konrad's penthouse, there are two intel collectibles, one of which is a letter by Konrad to his son. In both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, Kurtz's final testament to his son is immensely important to both stories, being, among other things, a justification for his actions, an explanation of how he became what he was, a sort of missionary tract to be disseminated to the rest of the world, and a burden for Marlowe/Willard to carry and deal with as they see fit. In Spec Ops: The Line, Konrad's letter to his son is a simple apology, one that takes about twenty words. It is a massive departure from the game's roots...but it is appropriate, because it is the first clue that The Line is not the story of Konrad's fall, but of Walker's.
There are several instances where Walker's actions and reactions are closely related to those of the player, tying in with the deconstruction of modern war games:
Walker's reaction to his gradual awareness that his presence in Dubai is actively making the situation worse is to deny reality and embrace fantasy, shift the blame for his wrongdoing onto somebody else and push forward because he wants to be a hero, all the while growing increasingly frustrated that he cannot be the hero he wants to be. Similarly, the archetypal player will ignore the horrific consequences of their actions and insist that "it's only a video game, it's just entertainment", blame the developers for railroading them into committing horrific acts (especially the white phosphorous incident) and keep playing the game to the end, growing increasingly frustrated when the game denies them the escapist fantasy they wanted from it.
In one of the endings, Walker massacres a squad sent to rescue him, having finally snapped. By now, the game has very resolutely shown that there is no glory in war, and senseless violence is wrong. If, after all that, the player still wants to have whiz-bang shooty fun, they are "rewarded" with the bleakest in a set of already bleak endings, as the player is as insane as Walker.
Some players may complain about the railroading at the white phosphorus incident, saying they only did it because the game made them. But then, the game didn't make them do anything. A player could have simply turned off the game, like how Walker could have turned around at that point, saying it's not worth it. But both the player and Walker did it because they were so dedicated to their goal that they had to rationalize the horrible things they did. Konrad even calls you out on this in the ending, saying Walker's/the player's insistence on continuing only made things worse, and he/you should have just turned around and left. "None of this would have happened if you'd just stopped."
There's another layer to the brilliance: The "Heroic" moments this scene rips at usually give you just as much choice. If you can't take the blame for this, how can you take credit for doing the same thing in Call of Duty?
The development team were aiming for one of three player reactions to the white phosphorous incident, above. The third of these most closely mirrors Walker's own reaction to the event. In this case, the player realizes that it was a But Thou Must scenario and becomes just as angry about it as the characters are, and desperately seeks to shift the blame onto the developers. Lead writer Walt Williams, as quoted on the main page:
Walt: "Could I have done something different?" And the answer is no. It was your only real option. To which you might say, "That's not fair." And I'd say, "You're right." That's a real emotional response and I can guarantee it's exactly what Walker is feeling in that moment.
What significance does Walker shooting the mirror with the imaginary representation of Konrad looking back at him have for Walker's situation? The mirror represents Konrad being a reflection of his inner chaos that he has to overcome or be destroyed by it, "We can't live this lie forever." and by shooting it he defeats his inner demons, the illusion of Konrad is shattered in a manner similar to Fight Club.
Why can Walker shoot the American troops coming to rescue him at the end? Well, he's shot at people like them for the entire game. Also notice that Walker is wearing Konrad's clothes in the epilogue. This symbolizes Walker's realization that HE is the villain he thought Konrad was. The kind of villain who would murder American soldiers in a fit of insanity.
Walker hits his head pretty badly when he falls out of the skyscraper early in the game. A concussion like that would probably not be good for his mental well-being. All the subsequent injuries probably don't help. Not to mention that Delta appear to be in Dubai for a full two days and aren't depicted getting any sleep in that time. Fatigue certainly wouldn't help their mental state.
The music that is played in some of the combat scenes isn't just flavor, it is there in-universe and being played into your headset by Radioman. It stops happening once he dies.
