Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.
"This is Colonel John Konrad, United States Army. Attempted evacuation of Dubai... ended in... complete failure. Death toll... too many."
Spec Ops: The Line is a 2012 cover-basedThird-Person Shooter for PC, Xbox 360, PS3 and Mac OS, created by Yager Development, and the latest game in the Spec Ops series, though it contains no story elements from previous installments.Dubai is under threat from a series of sandstorms. US Army Colonel and founding member of Delta Force John Konrad (Bruce Boxleitner) volunteered his unit, the 33rd Infantry Battalion (a.k.a. the Damned 33rd), to assist in the evacuation of Dubai. Defying orders to withdraw, Konrad attempted to lead a caravan of refugees out of Dubai, just before a massive sandstorm turned the city into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. After six months of silence, the Army fears Konrad and his men were lost in the destruction of the city.Then a weak distress signal is picked up, and a three-man Delta Force team is sent to find Konrad and rescue survivors, led by Player Character Captain Martin Walker (Nolan North), who previously served under Konrad in Afghanistan.Except that things are not what they seem, and are about to get worse. Much worse.On the surface, Spec Ops: The Line appears to be a generic third-person cover shooter, with the player assuming the control of a squad of gruff U.S. Delta Force operators who gun down wave after wave of Arabic "insurgents" in a Middle Eastern desert setting. However, as the story develops, it slowly reveals itself to actually be a deconstruction of military shooter games, which criticizes the genre for providing players with an unrealistic and immoral Power Fantasy through the glorification of violence - and criticizes the player for participating.The plot of the game was inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the book which also served as the basis of the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now.
Arc Words: "You brought this on yourself," "We had no choice," and similar are repeated throughout the story sounding ever more hollow as the story continues to unfold.
After the End: For the city of Dubai anyway. Riggs believes this fate will befall the United States if the Middle East as a whole declares war on them, which is why he tries to kill everyone in Dubai through dehydration to cover up the entire affair.
Agent Provocateur: Early on in the game, you discover that the CIA has deliberately restarted the conflict between the 33rd and the Insurgents. The CIA agents in the city eventually seek out Walker's help, stating that their mission is to locate all the survivors in the city. What the CIA agents fail to mention is that their mission is also to eliminate all the survivors in the city. The purpose of this, as well as Riggs manipulating Walker into destroying the water trucks, is so that no one be left alive to tell the truth about what is happening in Dubai, which the CIA believe would cause the entire Middle East to declare war on the US, which the latter would have no hope of winning.
Black scene breaks indicate business as usual. White scene breaks indicate Walker hallucinating or otherwise deceiving himself. The ending, the one place where Walker has a chance to come to terms with what's really going on and escape the hell his life's turned into one way or another, exclusively uses the Fade to White. The implications are... unpleasant, and the consensus among the game's development team is that all of the endings are Walker's hallucinations, although they stress that their interpretation shouldn't be seen as any more valid than the different players' in this case.
In one of the endings, this is zigzagged. "The Road Back" ending, while still brutally bittersweet, is the closest thing to a happy ending the game has, with Walker finally dropping his gun and going home. The scene of him actually dropping his gun and getting into the jeep home fades to white, but a short scene is shown in which he is in the jeep, talking to the same soldier that gestured to Walker to give up his gun in the previous scene, as it drives home. This scene fades to black. Come to your own conclusions regarding this.
Also worth noting is that the single major scene where the game wholly changes tone the White Phosphorus mortar scene... it utilizes a fade-to-white, the hallucination cue. Given its importance to the overall narrative, this simple scene transition calls into question all the most important plot hooks of the entire game.
Savagely attacks this trope through the 33rd, the CIA, and Walker himself; while the 33rd do some good in Dubai, Konrad himself was utterly horrified by the means they used to achieve this, and it drove him to suicide, and the interventions of the latter two only succeed in making a bad situation even worse. The loading screens make it increasingly explicit as the game progresses, and it's hard not to see the broader implications of one of Konrad's late-game lines:
John Konrad: The truth, Walker, is that you're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not. A hero.
The game doesn't portray these characters as bad for intervening and wanting to help, it just tries to realistically show that having good intentions and doing your best to help people doesn't always succeed. Chaotic, anarchic places like the ruined Dubai need to be handled delicately otherwise trying to help can make things worse. As the old saying goes, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Captain Martin Walker: I-I didn't mean to hurt anybody...
Anyone Can Die: Heavens, yes. By the end of the game, McPherson, Daniels, Gould, Riggs, the Radioman, Lugo and Konrad are dead, with Adams last seen making a suicidal Last Stand and Walker explicitly dying in several of the game's Multiple Endings (and according to one interpretation, the entire game is Walker's Dying Dream, so he's dead to start with). This is more or less every single named character in the game. Oh, and that's not even mentioning the entire population of Dubai.
Apocalypse How: Class 0. Dubai is completely gone due to the sandstorms but the rest of the world is fine.
The enemies actually act quite intelligently without being unfair. An entrenched player will get a grenade thrown at them, but the grenade timers give you plenty of leeway to move, but with large enough radius to still be dangerous. Some will suppress you while shotgunners or melee runners will flush you out. If no short range specialists are there, a soldier will move to flank your position while the others continue to suppress. It even goes for your teammates to, where Lugo will snipe far off enemies when ordered and Adams can throw grenades at covered enemies. Your squadmates will also notice if you've been pinned down for long enough and you get the option of ordering them to throw a stun grenade. You unfortunately don't get to see much intelligent enemy AI since your squadmates cover you and hold the flanks very effectively. You get to see this AI especially when you get separated from the others and have to hold the flanks by yourself.
Though the enemies do gain Improbable Aiming Skills on higher difficulties, often being able to accurately hit you if you expose yourself for so much as a second, even in the middle of a sandstorm.
Artistic License - Geography: Most of the buildings in Dubai look different from their Real Life counterparts. Possibly partially justified in that they might have had to change to protect from the increasingly violent sandstorms, and by the fact that... well, it's Dubai. The skyline changes every thirty seconds anyway. The geographic accuracy also takes a deliberate slide to accommodate Rule of Symbolism. The city reflects the mental state of the characters in it: a wrecked place, confused, and only going From Bad to Worse, one in which they are often start at lofty heights they always have to descend, where the ground swallows them up as they pass, and always there is the one impossibly high goal in the distance which never seems to get closer until they are right upon it, by which point they are not even sure it was worth it anymore.
Artistic License - Linguistics: People in Dubai speak Arabic. The Gulf-accented version of Arabic thereof, yes, but Arabic, not Farsi. However, Lugo communicates with them in Farsi. Farsi is, however, a common language among the foreign construction workers in the city (intel items reveal that many of these were left behind when the storms hit).
This actually features in one theory about the game where Walker actually died during the oft mentioned Afghanistan incident, and Dubai is his own personal Purgatory for what happened there. (Farsi is a very commonly spoken language in Afghanistan. This makes since Farsi isn't necessarily a language associated with Middle Eastern countries, whereas the mistake would have probably been made the other way around: A game where people who should speak Farsi are presented as speaking Arabic. Also, this is an infinitely researchable fact, one that probably was done.
Artistic License - Military: The game was played by a former Marine, who noted that, among other things, many of the weapons in the game are depicted inaccurately, Delta Force teams usually consist of four team members rather than three, that a captain would not be leading a Delta Force team (nor would this team have a lieutenant in it) and other similar artistic liberties. He nevertheless praised the depiction of the armed forces and of post-traumatic stress disorder for their psychological realism. He also docked some points for the rather obvious critique about how it was pretty obvious Walker was at LEAST unstable, meaning that Adams should have relieved him of duty long before the White Phosphorous incident.
The further the game goes along, the more obvious the parallels between Walker and the player become.
Many critics noted that Adams and Lugo can be read as fulfilling this role also: at the beginning of the game, they have confidence in Walker's command, just as the player does not doubt he is a conventional video game hero, but as the game wears on and Walker grows ever more unhinged they begin to openly question him. Lugo freaking out and blaming Walker for the WP incident could also be seen as mirroring the reaction of the player: freaking out at the horrific scene and immediately blaming the game for "forcing" them to to that.
Ax-Crazy: Walker himself starts to slip into this as the game progresses.
(Walker and co. can easily leave the current area.)
Backstory: Much of it is revealed through the optional intel items.
Badass Boast: Some of Walker's target designation commands to his squad. Because most of these result in nice executions by them (unless they expose themselves to incapacitating threats) they serve as the death sentence for enemy tangos.
Bittersweet Ending: If you chose to kill Konrad's shadow and chose to show mercy whenever possible. Walker's people are dead but he's able to call in the evacuation he claimed to have been working towards the entire time. The 33rd has been largely annihilated, his squadmates are dead, and he's quite possibly unfit to stand trial for any war crimes, but the people of Dubai will live.
Adams faces this fate. Deciding that he refuses to face Konrad and that the mission is a failure Adams suicidally fights the remnants of the Damned 33rd in order to provide covering fire for Walker to face Konrad. We never see Adams die, but the overwhelming odds of his Last Stand make it almost certain that he did.
Also, should the player choose the "Shoot Konrad" ending, the epilogue gives the option of invoking this through a last stand against the US reinforcements that arrive. Even in the event Walker decisively wins the engagement against these reinforcements they won't be the last, meaning Walker is almost certainly not leaving Dubai alive.
Book Ends: In one of the Multiple Endings, the game ends with Walker in the same position as Konrad, a man who tried to be a hero and royally screwed up, with the Distress Signal broadcast out to the world as it was in the beginning.
Early in the game, you come across Konrad's transmission that has the line "Death toll...too many" at the end of the game, if you don't shoot Konrad, (or shoot yourself by aiming at your reflection) the transmission plays again and the game ends with those words. If you do shoot Konrad, you hear Walker's transmission ending with the words "Survivors...one too many"
Boom, Headshot: Scoring them in gameplay triggers a brief moment of slow motion. Depending on the choice of weapon, these can blow an enemy's head clean off. Walker has the option of putting Riggs out of his misery this way at one point. This is also how Lugo kills the Radioman and how Konrad, and-if the player chooses-Walker kill themselves.
Boring, but Practical: Walker has the M4A1 from the very start of the game, and it's nothing more than a bog-standard assault rifle. But it has a pretty good range, much less recoil than the AK-47, ammunition for it is less scarce than most weapons in the game, and it's one of the few weapons that can be silenced.
Broken Aesop: The game has been criticized for its anti-violence message, which is subverted by continuing to allow the player to kill enemies with executions and live burial by sand, even after the game tries to hammer the moral home with the player/Walker mass-murdering civilians and proceeds to really rip into the player.
Bullet Time: Time slows momentarily when headshots are scored and during some special sequences.
Despite Lugo's "There's always a choice!" remark, you must use the white phosphorus mortar at the Gate to proceed. The rappel point won't activate until after the sequence and shooting the soldiers is pointless because they'll keep respawning until you run out of ammo. You are also forced to kill every enemy, including the Humvee positioned right next to the civilians. Some players claim this renders it a Broken Aesop. The developers explained in an interview: There is a choice: just stop playing. No one was forcing you to continue. If the cost of proceeding was too morally objectionable for you, you could have turned off the game, or simply let the in-game enemies kill you. Instead, you continued and blamed the developers for "forcing" you to do it. It was either use the white phosphorus or die. Players may say, "But that's not fair." The developers' answer is, "Exactly. You were in a no-win situation, just like Walker. So just how different from Walker are you?"
A more cynical, and almost nightmarish example comes soon after when Walker starts talking to Konrad over the radio. Lugo and Adams, correctly, assume that following Konrad's directions is going to end up being a wild goose chase, to which Walker replies that they have no other choice if they want to discover the truth. The orders displayed in-game simply state, "Obey." Free will? Funny joke... now, would you kindly obey?
Camera Abuse: In addition to the typical Regenerating Health technique of blood spattering onscreen when Walker is injured, blood spatters on the camera at other times, particularly during executions (which grow more and more vicious as the game goes on, resulting in more and more blood).
Cherry Tapping: Trying to push past the mob that lynched Lugo without either shooting them or driving them off with a warning shot will result in Walker getting shoved back and taking a small amount of damage (eventually, the mob start hurling rocks at Walker and Adams as well). Your Regenerating Health is disabled for this segment, meaning that moving into the crowd enough times will result in Walker literally being shoved to death.
Chromosome Casting: All of the named characters are men for two reasons. One is that most of them are front-line combatants. The other is likely due to the game's inspiration (neither Heart of Darkness nor Apocalypse Now had any named women among their casts). The only women that appear in the game at all are nameless refugees; the closest they come to significance is dying horribly.
CIA Evil, FBI Good: The FBI don't appear, but the CIA are most definitely not presented in a positive light.
It's played with - in keeping with the rampant Grey and Gray Morality in the game, Gould wants to help the people of Dubai, and LOATHES Riggs' idea to Kill 'em All, even calling him insane, which we find out when Riggs is pinned under the truck.
Climactic Elevator Ride: The game shows the main character heading to the final showdown by riding an elevator to the penthouse of the tallest skyscraper in Dubai.
Climax Boss: The hallucinatory Lugo seems to be one, given that he's fought at the very end of the game and has way more health than a regular Heavy Trooper.
Closed Circle: A kind of variant on this trope. By the time Delta realize they'd be better off leaving Dubai and radioing for evac, they're past the point where they can safely leave. Walker decides they have no real choice but to press on and try to find out what's happening in the city. Needless to say, everyone would've been much better off if they'd never entered to start with.
Walker: We've got eight miles of open desert between us and the storm wall. The helos'd cut us down before we took ten steps.
Clothing Damage: Walker and his team get really roughed up across the game, and part of that Showing Damage is in how their uniforms get gradually torn up and ripped apart, giving The Squad a much more feral and ruined appearance. This is symbolic of the damage done to their minds as well, as their behaviors and decisions become more brutal and barbaric across the story.
Cold-Blooded Torture: The method of torture the 33rd uses? Position the victim on sand, and shoot the hell out of the ground, which causes the sand to fly and begin to asphyxiate them. It's called Sandboarding. Yes, it's supposed to make the player think of Waterboarding. Comments about Waterboarding are probably subject to the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment.
Could Have Avoided This Plot: Considering Walker's status as going on a Protagonist Journey to Villain, none of the events of the game, especially the numerous atrocities he and Delta committed would have happened if he just followed his orders to simply reconnoitre Dubai and then call for backup. At the end of the game, he has hallucinations of Konrad who calls him out for his responsability in this mess thanks to Walker's attempts to be a hero instead of just sticking to the recon mission.
Covers Always Lie: A very minor case, but Walker only wears the mask you see on the cover for two very short sequences, and both times are with goggles.
More generally, the cover is very deliberately designed to give the impression that the game is a low-budget Call of Duty clone when it is anything but. Compare the cover with those of Modern Warfare◊ and Battlefield 3◊.
Cruelty Is the Only Option: Frequent. After a certain point, the game starts asking whether it was the only option because of the nightmarish hellscape that is Dubai, or because the guy you're playing as is Cpt. Martin Walker.
Cutscene Boss: The Radioman, sort of, who gets shot in cold blood by Lugo in a cutscene.
Darker and Edgier: Than the average war shooter. Also serves as a critique on the trend in the genre as a whole.
Played straight for many of the intel items the player can find scattered around the various chapters, which go a long way towards humanizing many of the faceless mooks and supposed "villains" in the game.
Death from Above: Deconstructed with the white phosphorus incident; it shows precisely how impersonal and dehumanizing this tactic is by forcing you to see the aftermath.
Destructive Savior: Well, minus the savior part. Konrad tried, and it didn't end well. Walker tries, oh, how he tries so hard, but it's his drive to be the hero that causes him to push forward despite the increasingly dire situation, which ultimately leads to him causing the death of every single one of the thousands of survivors still in Dubai.
There are contextual commands for everything. At some points it just gets crazy; for example, there is a single T-rex skeleton in the entire game, but if you order your men to open fire on a target that happens to be next to it, Walker will actually say, "fire on the guy next to the T-rex!" One of the senior designers explained this was in the interests of realism, as in battlefield situations commanding officers try to avoid giving ambiguous instructions like "fire on the guy to the right", because "right" could be interpreted as an affirmative rather than as a direction (occasionally this was put aside in the interests of accessibility).
During the "moral choice" moments in the game, the game actually recognizes and responds if the player tries to Take a Third Option. It may not make much difference, but the fact that they did script these encounters beyond the narrowness of the few options presented to the player shows that they were indeed thinking about what things that the player might do outside of the obvious.
Diabolus ex Machina: Beautifully averted (and quite deliberately; the writers have spoken repeatedly of their desire to give players the impression that the actual plot of the game was being driven forward by the player's actions), to the point where this game could be considered a case-study on how to avoid that trope. Every bad thing that happens — and there's a lot — happen as a foreseeable, and at times inevitable, consequence of somebody's actions. Usually yours. Even as you approach the Downer Ending, you know that you earned it. You brought this on yourself.
I Did What I Had to Do: Almost everyone in the game uses this to justify their actions. The game clearly shows that they're mostly just deluding themselves. Especially Walker.
Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Naturally, being a shooter with an anti-war message. For better or for worse, it is much more successful than most.
Doom Troops: The Zulu Squad is this inside Damned 33rd. Not only they are more powerful, but they also wear special gray uniforms with orange strios, and speak in a Creepy Monotone artificial tone instead of shouting like their regular comrades.
A lot of the dialogue between Konrad and Walker takes a slightly darker turn when you realize that Konrad has been nothing more than a figment of his imagination, thus making Konrad an extension of Walker's personality, and that the real Colonel died weeks ago, this means that when Konrad says he and Walker are a lot alike he really means it.
Walker at one point urges his team to hurry up, admonishing them that "Every minute we waste could mean the difference between a soldier going home alive or going home in a bag". He's right - but not in the way that he thinks.
Downer Beginning: The game starts off with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people having already perished in the sandstorms in Dubai, with the entire city (and the 33rd battalion) isolated from the rest of the world by the storms. It only gets worse from there.
Downer Ending: Everyone in Dubai is doomed to a slow painful death by dehydration, both Lugo and Adams are killed (along with basically every named character in the game), and depending on the ending you pick: Walker has become a shellshocked mess wandering aimlessly in the desert; Walker is shot dead trying to kill a rescue squad; Walker is detained and probably court-martialed/committed to an asylum; or, failing the above, Walker has shot himself in despair. As a bonus, the truth of what happened in Dubai might still get out, causing the entire Middle East to declare war on the US and most likely win. Like WarGames, the only way to win is not to play.
On the other hand there are some factors that mitigates it a bit. The loading screens after the 'Konrad' and Walker confrontation implies that Dubai is hit by a rainstorm, giving the citizens of Dubai a much needed break and a chance to survive until the help arrives. Especially since if Walker chooses to follow his mission and report in for help, the help will come. As for the danger of an Middle East/US War? That scenario was purported to the point of obsession by Agent Riggs, and he was heavily implied to be just as delusional as Walker.
Driven to Suicide: Konrad, and Walker himself in one of the endings. (Or two of the endings, if you see the fighting the rescue squad as a Suicide by Cop attempt.) Adams is last seen making a deliberately suicidal Last Stand against the 33rd, and seems in no doubt that he deserves to die after all of the things he's done.
Along with the unusual genre choice of progressive-rock background music which comes with drawn-out tones and notes, the more bizarre sequences like the most mind-bending hallucinations are accompanied by dissonant shrieking, howling or droning. It's especially noticeable in the "hell" scenes.
In the main menu, there's a recording of Jimi Hendrix's rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. As you go through the game, both the background of the menu and the music changes, becoming extremely distorted and barely recognizable.
Over the course of the story, Walker does some genuinely Badass things that would get a protagonist some hard-earned praise in most other games, but since these things lead to the deaths of his two squadmen, a vast number of his fellow American soldiers, and quite possibly, the remaining population of Dubai, it's no wonder nobody in the game lauds him for his actions.
This is best seen in the aftermath of the the truck crash Riggs engineers to get rid of the water; the civilians shove Walker if he gets close and they yell obscenities at him as they try to salvage the water leaking out of the trucks.
Later defiedby Walker himself as he enters Konrad's tower. Before he goes up to meet Konrad in the penthouse, he is greeted by what is supposedly the last remaining squad of the Damned 33rd. The men surrender, respectfully salute Walker, and even congratulate him for taking Dubai from them. Judging by their lines, however, they are hallucinatory.
Dynamic Difficulty: If Walker dies several times in the same area, the game will award the player additional ammunitionnote The higher difficulties remove this feature. Die several more times and it will present the player with the option to drop down to a lower difficulty level (if one is available).