One of Adam's lines to Walker towards the end of the game foreshadows the primary conflict in the ending: "Lugo's blood is on your hands, not mine." Seems like Walker's not the only member of his team who is desperately trying to push the blame onto someone else. Bonus points: after Adams blames Walker for everything, Adams mimes shooting Walker. The ending where Walker still blames Konrad has him following his accusations by pointing a gun at him and shooting him.
Your two teammates. Lugo keeps pushing the mission over saving lives and gets lynched by the very civilians he disregarded. Adams keeps pushing saving lives over the mission and dies helping Walker finish the mission he disregarded.
At first, the game just quietly hints at something horrific happening in Kabul, but after the White Phosphorus incident, Walker switches from not bringing it up, to actively cutting people off from talking about it. You'd almost think he was in denial...
At first glance a game like The Line may just seem like a generic third person cover based shooter like Gears of War, with all the typical tropes and gameplay mechanics you would expect, but when looking at the game from the perspective that Walker is hallucinating then a lot of that may be intentional. Walker's hero fantasy might be making him imagine himself to be a video game super soldier and he and his perception of the world react accordingly.
Why would Walker have the option to shoot his reflection in the mirror rather than Konrad? Because it isn't a challenge of Walker shooting the imaginary Konrad's reflection before he can hurt him but rather deciding which one of them is responsible for Dubai's hardships. The act of shooting yourself is symbolic of Walker realizing that all of this has been his downfall rather than Konrad's. Pay attention to Walker's reflection in the event that you let Konrad pull the trigger; notice anything? Walker's reflection shows the gun point up at his own head if you let Konrad "shoot you", meaning that the whole exchange is about deciding who is responsible and who deserves judgment.
On the trope page for You Bastard, they mention the potential hypocrisy in deploying this trope, in that the player/viewer/reader might well think, "Why are you criticizing me? Nobody forced you, the creator, to make the movie/develop the game/write the book etc. You're just as guilty of what you accuse me of as I am." Not only does this game pull the You Bastard card, but the developers have already anticipated that the players would have that reaction to them doing so. It's one thing for a game to attack the player for carrying out all kinds of horrible, violent actions; it's quite another for a game to do so and anticipate that the player would react by insisting it wasn't their fault, that they were forced to do so, and incorporate this reaction into the plot.
Captain Walker's name counts as a Meaningful Name alluding to what he does in the story. His last name Walker is derived from an old Scottish/English tradition where military officers that were given the job of inspecting the land of their lords/kings would take on the last name of Walker, because they did this by walking through said land. Martin is derived from Mars the Roman God of War. Martin Walker basically translates into, "Inspector of War." Captain Walker is a Delta Force operator, an elite soldier, and his job is to inspect the ruined Dubai for survivors.
Walker talking for Konrad:
In the ending where Walker is confronted with the Shadow Konrad pay attention to Walker's lips. During this scene Walker has comparison shots, one of the imaginary Konrad standing in front of him and another shot of the reality of no one actually being there. As Konrad says, "It takes a strong man to deny what's right in front of him.", you can see that Walker's lips are moving, as if he were speaking but no words are coming out. Walker is speaking on Konrad's behalf! Walker is talking to himself as if he were Konrad and then the hallucination compensates by making his voice sound like Konrad, this allows Walker to deny the truth that's standing right in front of him. We don't see Walker's mouth moving while the Shadow Konrad can be seen because that is taking place inside Walker's head, Walker's mind is the last refuge where he can deny the reality of everything going on around him, thus making Konrad's confrontation a Battle in the Center of the Mind. Did I just blow your mind?
There's a similar thing going on slightly earlier in the game. At the cutscene at the very end of "Adams", Walker starts talking to Konrad and informing him of his plans to kill him and the remainder of the 33rd, but his lips are clearly not moving. At first glance, a player might assume that Walker's speech is a voiceover that takes place slightly after this cutscene - but of course, what's really happening is that Walker thinks he's talking to Konrad, when in fact he's only thinking in his head.