Earn Your Happy Ending: As dark a story as this game may be, there actually is a subtle light to be found in the ending if you look carefully enough. The bigger picture doesn't become apparent until you've witnessed all four endings, but it has to do with the proverbial "line" in the title. The endings when pieced together reveal that Konrad once said that it was inevitable that soldiers would eventually cross the line and die on the battlefield, but his final words to Walker are that he (Walker) can go home despite everything he's done. This is an encouragement on Konrad's part for Walker to prove him wrong and to choose life; to go home and do better next time. In the epilogue Walker can either cross the line by killing the U.S soldiers sent to rescue him, die by their hands, or lay down his weapon and go with them. If Walker puts down his gun, he gets to go home and find a chance to put himself back together. This choice means he has avoided crossing the line.
Eiffel Tower Effect: The Burj Khalifa is quite prominent in the game. Justified since the tallest building in the world is a little hard to miss. Granted, it doesn't look much like the Burj Khalifa. Some of its more prominent features are relocated to other buildings in the game (for example, its famous tennis court serves as a helicopter launch pad on top of the Radioman's headquarters in the Trans-Emirates building).
Elites Are More Glamorous: Captain Walker and his team are from Delta Force. They certainly don't look very glamorous by the end of the game, however.
Elite Mooks: Zulu Squad, the elite of the Damned 33rd, easily distinguished by their black uniforms, skull balaclavas and ice-cold combat dialogue. They can take quite a lot of hits before dying (more than half a mag of assault rifle fire on the higher difficulties), but are still vulnerable to headshots. They are also the only users of the P90.
Eldritch Location: It's subtle, but somehow most of the game is spent descending, and yet you always begin a level high up. This is more used as a way of visually depicting Walker's mental state than anything else.
Empathy Doll Shot: One of the pieces of intel to be gathered is a doll in a dress. It has diamond eyes and clothes made of silk, so must it have been made after the storms hit and Dubai was cut off from aid. In the same moment that he realises the people they're killing have families, Walker decides he won't inform his subordinates of his deduction.
The Ending Changes Everything: To a small degree, and more of an in-universe example. It becomes readily evident earlier on that Walker is losing his mind, and he becomes increasingly villainous, but the revelation that Konrad was Dead All Along just makes it all pointless for him.
Enemy Civil War: A good chunk of the 33rd, including some of his most trusted under-officers, disagreed with Konrad's methods and the idea of staying in Dubai, and eventually formed a split-off group out of desperation and attempted a coup d'état against him. Walker and his team, however, only gets to see the aftermath of this conflict, as by the time they enter Dubai, the dissenter group has been crushed by the main 33rd.
Evil Is Easy: Played with. Many of the "moral choice" moments have choices of varying gameplay difficulty but which produce equally bad results no matter how the player chooses, negating any discussion of the "evil" thereof. However, the lynch mob scene has one pretty unambiguously evil choice (firing upon the lynch mob), with the better choice (firing over their heads to scare them off) requiring some imagination and lateral thinking on the player's part. Later, the game's worst (morally speaking) ending from the Playable Epilogue requires you to kill a huge number of the toughest enemies of the game (an American search-and-rescue squad sent to retrieve Walker) with no squadmates and no continues; if you die, you get the Road to Glory ending by default. And of course, the morally best "ending" of all requires absolutely zero effort on the player's part: stop playing.
Evil Sounds Deep: Following the white phosphorus incident, you'll notice that Walker sounds disturbingly gruffer and angrier than usual, and the commands he shouts out aren't as calm. By "Adams," he barely sounds human anymore.
Evil Sounds Raspy: Konrad's voice sounds much raspier when communicating with Walker via his earpiece than in the various intel items Walker finds belonging to him. This is because the former Konrad is Walker's hallucination. Additionally, Walker's voice grows increasingly raspy and aggressive after the white phosphorous incident.
Expository Gameplay Limitation: The game slows Walker and his team down to a walk in several instances, generally when they are surveying scenes of carnage and destruction. At other points Walker gets severely injured and is reduced to a shambling, exhausted gait.
Expy: Several of the characters are direct analogues of characters in Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now: Cpt. Walker is Marlowe/Cpt. Willard, Col. Konrad is Kurtz/Col. Kurtz (note that both characters have the same ranks as their Apocalypse counterparts) and the Radioman is akin to the harlequin in Heart of Darkness/Dennis Hopper's photojournalist character.
Extremely Short Timespan: Going by the day/night cycle, the game's chapters mostly take place over two days and two nights, with some allowances. Since we don't see Walker and company eat or sleep during any of that, their hunger and fatigue may indeed be contributing to their mental breakdowns.
Fan Disservice: A mild example; Walker's rugged good looks are ruined more and more as the game progresses. By the time he loses his sleeves, half his face is burnt off, there's a large burn on the back-right side of his head, his shoulders are (less severely) burned, and he has quite a few nasty, painful looking lacerations in various places, including the not-burned side of his face.
Fiery Cover Up: Though the explosion itself is not meant to erase the necessary evidence, the sentiment is the same when Riggs' ultimate plan to destroy Dubai's remaining water supply is fulfilled to make sure the survivors eventually die of thirst, take the secret of the atrocities committed by the 33rd to their sandy graves, and help preserve America's image.
Fission Mailed: Dying from the nigh-invulnerable Lugo-Heavy will prompt a Fade to White and a creepy loading screen complete with nightmarish humming, before the game puts you back before the battle and only makes you fight a normal heavy.
If Walker bites it before reuniting with Adams after the helicopter crash, you are treated to a unique grey loading screen with the shadow of Konrad standing looming over you while disapprovingly shaking his head, while a quiet "Stop! Just fucking stop!" is shouted in the background.
Follow the Plotted Line: Mostly averted - there's usually a good reason in-universe why Delta end up in the right place at the right time. It is, however, awfully convenient how they happen to end up at Riggs's base exactly when the 33rd are in the middle of staging a raid, despite not specifically intending to go there.
The scene where Col. Konrad forces you to choose which prisoner to execute, if you shoot the ropes. Walker's inability to keep his rage out of his orders and execution kills (see War Is Hell below). The Heavy that Walker fights in the mall and the way he lampshades the helicopter sequence being something they've already done. The last two are especially blatant and will probably make it clear that Walker is becoming increasingly unhinged if you haven't already picked up on it. The trick is that they don't reveal just how bad it is.
When Walker accuses the Radioman of "working for a war criminal", the latter claims Walker has "no idea what that man had to do. And I do mean Had. To. Do."
They really pack on the foreshadowing just after the white phosphorus incident and the "judgement".
Interviews with the game's writer mention various subtle examples of foreshadowing included in the game, such as Konrad's face appearing on a billboard as early as chapter one, a hint that he's already present in Walker's subconscious.
After the initial meeting with Riggs the player can find an intel item consisting of the CIA's rudimentary psychological profile of Konrad. In retrospect, one realizes that everything the profile says about Konrad's psychological state and motivations applies just as much to Walker as to Konrad.
One of the earliest and most subtle hints of something being very wrong is that Lugo claims to speak Farsi in Chapter 1. Farsi doesn't see much use in the UAE, so him trying to communicate in it might seem weird... until you realise that Farsi is, among other things, the official language of Afghanistan. Walker doesn't like to talk about what happened in Afghanistan.
When the team encounter the squad interrogating Gould, Lugo says he has a shot and is about to fire, before Adams sternly warns him to wait until he is ordered to do so. Later, the Radioman mocks the victims of the white phosphorus strike over the radio, and Lugo promises to kill him. These foreshadow Lugo shooting the Radioman in the head, without being ordered to do so.
A painful bit of foreshadowing can follow the scene above if you side with Adams and leave Gould to die in order to save the civilians. Adams and Lugo get into an argument as to whether or not to bury the body, with Lugo asking Adams "What, I die out here, you gonna leave me in the dirt too?" Later, after dispersing a mob (with lethal or nonlethal force) that has just lynched Lugo, Adams and Walker do exactly that.
In Chapter 7, there's graffiti saying "WILLY PETE WUZ HERE". "Willy Pete" is military alphabet for WP...which also stands for white phosphorous.
Freak Out: The white phosphorus incident, followed by seeing all of Konrad's command structure (several of which he knew personally) executed, causes Walker himself to utterly snap and start hallucinating Konrad for the rest of the game.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Walker first picks up the radio Konrad contacts him with, a sharp-eyed player may notice the wires sticking out of the back, showing the radio to be broken, and an early hint at Walker's madness. This is shown in full in the ending.
There's another a few minutes afterwards which is so brief that it inspired much debate as to whether it was even there. In Brendan Keogh's full-length critical reading of the game, Killing is Harmless (more on the Analysis tab), he claimed that at the beginning of chapter nine when Walker is rappelling down the side of a window, a ghostly presence is visible in the reflection in the glass. Many readers took this as a sign that Keogh was over-interpreting the game, but in an interviewWord of God confirmed that the ghostly presence is there and, moreover, that it's Lugo after having been lynched, foreshadowing his eventual fate.
Freudian Trio: Walker is the Ego, Lugo is the Id, and Adams is the Superego. Lugo jokes, chatters and focuses on the moment and what's necessary to get from one to the next. Adams is more serious, stoic, and considers the bigger picture and the overall mission. Walker, as the leader, defuses their conflicts and has final say in the group's decisions. This starts to shift as the game goes on, with Walker becoming increasingly violent and impulsive and Adams and Lugo trying in vain to rein him in.
Walker's Never My Fault attitude extends even beyond the Fourth Wall. As his actions get nastier and he tries more and more to justify them, the player steadily loses control of him. This begins to result in him blaming you for actions that were his decision as an independent character.
Walker'sSanity Slippage is conveyed as much through the gameplay as through cutscenes.
Genre Deconstruction: Deconstructs the modern military-themed shooter exemplified by Modern Warfare. Walker, Adams and Lugo start the game as generic soldiers who could be easily mistaken for the protagonists of any other game in the genre, complete with standard banter and personalities. The first enemies seen are middle-eastern men who are hostile to Americans and look every bit like the nameless "insurgent" stereotype games usually use to invoke Al-Qaeda. The character archetypes quickly break down when the squad begins to see how bad things in Dubai actually are. A line from IGN's preview sums it up nicely:
"Their warmth is replaced by solemnity and stress, and the moment they are first shot at by U.S. soldiers and are forced to shoot back in self defense is the moment that changes them forever.".
Genre Shift: A subtle example. The game starts off just like any other modern military shooter (albeit slightly darker than most), but after the white phosphorus incident it becomes a vicious deconstruction of the genre and an attack upon the player which is closer in tone to surreal Psychological Horror than anything else.
Geo Effects: Early parts of the game have large amounts of sand being held back by windows or other fragile barriers, which can be shot at and broken to drown enemies under a wave of sand. Many critics complained that this feature was far too contextual and shallow to be a core gameplay mechanic, observing that there was little practical difference between sand and generic shooter Exploding Barrels.
Grenades will throw up clouds of sand if they detonate in sandy areas. This is useful for screening attacks and soldiers in the area will stop ducking behind cover as they fumble around.
Giant Mook: The Damned 33rd ranks include about a dozen Heavy Troopers, who stand more than 7 feet tall, walk slowly, wield light machine guns, and are equipped with heavy body armor that lets them soak Juggernaut-levels of damage. They even look like the Juggernauts from Modern Warfare 2 and 3. However, what they say to their allies implicitly deconstructs the idea; in particular, they call for cover fire more than any other soldier you face. They know that their imposing statures and heavy weaponry makes them prime targets, and with all that armor, they can't exactly move quickly to avoid gunfire. They may be walking death machines, but they've also got a great big "SHOOT ME" neon sign strapped to their back.
Good Is Not Nice: Riggs insists that his plan to kill the population of Dubai by destroying their water supply falls under this trope. The player will probably disagree.
Riggs: What I did may not have been nice, but it was right.
Grey and Gray Morality: Amazingly the game succeeds at this in spite - even because - of its bleakness: every character, no matter how monstrous their actions, has understandable and believable motivations. Konrad and the 33rd instigate draconian martial law in Dubai and prevent anyone from leaving, but they're the only thing maintaining any semblance of order at all in the city, and the only reason they stop people from leaving is because the initial evacuation attempt resulted in huge death tolls. Riggs intends to kill everyone in Dubai by sabotaging their water supply, but only because he believes that if word gets out about what Konrad has done, it will trigger a war between the US and the Middle East, causing even more death and destruction, possibly even at the nuclear level. Capt. Walker himself crosses the point of no return and eventually ends up as little more than a Villain Protagonist, but genuinely wants to save the people of Dubai and continuously believes he can make things better by intervening. That being said...
Gorn: Make no mistake, this game is really violent. Especially obvious with Walker's executions, which start as mercy kills but become increasingly vicious as Walker becomes more and more unhinged.
For the first couple of hours it looks like the game's just a slightly darker, more cynical take on the modern military shooter. Then the team decide to deploy white phosphorus rounds.
Even before that, there's the realization that most of the enemies that you face in the game are American soldiers.
Harder Than Hard: The aptly named FUBAR difficulty, which is only unlocked upon beating the game on Hard. You die in literally 1-3 hits, and enemies have enhanced health (especially noticeable with the Elite Mooks and Giant Mook enemies).
Hero Antagonist: In spite of the atrocities they commit, the 33rd is much closer to this trope than Walker and Delta would probably want to admit.
Heroic BSOD: Walker and the squad after discovering the civilians they burned alive when they were "forced" to use white phosphorus mortars to proceed. Walker deals with the consequences for the rest of the game especially in the form of John Konrad.
The Hero Dies: In two of the game's 4 endings (and according to Walt Williams, one of the writers, the game can be interpreted as Walker himself being Dead All Along as a result of the helicopter crash.) In each case, he dies long after he could be accurately described as the hero.
Heroic Sacrifice: Riggs explains that he's arranged for a group of locals to create a diversion at the front of the Aquatic Coliseum so Delta can sneak in the back unnoticed. Lugo points out that most of them will likely be killed in the process, to which Riggs simply replies "They understand the meaning of sacrifice." Of course, considering Riggs's plan, the sacrifice is anything but heroic.
Heroic Wannabe: Col. Konrad explicitly denounces Capt. Walker as one of these.
Col. Konrad: The truth, Walker, is that you're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not. A hero.
Icy Blue Eyes: Walker, right in the cover art; see here◊ for a larger version than the page image. The effect of Walker seeming like he's staring right through you is not at all lost on the in-game model, which is something that probably took considerable effort to make just right. He doesn't have them just because he's a badass Delta operator, he has them because they double as Creepy Blue Eyes. The effect they have once his face gets burned, which causes his cold blue eyes to contrast with his charred flesh, becomes extremely unsettling.
Ignored Epiphany: Considering that Konrad is really just a personification of Walker's conscience, the entire second half of the game is essentially a long series of these.
In Medias Res: The opening helicopter sequence takes place about 3/4 of the way through the story. Walker even notices the repetition, and one of the developers has suggested that he died in the opening scene and is in purgatory.
In Name Only: This game has nothing to do with previous Spec Ops games. In a sense, this game is something of a Continuity Reboot of the franchise.
Word of God says that they were aiming for one of three reactions to being forced to use white phosphorus. The first was for players to go through with the act willingly, but wonder if they maybe could have found a better way once they discover the bodies of the civilians they just charred. The second was to stop playing, either before or after discovering the civilians. The third was for players to realize that it was a But Thou Must scenario and be just as angry about it as the characters were.
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.
The gameplay has received a lot of flak for being unpolished, repetitive and generic - functional and engaging, but not terribly fun, in essence. It's been argued by several critics (such as Extra Credits) that this was intentional on the part of the developers. While Word of God has not confirmed this, it would seem to fit with the game's attempts to avert Do Not Do This Cool Thing: an anti-war game wouldn't be terribly successful if the players were enjoying gunning down wave after wave of Mooks. The developers did explain that there were several instances where they hoped to offer the player fun gameplay, then undermine that fun by showing the horrific consequences of it (most notably in the case of the white phosphorus incident).
Walt Williams here said that part of his strategy in designing the game's plot was based around deliberately embracing Gameplay and Story Segregation in order to make an artistic point. He specifically noted that there are many games in which the protagonist has ostensibly peaceful goals, and yet the gameplay consists almost entirely of killing people, which when contrasted with each other leads to unintentional dissonance and Fridge Logic. Here, however, that dissonance is employed deliberately in order to make the player question their actions and establish Walker as being a massive hypocrite, hence deconstructing the concept.
Gamespot review: A failed attempt at communication leaves you no choice but to fight back, and this pattern repeats throughout much of the campaign, establishing one of the main narrative contrasts of Spec Ops. You're there on a rescue mission, but you just can't seem to stop killing people.
Interface Screw: Sort of. When aiming at an NPC in-game, the white targeting reticle changes colour to indicate whether they are an enemy (red) or a friendly (blue). However, during many of the "moral choice" moments, the targeting reticle remains white no matter which of the choices the player is aiming at. In keeping with the game's deconstruction of "moral choice" moments, no choice is clearly signposted as "good" or "evil", and the game refuses to judge the player no matter how they choose.
Ironic Death: The player has the option of allowing Riggs to burn to death while he is pinned down under the truck containing the only water supply in Dubai. If only water wasn't in short supply he might have been saved from that fate.
Ironic Echo: At least two in the post-credits epilogue.
Near the beginning of the game, your team attempts to rescue a U.S. soldier who turns out to be uncooperative and pulls a weapon on you. At the end, Walker encounters a group of U.S. soldiers sent to rescue him, but who are nervous and draw their weapons on him as he is armed and initially uncooperative.
One of Walker's first lines in the game is "Gentlemen, welcome to Dubai." Colonel Konrad later repeats this line to Walker when he first speaks with him over the radio. If you choose to massacre the U.S. soldiers sent to rescue you, Walker will pick up one of their radios and tell the rest of the U.S. forces in the city "Gentlemen...welcome to Dubai."
"This is Captain Martin Walker. Requesting immediate evacuation from Dubai. Survivors... one too many."
At the beginning of Chapter 2, Walker claims that "Orders ain't worth following if it means leaving people to die". At the end of the penultimate chapter, you're forced to leave Adams to die...while the order "Run, Goddamnit" appears at the top of the screen. Obviously, you have to follow it.
During Chapter 14, Adams unfairly blames Lugo's death on Walker, before Adams mimes shooting him. Most of the endings then have Walker unfairly using Konrad as a scapegoat for the death of Dubai, before Walker shoots him.
In chapter 1, Lugo jokingly describes himself as a "hardened killing machine". After discovering the civilians Delta have killed with white phosphorous, Lugo begins freaking out and yells at Adams "He [Walker] turned us into fucking killers!"
Ironic Hell: One possible interpretation of the game that the writer Walt Williams suggested is that Walker died in the opening helicopter crash and the rest of the game is him living out his experiences over and over again in a kind of Purgatory, or perhaps a Dying Dream.
Improvised Weapon: Ammunition is scarce in Dubai, so some have taken to melting down any metal they can find that's easy to melt down - such gold and silver jewelry - and casting bullets from it. Walker says it's a desperate move, but also smart, and muses on the proof of how much a soldier's life is worth. Musings that come back to haunt both him and the player towards the end as the loading tips ask you to weigh the lives of Adams and Lugo against the collateral damage.
It's Up to You: Deconstructed Trope, as the game shows precisely what sort of mindset it would take to believe that you are the only one who can do anything. Captain Martin Walker exceeds the scope of his original mission because he thought it was up to him to figure out what was going on and save everyone. He fails at both learning the truth and doing anything that doesn't get people killed in various horrible ways.
Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The 33rd use the "Sandboarding" torture method method on Gould to coax Riggs' location out of him. Not to be outdone, the CIA have their own Torture Technician in Castavin, who administers a good old fashioned beating to a lieutenant of the 33rd to get Konrad's whereabouts.
The majority of the soldiers in the game have a tendency to be assholes throughout the story. But nobody can match up to the sheer air of obnoxiousness that the Radioman gives whenever he insults the Delta force.
This is the unspoken reason Adams and Lugo refuse to abandon Walker even as it's becoming increasingly clear that he's losing his mind: so long as they have someone in charge, they can rationalize away any morally questionable things they do with this trope. Emphasized in the refugee camp scene where Adams desperately wants to fire on the lynch mob, but won't do so until Walker gives the order.
At one point Walker hallucinates a member of the 33rd he has killed, who describes himself as: "One of your victims. The one who was just followin' orders." This is an unusual example of the trope, as it's not so much the victim trying to excuse himself, as the victim indicting Walker for killing someone who was only doing his job. (Especially as it's Walker who is the villain, not the 33rd.)
The game as a whole is an inversion of this trope, however, with most of the tragedies occurring as a result of two of the main characters (both of whom are members of the armed forces) disobeying their orders rather than following them.