Throughout the game, the main character, hellbent on completing what is obviously a flawed objective, causing nothing but death and destruction, continually repeats that he "Didn't have a choice." The game makes you do some pretty horrible things in order to progress, and I saw a lot of people online complaining that the game forced you to do these things, they didn't have a choice, and then getting angry and blaming the developers. It was eerie how much it mirrored the main character, and his pushing the blame onto Konrad, the antagonist of the game. Spec Ops postulates that you do have a choice... to turn the game off. It's a game that actively doesn't want you to play it. If you think what the game is making you do is so horrible, lay your weapon down, and turn off the console. (Source)
If one accepts the interpretation that Walker died in the prologue's helicopter crash, and that the entire game was his Dying Dream, some of the dialogue in the endings takes on a whole new meaning, such as when he's asked "How'd you survive all this?" Walker's response, before he closes his eyes and the screen fades to black, indicating a "real" event? "Who said I did?"
Lugo is justifiably distraught at the use of white phosphorous accidentally killing 47 innocents, screaming "He turned us into fucking killers!" But wait…what did he refer to himself as when they first arrived in Dubai? "A hardened killing machine". Hmm…
The Radioman's line "To infinity and beyond! Or to the storm wall. Same thing." seems like just a Toy Story reference till you see the lanyard for his press pass in the intel database. Printed on it is: "SF - Marathon 2005 To Infinity and Beyond"
During the 14th mission, immediately after you encounter the Lugo Heavy, you will find a sign that says, "No guns allowed in this room - Violators will be shot." At first it may seem like a bit of hypocritical humor, but pay attention to the fact that the 33rd and Walker are both carrying guns in that room — shooting at each other. Walker and the 33rd have degenerated far past the point where they can give any iota of respect towards the rules, they've already broken so many rules of engagement at this point that carrying guns in a gun free zone is mundane by comparison.
The White Phosphorous is growing to be a bit of a Base Breaker: Either it was a case of gloriously and vividly deconstructing what so many FPS's go through easily or the incident was a nasty case of Cruelty Is the Only Option. But if the above fridges are taken seriously, the latter criticism could be irrelevant; Even if Konrad was right about the majority of the story's events being in Walker's head, the player still had to go through with them anyways. The game wasn't forcing us to do anything, it was Walker's mind telling himself I Did What I Had to Do!
In a similar vein, many have criticized how the game forces you to use the white phosphorus by continuously spawning enemies if you try to engage the camp directly. But if you accept the idea that Walker died in the chopper crash in the prologue, and the game is him in a nightmare afterlife, and that everything up to the helicopter crash is an exaggerated recollection of what really happened, it makes perfect sense. In the "real" version of game's events, Walker uses the phosphorus without bothering to engage the enemy first. When Walker comes to the same point in his nightmare world, he knows what's gonna happen and wants to avoid it, but the forces in control of his nightmare deny him the chance by forcing him to fight infinite soldiers until he uses the mortar. In other words, the endless wave of soldiers is Walker's nightmare's way of telling him "You had no choice," because he kept telling himself that when he was alive.
In the end Walker was a hero, but not in the way he wanted to be which was save everyone. Had he walked away from it all and send the men in, at best they will be traumatized for life while he becomes a Karma Houdini, no guilt of committing atrocities. At worst they join the Damned 33rd and continue a vicious cycle in Dubai for god knows how long and Walker is treated as the harbinger of doom. But by going in he had prevented everyone else from suffering the same fate as he did and ended the suffering of those within it, but he couldn't kill them without causing extreme pain.
During Walker's opening monologue, a wall decorated with Konrad's various medals and framed newspaper clippings related to his deeds is shown, while the voiceover claims, "But the facts don't lie. The man's a fuckin' hero." To Walker, and the casual observer, the medals and clippings do indeed serve as evidence of Konrad's heroism. But to Konrad, who in hindsight is probably on the verge of suicide at that very moment, they're only reminders of the mistakes he's made, the lives he's taken, and the pain he's caused.