Kafka Comedy: Providing backup for evacuation soon becomes gunning down US soldiers, accidentally mortaring civilians and soldiers providing aid, driving your squad to Post-Traumatic Stress before inadvertently killing them, driving yourself to full-blown insanity, destroying the closest thing wasteland-Dubai had to a democracy, and dooming any survivors to dehydration. Depending on the ending the list includes; Walker either committing suicide himself, by rescue squadron, or wandering aimlessly into the desert; or having to live with what he's done and potentially causing a war between the UAE and USA by not dying with the truth.
Knife Nut: The Damned 33rd Infantry have a handful of Bayonet Runners, who basically charge straight at you with a knife, rolling around to avoid gunfire. They can kill you in 1 hit on Hard or FUBAR, but they're unarmored and go down after a burst or two of fire (oddly, despite their low health, melee attacks do almost no damage to them). The fact they're crazy enough to bring a knife to a gunfight really shows how nuts things in Dubai have gotten.
Knight Templar: Walker himself slowly falls into this, convinced he's doing the right thing even when it's obvious he really, really isn't.
Almost a literal example. There are only a handful of knife-wielding "Bayonet Runners" in the entire game (7 or less in total), even though they're not that much tougher than a regular enemy soldier. They cannot, however, be knocked down by your Quick Melee attack, making them very difficult to execute.
There are a similar amount of heavy troopers, who wear full body armour and are much tougher to kill than regular troops. They too are immune to your melee attack, and cannot be executed in any circumstance.
Last Name Basis: Almost everyone, as befitting the military setting. Adams addresses Walker as "Martin" in one cutscene, while Walker occasionally refers to Konrad as "John" in the endgame.
Last-Second Ending Choice: The endings are based entirely on the decision you make in the last scene and how you carry out that decision, rather than any of the choices preceding it. In this case it's thematic. Despite the suspiciouslyaccusatory loading tips, it's ultimately entirely up to you to decide how redeemable you think Walker is, how you think he would react to the game's final revelations, whether you judge Walker, sympathize with him, or empathize with him, and ultimately how much Walker's choices and actions throughout the game reflect your own.
Last Stand: Adams does this when faced with the remnants of the 33rd and by all the explosions and dialogue later where the surviving second in command says his small group of about eight is all that's left, which later turns out to be a hallucination, meaning Adams likely killed all of them. To put that in perspective, he was faced with a helicopter, Humvees full of soldiers and at least 20 soldiers on foot.
Late to the Tragedy: Delta arrives in Dubai six months after the initial storms hit and after most of the population was either evacuated or wiped out. They spend most of the first half of the game piecing together what happened over the course of the preceding months.
In the opening to the game, Walker and his team are flying a helicopter and shooting at incoming ones, before the game flashes back to How We Got Here. When the scene comes up again late in the game, Walker is confused, because he thinks this is "wrong", because he's "done this before." According to the developers, this is because one way to look at it is that he did, and you've been playing a Dying Dream ever since the words "Chapter One" flashed on the screen.
In the beginning cutscene of Chapter 1 while the pre-credits roll, you can see "Special Guest: (Your name here)"
"The truth, Walker, is that you're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not. A hero."
"None of this would have happened if you just stopped." The latter line is made even more effective by its incredibly subtle callback to the first mission of the game. Delta Force are approaching Dubai from the storm wall, and what is the very first object they encounter in gameplay? A big, red STOP sign, pointed directly at the player. Another STOP sign appears much later, but it's bullet-riddled and almost destroyed...
Or the more subtle gut-punch, "You are still a good person."
Lemony Narrator: A variation. The loading screens and even the mission objectives become increasingly hostile to the player over the game. The loading screens are most blatant, but by the end, even the mission objective says "Run, god damn it!".
Like a God to Me: One of the intel items is an effigy of Konrad in a Christlike pose. Walker muses on the accompanying audio that the reason why the survivors in one of the camps set up by the 33rd were so keen on lynching Lugo and trying to kill the remaining members of the Delta squad was because their gratefulness to Konrad had bloated into this trope.
Locked into Strangeness: Throughout the events of the game, you see Walker's hair get lighter. While it's assumed that this is just sand, grime and ash building up as the game goes along, many players speculate it could actually be his hair going white from the traumatic events of the game.
Luck-Based Mission: The "Freebird" chase on Suicide Mission or FUBAR. You'll be lucky to make it past the first stretch what with higher enemy damage, which means you'll often require luck, careful timing (by trial and error), and/or a lot of tolerance.note The chopper appears in a 7 second unskippable cutscene, the Radioman sings along to opera in a shrill and annoying voice, and death requires about a ~30 second reload — throw in the fact that a misstep can kill you and it can get irritating.
Made of Iron: Walker, who manages to shrug off falling off of a skyscraper, trekking through sandstorms that would flay people alive, surviving various explosions, including getting launched from an exploding truck and slamming into a building ten feet away and having half his face burned off by said explosion. His reaction? He doesn't have one.
Meaningful Background Event: Well before the more overt hallucinations appear, there are a few hints as to Walker's mental state which will probably go unnoticed by most players on an initial playthrough, such as Konrad's face appearing on billboards or a tree which appears to be blooming from one angle and barren from another.
Walker is an old Scottish name for military officers who were given the job of patrolling or inspecting large areas of land on the order of their commanders. What is Martin Walker's job in this game? That's right. Furthermore Martin is a name derived from Mars the Roman God of War. Martin Walker = Inspector of War, which is appropriate in the context of the game's narrative, as Walker's initial mission is to investigate the situation in Dubai and report back and cruelly ironic, as his downfall comes as he abandons these orders and moves from inspecting the war to actively participating in it.
Riggs, who has just doomed all of Dubai to die of dehydration, is trapped under a truck and Walker can either invoke this trope or leave him to burn to death.
Execution moves early in the game are effectively this; Walker can put a bullet to the head or snap the neck of a mook who is screaming in pain while gurgling up their lungs. It's later subverted: as Walker's mental state declines the executions become increasingly vicious, until they would scarcely seem out of place in Manhunt.
At one point, Walker's facing off against a Heavy Trooper by himself, when suddenly the lights start blinking on and off and everything turns a purple hue, while the enemy begins randomly teleporting several feet to the side every time Walker gets a solid bead on him, and a crumbling mannequin apears in its place. Worse, he randomly turns into a mannequin every few teleports.
From the Heavy´s point of view, Walker shot a bunch of mannequins while he casually walked through the room towards him. Unintentionally funny.
Pretty much the entire ending: Konrad was Dead All Along: the one Walker interacted with was merely a hallucination Walker created to blame his increasingly horrific actions on since the white phosphorus incident. He had also blocked out any and all comments of his squad regarding his irrational actions (such as the "test" involving the soldier and civilian hanging from the overpass in which not only were there no snipers, but the soldier and civilian were desiccated corpses).
A couple of odd events, such as Walker saying that he's already done the helicopter sequence before, and the weird time rewind that occurs if you get killed by Hallucinatory Lugo, seem to hint that the whole game since the helicopter crash at the beginning may be a Jacob's Ladder-like Dying Dream of Walker's. On the other hand, it could be a Breaking the Fourth Wall example as his sanity wears down.
Mission Control Is Off Its Meds: The objectives start getting slightly off-kilter late in the game. When Walker first begins speaking with Konrad, for example, your objective is simply: "Obey." Or when Walker is sprinting across the final stretch to the Burj Khalifa and leaving Adams to die: "Run, goddammit!"
Mistaken Identity: Played for Drama. At the beginning of the game Delta are mistaken for the 33rd by the insurgents (and also the surviving members of the 33rd on the crashed aeroplane), then later the 33rd themselves mistake Delta for the CIA, prompting them to fire upon Delta and forcing Delta to return fire in self-defence. This is largely on account of their uniforms being so similar (see Not So Different).
Mood Whiplash: Repeatedly. At one point, Delta corners the Radioman in his penthouse. The Radioman is surprisingly friendly and affable, and instructs Lugo on how to use his PA system, which Lugo responds to amiably. Then Lugo suddenly pulls out a handgun and shoots him three times in the head without a second's hesitation.
Mooks but No Bosses: With the singular notable exception of the hallucination of Lugo, there are no enemies in the game who are above Elite Mooks. Even that one possible boss is optional, as dying there rewinds the scene and replaces him with a normal heavy. Additionally, no one shows up in the game with a fanfare depicting their "video game boss" status, no major character engages the player in a desperate stand-off like a video game boss would, and all named characters that die do so in cutscenes or while they are helpless. The supposed "villain" of the game, with whom the player has probably been anticipating a colossal Final Boss fight for at least half of the game, turns out to have died long before the game began and is only a hallucination.
Mook Horror Show: The developers intended the game's Enemy Chatter to evoke this, with the mooks' combat dialogue moving from confident and professional in the opening of the game to anxious and frightened by the end.
There is a TOC (Tactical Operation Command) near the end of the game where the Damned 33rd lists the names of all they've lost in their own white-board tribute, along with photographs of Walker, Lugo crossed out, since he is dead, and Adams. The hate and grief is palpable.
There are several points in the game where the player is offered a choice between two options, neither of which is the "right" one and for which both outcomes will be nigh-identical. This serves as both an attack on dichotomous "moral choice" systems in modern video games (especially ones which cause a deep effect in the world, or as Word of God says "cause the world to bend to your will, which is not how things work in real life,") and also fits with the concept of Walker as a Tragic Hero.
Interestingly there are a couple of times in which the player can Take a Third Option, but they tend to be hidden, requiring the player to think a little out of the box to find them. The outcomes have a tendency to be just as bad, but on the other hand they carry the common implication that neither Walker or the player is willing to just blindly obey Konrad and, by extension, the game's suggestions. Here's some examples:
The underpass: Two criminals are strung up, one who stole water from the 33rd and the other who was supposed to punish him, but ended up killing the entire family. Snipers are pointing at you and them. Konrad tells you that one has to be punished, and you are supposed to pick. In reality, there are six possible actions you could take in this situation. You can shoot one or the other. You can shoot both. You can attempt to walk past and get shot at by the snipers. You can shoot the ropes out, or you can shoot at the snipers themselves.
The refugee camp: Lugo has been lynched and the mob that did it has surrounded you. If you try to simply walk out, you get hurt and pushed back (and your Regenerating Health has been quietly disabled, so you can't do that for long). Adams is panicking and asks for your permission to open fire, while Walker's reaction to the death of Lugo makes it obvious that you are supposed to cut loose and massacre the mob. Instead, you can simply fire warning shots into the air or melee one of the civilians, making the crowd scatter.
Motive Decay: Alluded to in one of the loading screen "tips" during the final third of the game: "Do you even remember why you're here?" It also happens in-game as Walker and his team start out with orders to locate any survivors, then retreat, and call for reinforcements, but it eventually turns into a personal quest for Walker to find and save Konrad, and this in turn later becomes "Extract revenge on Konrad".
Konrad and the 33rd go from trying to evacuate the population of Dubai to waging war on a good portion of it. The CIA, whose original mission was to look for survivors, end up trying to destroy the city's water supply in order to doom the inhabitants to death by dehydration and cover up Konrad's crimes.
Mr. Fanservice: Hello, Captain Walker. He's got more closeups and shows more skin than anyone else in the game. And then he descends into scarred, bloody-faced, Ax-Crazy, screaming lunacy.
Multiple Endings: The ending can go in one of four directions, based on the choices you make during the final encounters. A few of the moral choices you make throughout the game also affect some of the flashback scenes that occur during The Reveal. However, the only decisions that make a difference on which ending you get are in Chapter 15 and, if received, the epilogue.
It's easy to gloss over when you're in the thick of things, but a potential loading screen later on reminds you that destroying the communication tower doesn't help Dubai at all. Organizing a relief effort without an easy way to contact and rally the remaining civilians is doomed to fail.
Never Be a Hero: The game spells out that things would have turned out much better had Walker and the player just stopped interfering.
Everycharacter does this. Adams and Lugo, for all their criticism of Walker, never disobey his increasingly questionable orders, and overlook their own participation. The Radioman claims that the civilians provoked any harsh treatment they receive at the hands of the 33rd, and that Walker has "no idea" what Konrad "had to do". Riggs justifies his controversial decisions with "These people understand the meaning of sacrifice," and The Needs of the Many.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Konrad stays behind in Dubai to help evacuate civilians, but all he accomplishes is getting his unit stranded there and branded traitors by the US Government, and they are forced to commit horrible atrocities to survive. Walker ignores the advice of his more sensible teammates and pushes further into the city to track down Konrad, starting a chain of events that results in all of the survivors in the city being doomed to death by dehydration.
No Cutscene Inventory Inertia: In almost all of the cutscenes, Walker is carrying the M4A1 and the M9, the two starting weapons in the game. When the cutscenes end, Walker puts away the M4A1 (disappearing into a non-existent Hyperspace Arsenal) and draws whatever the player had him carrying anyway.
No-Gear Level: Walker loses all his equipment at several points in the game (although he generally finds new weapons fairly shortly afterwards): after falling off a skyscraper, after Riggs crashes the water trucks, after the helicopter crash and after Adams's Last Stand against the 33rd. In each case he is forced to fight by himself, without the assistance of his squadmates, for some time (except the last).
If Walker dies before reaching the crashed helicopter in chapter 13, a short monologue by Konrad plays, companied by a distorted short of Konrad's silhouette disapproving shaking his head while looming over you.
If Walker gets killed by the hallucinatory Lugo or immediately afterwards, the game "rewinds" back to before the encounter and Walker only has to fight a normal Heavy Trooper in his place.
Noodle Incident: What happened in Kabul between John Konrad and Walker is vague and it is mentioned that Walker doesn't like to talk about it, but it ended in Konrad dragging Walker half a mile to safety after he was injured, and it is suggested the Kabul incident might have initially scarred Walker, with the phosphorus incident only expounding it.
No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom: There are optional intel objects scattered around the various areas which the player can collect if they so choose, but aside from that the game is completely linear.
Konrad invokes this against Walker throughout the game, telling him from his own experience that Walker's attempts to be the "hero" and save everyone will only end in tragedy, as it did for him. It takes on a ring of more terrible truth when one realizes the Konrad talking to Walker is an extension of Walker's personality - the real Konrad is already dead. They really are more alike than Walker wants to think.
The Radioman seems to believe this as well. He mocks Walker and his friends for claiming Konrad to be a "war criminal" on two different levels: 1) The insanity of Dubai made it so that Konrad's decisions were actions that "Had to be done." 2) Walker and his friends are no different, doing what "had to be done", and have no right to call Konrad evil after what happened at the Gate. Lugo doesn't take the Radioman mocking the burned corpses of those civilians kindly.
At the level of gameplay, the 33rd's uniforms are quite similar to those of Delta Force (emphasized by the first enemies the player encounters, who mistake Delta for the 33rd), meaning it can be hard to tell your teammates and your enemies apart (especially in, for example, a sandstorm). Some of the 33rd's character models even look suspiciously similar to Walker himself. This was probably deliberate, as a means of suggesting this trope: you are, after all, fighting fellow Americans instead of a foreign enemy for once. Shoot a thousand foreigners? No problem. Shoot a thousand Americans? Not as easy to justify to yourself. From The New York Times:
"Philosophers can debate the morals of this instinctual reaction, but killing waves of virtual American soldiers is far more disquieting than shooting foreigners."
Not the Fall That Kills You: One cutscene depicts Walker falling down the side of a building and grabbing onto a flagpole at a speed which would realistically yank his arm out of his socket (it can be seen at the end of the trailer).
Averted in this case - it's a three man squad that manages to wipe out a veteran infantry battalion and multiple scavenger groups, destroy several buildings, and accidentally doom the Dubai survivors to die.
However, this is played straight but downplayed after Walker is separated from the team by the 33rd after falling off a building; he can kill over a dozen enemies at that point, but he's also aware that he's going to be overwhelmed if his attempts to radio and regroup with Adams and Lugo fail. They do come in to bail him out in the nick of time.
After the group has had nothing but disdain for the Radioman, the way Lugo suddenly makes nice with him when they finally meet telegraphs what he intends to do after getting the information he wants.
Zig-Zagged. We're introduced to Lugo as sort of the playful joker, the guy who can't stop cracking wise about everything. That personality had vanished shortly after things had started to go critically wrong, so his banter-ish, almost playful chatting with the Radioman seems like he's finally returning from OOC. He hasn't.
Or Was It a Dream?: According to Word of God, the scene transitions allow you to figure out what's "real": when the events are "real" the screen fades to black. When Walker is hallucinating, it cuts to white. During the Epilogue, the game only fades to white.
Painting the Medium: Cutscenes which end with a fade to black depict events which are actually happening, whereas cutscenes which end with a fade to white are ones in which Walker is hallucinating or otherwise deceiving himself.
Perpetual Storm: A series of sandstorms ravage Dubai for six months uninterrupted, prohibiting air, land, and naval travel or communication with the outside world. There's no explanation for why the storms last so long but it's implied that the entire game is set in a hallucination, Purgatory, or Hell.
Pet the Dog/Enemy Chatter: You'll spend a lot of time during the set-piece 'stealth moments' sneaking up on patrolling guards only to hear them swap gum and cigarettes, talk about the weather, the view, the comrades they're fighting with, and how they hope to go home soon. You know, like normal, average people. Who you will shoot in the head to proceed. See Mook Horror Show for more information.
Everyone can use this. Captain Walker only knocks people down and has to execute them to finish them off, while everyone else simply does a lot of damage.
Lampshaded by the Radioman, who remarks that beating people to death with a gun is both unnecessary and impractical.
Playable Epilogue: Three of the four endings have one, although it's only one map long.
Player and Protagonist Integration: This trope in some ways forms the crux of the game's meta-argument about the player themselves - to what extent is Walker representative of the player, and how closely do his actions and motivations reflect the player's? Both questions have been debated at length since the game's release.
Playing Possum: The very first enemies Delta encounter do this, pretending to be a pile of corpses next to the radio beacon. Then they get up...
Playing The Player: Think you're a big damn all-American hero coming into Dubai to save the day? Think again. By the end of the game, it's become obvious that you can't even trust your eyes and ears.
Poor Communication Kills: Had the first soldier not assumed that Walker's team was with the CIA, a lot of strife could have been avoided.
Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie: The game's setting. Both Konrad and Walker were previously deployed in Afghanistan, with Konrad volunteering the 33rd to go to Dubai from there in the game's backstory. Additionally, the first enemies the player encounters are referred to as "insurgents".
Power Fantasy: Deconstructed: Walker's underlying motive to intervening in Dubai is in some sense built upon his desire to fulfil a power fantasy of becoming a hero and saving the day, but his perceptions are so warped that he only succeeds in causing tragedy and destruction. By extension, this is implied to be equally applicable to the player, as most games (especially in the shooter genre) are built upon fulfilling this kind of power fantasy. Additionally, the game draws an implicit parallel between that idea of heroism and much of American foreign policy.
The game mocks the player for having these, all but insulting the player for wanting to be a bad-ass one-man killing machine.
Pretty Little Headshots: Averted. Most weapons result in a spray of blood. Using stronger weapons, such as the 44 revolver, will cause the enemy's head to outright explode. When Lugo shoots the Radioman with his Beretta repeatedly in the head, the camera gets covered in blood.
Protagonist Journey to Villain: What's supposed to be a mission for Capt. Walker himself to succeed in, turns into an unfortunate descent to evil instead.
Justified, since you are fighting in and around a city in the middle of a desert that's also wracked with sandstorms.
And averted with the colorful, albeit ruined, luxury hotels and skyscrapers.
As a further mocking of military shooters, the game features color filters. Standard is the game as it was made. You can choose to make the colors even more vibrant, or turn on a filter that makes the game full-on Real Is Brown.
Reality Ensues: As part of the game's Deconstructor Fleet project. A key part of what makes the white phosphorus scene so horrifying is just how realistic it is in comparison to most shooters.
Reality Has No Subtitles: Used in the first chapter to increase the tension when Delta first come across insurgents speaking in Farsi.
Konrad spends the latter half of the game doing this to Walker. Then we find out that he's a manifestation of Walker's own guilt and self-loathing.
The entire ending is one delivered at Walker and the player at the same time. It is devastating.
Redemption in the Rain: The loading screen for the Epilogue evokes this imagery with Walker standing out in the rain, wearing Konrad's uniform with his arms outstretched as he welcomes the relief of the cleansing water in the barren desert. What is especially notable about this image is that Walker has blood on his skin that the rain is washing off, symbolically cleansing him of his guilt. Whether or not he accepts this redemption and goes home is up to the player.
Regenerating Health: A fairly standard implementation, replete with blood spattering on the edges of the screen to indicate Walker's injury. Subverted in the lynch mob sequence, in which Walker's and Adams' regenerating health is disabled, forcing the player to make a choice about how to proceed, or be stoned to death by the mob.
Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Inverted. The Shadow Konrad, which is Walker's conscience personified as Konrad, after Walker has discovered his corpse states, amused, that reports of the real Colonel Konrad's survival were greatly exaggerated.