The nature of Walker wearing Konrad's uniform has been assumed to be him evoking Konrad's villain status onto himself, that Walker now equates himself as the villain he assumed Konrad was. However there may be something far more noble than that in mind. Pay attention to the loading screen for the epilogue, Walker is standing out in the middle of the rain having the blood on his skin washed off, thereby symbolically cleansing him of his sins in what is akin to a baptism in the rain. Walker is symbolically adding Konrad's sins and persona onto himself so he can redeem Konrad's image and legacy, as well as his own. That baptism in the rain was just as much for Walker himself, as it was for Konrad's sake; Konrad is having his redemption as well through Walker.
Captain Walker, First Lieutenant Adams, and Sergeant Lugo make up your squad. It's been pointed out that a captain would not be leading this team, nor would a sergeant be present. However, on November 16, 2005, BBC News reported that an article had been published in the March–April 2005 issue of Field Artillery (a U.S. Army magazine), written by a captain, a first lieutenant, and a sergeant. The subject of this article? The use of white phosphorous in Iraqi battles for screening breeches and as a potent psychological weapon. (Source)
You never hear any dialogue in Arabic-the only non-English language that shows up is Farsi. The reason? All of the native Arab upper-class was evacuated before the storm, leaving behind migrant workers who speak Farsi along with other languages.
As Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw says here, "I think what says it all about Spec Ops is that your final choice in the game is whether or not to shoot yourself in the head. And that you really, really have to think about it." The Final Boss is Walker AKA yourself, the player. And having spent the game observing his atrocities and his reasons for committing them, you have to decide what his punishment for those crimes will be; death, madness, or to be hauled into court for trial.
The Heavy Troopers may actually be the more honorable among 33rd soldiers sent to retrieve supplies or secure power sources, considering their protection gear.
Walker is dead:
The typical shooter game-isms of regenerating health, endless hordes of enemies, and slow-motion murder can all be explained by Captain Walker being trapped in Hell or Purgatory after dying in the copter crash. Presumably, events proceeded a little differently at first.
If that's not enough, consider this: the Multiple Endings may be Walker being forced to relive Dubai over and over again, for as long as it takes him to learn the lessons the "game" has to teach, presumably by reaching the least horrific ending. Ye gods, thoughts like that are enough to make a pacifist of anyone.
An alternative interpretation advanced by Extra Credits is that the more overtly video-gamey aspects of the game are a deliberate uncanny effect designed to represent Walker's mental state: the obvious spawn points and exploding heads are how Walker sees the world, all filtered through a lens of trying to convince himself that he's a bigger Badass and hero than he really is. Those pornographic money shot-esque exploding heads when you score a headshot, coupled with erotic slow-motion? That's part of how Walker tries to convince himself that he's one of the good guys. And this, by extension, applies just as much to the player as Walker. If that's not creepy, I don't know what is.
Not just Walker, but Lugo and Adams as well, in the Room with the five burned soldiers where Walker pics up the Walkie-Talkie you can see lists of Casualties. Among them are Sgt. Lugo and Lt. Adams. That is another point showing that the Player just re"lives" the horror of Dubai, knowing exactly how it will end.
At several points in the game, the player has the opportunity to kill enemies by burying them in sand. It sounds pretty cool-until you realize you just condemned them to a slow death by asphyxiation.
The reason that the 33rd is so gung ho to kill you? By the time that you've exited the Nest, you've murdered dozens of them. Of course they're going to shoot at you on sight and try to throw everything they've got at you.
What if the the poignant words Konrad shares with Walker aren't just about Walker, but you the player as well? The player gets to turn off the game and go home. Men like Walker don't get to turn off the trauma of war they have witnessed by flipping a switch, even after all you have forced Walker to do you get to go home perfectly intact, Walker will have to live with these choices for the rest of his life while you go home trauma free.
Konrad: No matter what happens next, don't be too hard on yourself. Even now, after all you've done, you can still go home. Lucky you.
Replaying the game will cause the player to realize that Walker was going mad long before it was readily obvious. A specific instance mentioned by Walt Williams comes in chapter 9, when Delta have to fight their way through a sandstorm. If the player looks in a certain direction, one can see that the Burj Khalifa appears to be on fire, owing to Walker's hallucinations, an image which reappears in the hallucination after the helicopter crash.