The Reveal: Stacks of them. Some of the most important:
The 33rd have gone rogue and seem determined to stay in Dubai.
The 33rd are actually trying to help the refugees, which Delta only learns just after accidentally killing 47 of the people that the 33rd had saved.
The CIA's plan is to destroy Dubai's water reserves in order to eliminate the remaining civilian population, for fear of the Middle East discovering what the 33rd have done in Dubai and waging war on the US.
Konrad had committed suicide long before Walker arrived in the city: the voice Walker heard was just one of his hallucinations. Walker created the Konrad persona as a way to cope with his guilt over the things he had done in Dubai, by projecting his guilt onto Konrad.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: For most of the game Walker fights back against the 33rd just to survive, but as the game progresses Walker explicitly expresses dehumanizing hatred of his foes (i.e. sterile remarks like, "Kill confirmed," turn into, "Killed the sonofabitch!"). After the white phosphorus incident Walker's only response to Adams and Lugo is to say "I'm gonna make these bastards [the 33rd] pay for what they've done", and later even goes so far as to want to teach Konrad a lesson by devastating the 33rd, making his desire to kill Konrad explicit after Lugo dies. It's also quite literally in keeping with the title of the trope - the further the game goes along the more loud and aggressive Walker's dialogue becomes until he's roaring at enemies and his men like a deranged psychopath.
Walker: The 33rd don't want to leave Dubai? Fine! We'll bury them here!
Rousseau Was Right: Surprisingly, considering how dark the game is, there's an example - Konrad tells Walker that nobody ever means to hurt anyone. Of course, this could also be viewed in a cynical light as well.
The only way to proceed at one point is to shoot out a window holding back a bunch of sand. The sand then consumes a scale-model city of Dubai.
The game's levels are designed with this in mind (or perhaps as a representation of Walker's mental state): to progress forward, the player has to continually descend lower and lower into the depths of Dubai.
At one point in the game, the characters enter a skyscraper half buried by the sand dunes, leaning to one side and creaking dangerously. Then you enter one very lush penthouse containing a golden statue of Lady Justice positioned in front of the setting sun in the window, and find an intel piece revealing that it once belonged to an Arabian politician who tried to hush up the evacuation efforts before evacuating his family, and stayed behind himself with his mistress. When found out, he gloated in front of the journalist about how the truth was whatever he said it was. The whole level just reeks of symbolism regarding the hypocrisy and the literal skew of Dubai's political authority, and how this system was very quickly 'toppled' by the apocalyptic sand storm.
The title screen shows a tattered American flag being flown upside down and a sentry keeping watch over the city beneath it. An inverted flag is generally used to denote a state of emergency - or protest and discontent (it's a form of desecration and outlawed in several countries). In addition, "The Star-Spangled Banner" plays over speakers visible on the flagpole - the version Jimi Hendrix played. As the player advances through the game, the opening menu screen changes to reflect Walker's progress. Day turns to night and back again, the sentry switches positions, pillars of smoke start to dot the horizon, and the flag becomes more torn and unsteady on its pinning as it flutters and snaps in the storm-winds. After the final cutscene and The Stinger, the flag has fallen, skyscrapers are collapsing, dozens of fires burn with ugly black smoke, the sentry's corpse is being picked at by ravens, and the music is gone.
Sadistic Choice: At one point Col. Konrad forces Capt. Walker to shoot either a civilian convicted of stealing water or an American soldier who overzealously massacred the same civilian's family for the crime, in the process letting the other person free. Walker can however Take a Third Option and shoot the prisoners' ropes or the snipers waiting for Walker's choice. It's later revealed that this choice took place entirely in Walker's head, so the scene comes across more as a parody of binary "moral choice" moments in video games than anything else (which is fitting, given that Walker is trying to convince himself that Konrad is an archetypal video game villain).
Sanity Slippage: The entire game is this for Walker past the white phosphorus incident and discovering Konrad's former command squad.
Once the world's most fantastical city, Dubai is now its most opulent ruin.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Walker explicitly disobeys his orders to reconnoitre the city and radio for evac in an attempt to do the right thing. This very pointedly mirrors how Konrad defied his orders to abandon the city in an effort to help the survivors of the sandstorm. In Walker's case it's deconstructed: Walker is fundamentally misguided in his idea of what the right thing to do is and the rules are there for a reason, so disobeying them only leads to catastrophe. In Konrad's case, however, it's left more ambiguous.
Walker: This isn't just about finding Konrad anymore. It's about doing what's right.
The epilogue for the game also has another search team being called in by Captain Walker.
Senseless Sacrifice: At one point you must choose between a high asset CIA agent or a couple of civilians, and regardless of your choice Gould dies, and if you choose the civilians, they will die of dehydration because of what you do later, so it's lose-lose.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: Walker himself, who is already traumatized by his experiences in Afghanistan at the beginning of the game, though pretty much everyone else also develops this kind of complex by the events of the game, except probably the Gray Fox team.
Shoo Out the Clowns: Lugo provides a bit of comic relief at the start of the game, but pretty soon he's hurtling towards the Despair Event Horizon along with the rest of the team. The Radioman's commentary on the events of the game might also inspire a wry grin or two from players with a rather dark sense of humour. The latter gets shot in the head by Lugo, and Lugo himself is soon after lynched by the very civilians he was trying to save.
Shoot the Dog: The entire game. Everything Walker does is in the name of stopping Konrad.
Shoot Everything That Moves: Invoked by Walker during the second to last mission of the game. At this point Adams and Walker are just outside Konrad's base of operations and are surrounded on all sides by the 33rd.
"Adams". No matter what you do, no matter how fast you run, you will not save Lugo.
Really, the whole game is this. In the end, nothing Walker does has served to benefit anyone - except for helping the CIA cover the whole tragedy up. In fact, he may well have doomed any remaining chance for the survivors making it out alive.
Played straight with the W1300 and M1014, which actually makes sense in the case of the W1300 since it's practically a sawed-off shotgun anyway. Averted with the full-auto AAS-12, which is depicted correctly as having medium range ability; able to shoot at the effective range of an assault rifle.
Stuff Blowing Up: The AAS-12 uses FRAG-12 rounds, basically explosive slugs inside of shotgun shells. This is indicated by the green shells it spews out, that there is no buckshot spread as with normal shotguns, and that miniature explosions happen when it hits something.
Shows Damage: Used horribly and as realistically as possible not only for phosphorus victims, but for the team as well. Lugo and Adams get minor injuries on their models while Walker gets half his face scarred by burns, various cuts and bruises from various things like falling off a skyscraper, and he magically loses his sleeves at a perfect angle after they were apparently burned or ripped off during the truck crash, and it all shows in his model.
When you come across old dead bodies, they look realistically mummified.
All of Dubai counts and the effect of the sandstorms are quite realistic.
Depending on the side of the corner Walker is taking cover at, he'll fire with his left or right hands. More plausible than when this happens in other cover based shooters, because Delta and other special forces are trained to be equally accurate when shooting with either hand.
Sidetrack Bonus: Once you reach the plaza fronting the exit of the level in which Lugo is lynched, you may want to head a little bit to the back and right of the plaza, in which case, you'll find a unique weapon sitting on an ammo box: Lugo's TAR-21 assault rifle.
Lethal Joke Item: Its limitations become apparent early on, when you realize that since it's unique, no enemies carry it, and you can only obtain ammo for it from refills and executions. However, when you do get enough ammo to use it consistently in combat you'll find that it's got the power of an M249, and the accuracy of an M4A1.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: So anvilicious the scale goes from sliding to downhill plummet; it's even visible in Walker's comments and takedowns as the game progresses, as punching a mook unconscious soon becomes wrestling a gun barrel into their face.
While game definitely tends to the more cynical end of the scale, just how cynical depends on player choice; if you show mercy to enemies whenever possible and allow Walker to go home at the end, things actually start to look vaguely hopeful. Even beyond that, it's worth noting that none of the characters, no matter how evil their actions, start out with bad intentions.
The Radioman has this in spades, so much so that you're pretty much looking forward to committing a war crime on his ass once you get your hands on him. Which Lugo then does.
Colonel Konrad appears to be one as well but it's ultimately subverted when it turns out "Colonel Konrad" was a hallucination by Walker all along, in order to create a villain upon which Walker could blame all the terrible things he'd done. In fact, the collectible intel shows that the real Colonel Konrad was a sad, humble man who was deeply horrified by the terrible things he did to maintain order in the city, which ultimately led to his suicide.
Snicket Warning Label: In chapter one, as Delta are approaching Dubai through the storm wall, the first object they encounter in gameplay is a big red STOP sign, pointed directly at the player. Another one appears about halfway through the game (shortly before the white phosphorus incident), but it's filled with bullet holes, which is probably symbolism of how the option to stop has so far been treated with contempt and ignored.
Soundtrack Dissonance: Gunning down American soldiers while "Nowhere to Run" by Martha and the Vandellas plays over the Radioman's speaker system makes for one of the more subtly surreal sequences in the game.
Special Guest: at the end of the credits after the opening sequence, the player is credited as a special guest, which is another form of Take That: you're not a passive audience. You're an active part of what will happen in the game.
Spiritual Successor: The game is basically everything Haze and Blacksite: Area 51 should've been. Both were attempted deconstructions of the modern military-themed shooter genre (and violence in general), but unlike Spec Ops, both were much more political and critically panned.
Spoiler Title: Averted. In "Adams", it's Lugo who dies. Adams doesn't die (probably) until the next chapter.
Stress Vomit: Shortly after abandoning Adams to certain death, Walker leans over a bridge and vomits while the voice of Konrad admonishes him.
Sudden Humility: The game starts with the player trying to save the day where Konrad and the US failed, but quickly forces the player to make the same, dreadful, lose-lose decisions that Konrad couldn't even live with.
Suicide by Cop: Essentially what the "Road to Glory" epilogue ending is. Walker, deciding he is indeed the villain after all he did, fires on the American soldiers sent to pick him up and take him home, knowing there's no way back for him. In the event Walker survives the fight, he looks very disappointed and knows the only way to go from here is to embrace the villain fantasy he had built up for Konrad - become the rogue agent that a team of soldiers will have to assassinate. In either case, Walker is never going home alive. The greatest tragedy is that Walker does not mind becoming vilified and gunned down by his own country's soldiers. He wants release from his trauma via death, and a villain like him deserves to be taken down.
True for just about every main character you come across, besides mooks who when injured have to be curbstomped to death, and painfully averted for the refugees, who are going to die of dehydration because of the water trucks being destroyed.
Averted in the case of the white phosphorus rounds, with many of the victims of the mortar dying slow, agonizing deaths as Delta walk slowly through the carnage.
If the player has a choice, there's always at least one you aren't told about. Mind you, it might get you killed and fail, but it's always there.
According to Word of God, there's one big fat third option hanging over the whole game, that any given player can take at any time to stop the atrocities being committed: Stop playing. Unfortunately, even that option is depressingly debatable, because according to one interpretation of the game, the very first playable section takes place after Walker has already committed dozens of war crimes and doomed every living person in the city to a painful death, and the next 80% of the game is a flashback. In other words, the instant you turn on the game everyone is Doomed by Canon.
Take Cover: It's a cover shooter, so use of cover is a requirement for survival. Unfortunately leads to Fake Difficulty at times, as the cover mechanic isn't well-polished.
Word of God states that the sequence with the white phosphorus mortar was a deliberate deconstruction/Take That at vehicle sequences that aren't infantry combat, especially the AC-130 sequence in Modern Warfare, where the player detachedly bombs dozens of white silhouettes - this time, making the player look at the casualties up close and adding civilian casualties to the mix.
Talking to Themself: In the ending if you pay attention to Walker, while Konrad is giving him a thorough verbal beatdown questioning his motivations for the entire mission, you'll notice that his lips are moving even though no words are coming out. There is a very specific reason for this: Walker is hallucinating the presence of Konrad and is therefore speaking on Konrad's behalf.
Tragic Hero: Walker's goal of doing what he thinks is right, no matter what, dooms him.
Translation Convention: In-combat dialogue among the insurgents is in Arabic-accented English, in contrast to most cutscenes, in which the refugees speak in Farsi.
Trauma Conga Line: The entire game is Walker dancing in one of these, on a floor sprinkled with broken glass and white phosphorus. Worse, much of it is his own fault.
Treachery Cover Up: Some of the intel items suggest that the local Emirati government and the Dubai elite had been evacuated days in advance of the first storms without even alerting the other citizens and that the authorities and media personnel stationed on site had been complicit in covering this up.
Troubled Abuser: The 33rd's chief interrogator has an audio diary which can be collected as an intel item. In it, he reveals that the reason why he's so good at torture is because he's been tortured himself in the past, and to him, anyone who survives his torture will be like a brother.
Unique Enemy: There are only 7 Edged Weapon Experts/Bayonet Runners in the entire game, even though they're only slightly tougher than the average mook and add decent variety of firefights with their unorthodox tactics.
Unreliable Narrator: Although the game is not a FPS, the player still experiences the game through Capt. Walker's eyes. The further the game goes on, the more obvious it becomes that his perception cannot be trusted.
Unwinnable by Mistake: Averted, according to Word of God. Writer Walt Williams had hoped to implement a system wherein after each "moral choice" moment the player made, it would be impossible to load the game prior to the moral choice, forcing the player to live with the consequences of their decisions. However, he feared that this might lead to situations where the game would save at an instant when the player had insufficient ammunition or weaponry to complete the next section of the game, so the idea was scrapped. (Although that being said, the game doesaward the player with additional ammunition if Walker dies several times in the same location.)
Vertigo Effect: The game uses this at several points to give an impression of the sheer size of Dubai, generally when Delta approach a cliff edge with an impressive vista.
Executions, except the ones beforethe White Phosphorus incident. You get more ammo for executing your enemies. But the first few executions are not terribly cruel. They're a coup de grace, which originally meant blow of grace, ending a person's horrible suffering when they are mortally wounded. It was considered a merciful and just thing to do in the Middle Ages, and in this case where a soldier can spend a long time beyond all medical help, squirming and dying by inches, it may be an act of kindness. Then, later, they become downright barbaric, the act of a rage-fueled murderer smashing his victims. Anyone who has read this far down the page surely understands what that says about Walker's mental state.
Perhaps the biggest test of a gamer's character is the lynch mob scene. You have the choice to either open fire on the masses or scare them off by firing away from them. Sounds like an easy enough choice, right? You've done enough horrible things to these people already, why would you hesitate? Maybe because Lugo is killed in a brutal fashion after you hear his screams of mercy over the radio by the very same mob. To make it even harder, Adams is practically begging Walker (and the player) to let him have revenge for his fallen friend.
Villains Act, Heroes React: An unusual example, in that by the time the average player realizes it's a straight example of the trope they've also realized the villain is also the player character.
Villain Protagonist: After a certain point around his Freak Out, Capt. Walker essentially becomes the villain of the game. When you kill the hallucinatory Lugo, he outright tells Walker that he's the villain, not the hero.
Violence is the Only Option: Played with: attempts to negotiate with hostiles (whether the "insurgents" in the opening of the game or the 33rd themselves) inevitably fail, forcing Delta to resort to violence. However, the game makes clear that a far more obvious non-violent solution was staring Walker and co. in the face the entire time: simply leaving Dubai. The game is, of course, in large part a commentary on the use of this trope in the shooter genre.
War Is Hell: One of the most thorough examples in video games. Post-sandstorm Dubai is a terrifyingly realistic landscape of mass graves, lynch mobs, vicious torture, draconian martial law, horrifying chemical weapons, executions, guerilla warfare and general chaos. Every character in the game is driven to increasingly monstrous acts as part of their efforts to do the right thing, and only succeed in making a bad situation even worse. Over the course of the game, Walker and his squad become broken down by the horrors they keep seeing, becoming increasingly vicious, unhinged and prone to violence (especially in Walker's case, whose combat patter transforms from professional to utterly psychotic, while his execution moves move from punching downed enemies in the face to wrestling shotgun barrels into their mouths). Worst of all, everything that is caused was their own fault.
Weather of War: Sandstorms play a big part in gameplay occasionally. They're scripted in singleplayer and random in multiplayer, and do a number on your vision, greatly reduces your accuracy, and is basically a cue to either run or take cover.
The phrase, "Gentlemen, welcome to Dubai," is said three times in the story. Each time it takes on a darker tone of madness than the previous time, essentially equating the chaotic, anarchic mess that is Dubai with hell.
In the beginning when Walker's squad arrives in Dubai, Walker looks at the ruined city and, in an amused tone, informs his men how weird this mission is going to be. After the White Phosphorus incident, a horrific incident where Walker accidentally burned civilians to death, Colonel Konrad gives his personal greeting to Walker and his men by repeating the phrase. Lastly in the epilogue Walker has the choice to kill the reinforcements sent to rescue him, where after he will take their radio and tell the remaining reinforcements over the now clear airwaves, "Gentlemen, welcome to Dubai." This is basically inviting them to come after him.
Fittingly, prior to Walker finding Konrad, the Colonel says the actual trope name as a White Phosphorus round is fired: "Walker, welcome to hell."
Wham Episode: Chapter 8, "The Gate", marks a serious tonal shift both in-game and in the story.
Wham Line: One in chapter 8 that precedes the most disturbing scene in the game.
33rd Soldier: We... were helping...
What Measure Is a Mook?: Averted. Delta kills hundreds and hundreds of "insurgents" and soldiers of the 33rd in the course of the game and are presented as utterly monstrous for having done so. Meanwhile, major antagonists (such as the Radioman) are not treated with any special respect or decency (with Lugo shooting the Radioman in the head without warning in a cutscene).
Loading screen tip: How many Americans have you killed today?
What the Hell, Hero?: Konrad has an entire speech about this at the game's finale, even set to flashbacks of Walker's violence and destruction:
Konrad: You were never meant to come here. Walker: What happened here was out of my control... Konrad: Was it? None of this would've happened if you'd just stopped. But on you marched. And for what? Walker: We tried to save you. Konrad: You're no savior. Your talents lie elsewhere. Walker: This isn't my fault. Konrad: It takes a strong man to deny what's right in front of him. And if the truth is undeniable, you create your own. The truth, Walker, is that you're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not: A hero. I'm here because you can't accept what you've done. It broke you. You needed someone to blame, so you cast it on me, a dead man. I know the truth is hard to hear Walker, but it's time. You're all that's left and we can't live this lie forever.
The further you go, the more the loading screens outright insult you for continuing to play.
Immediately after the white phosphorus scene, Lugo starts freaking out and yells "This is your fault, goddamn it!" at Walker (note that he does not address him by name). Of course, he's pointing directly at the player.
Not long after the helicopter crash, Adams stops in a doorway to verbally chew out Walker for the latter's decisions. If you don't touch the default camera angle, despite looking at Walker, Adams clearly points through the screen at you.
What You Are in the Dark: Much like its main inspirations, the game is in part an examination of how people behave when the civilizing influence of orderly society is absent. The game goes a step further by drawing an implicit comparison between how the average person would act in such a situation, and how a typical gamer behaves while playing a shooter.
At the end of the story, Walker finds Konrad at a rooftop swimming pool, putting the final touches on his life-size painting of a crowd dying from white phosphorus. Meanwhile, the surrounding cityscape is dotted with pillars of smoke and flame.
Would Hurt a Child: The victims of the white phosphorus incident include several children.
Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Walker. Subverted when he unintentionally kills a mass of civilians with white phosphorus. After Lugo is lynched by civilians after escaping from the 33rd, this can be either subverted or enforced depending on the player's actions.
Played with: there's at least one place where an itchy trigger figure can result in Walker shooting an unarmed, innocent woman to death. The game doesn't judge him, or you. There's no What the Hell, Player?. There's no Non-Standard Game Over. No one would even ever know Walker killed that woman. There's no penalty at all aside from wasting ammunition. What You Are in the Dark, indeed.
The characters — particularly Walker — believe they are in your average shooter plot. They are actually in a deconstruction of one, and it becomes more obvious and more painful the further they advance.
The game deliberately works to cause it in you, the player. The trailer, the demo, the boxart, and even the first forty-five or so minutes of gameplay make the game appear to be a standard military shooter. Clearly the player plays the hero who saves the day or on rare occasions, makes a bittersweetHeroic Sacrifice. Of course, anyone who's read this far down the page knows just how wrong all those assumptions are.
More generally, the characters believe that they are in an America Saves the Day story. They most certainly are not.
You Are Not Alone: As depressing as the ending is, Konrad does share a simple poignant statement with Walker to remind him that not all hope is lost. For the context of the story Konrad had been cynical about the fate of soldiers, believing that they could never truly return home or find peace. Walker feels that, after all the wrongs he's perpetrated in Dubai, he doesn't deserve to go home; the player might well agree. Konrad is basically challenging Walker to prove him wrong. Ultimately, Walker/the player has to make that decision in the epilogue.
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.
Interestingly played with. As the game progresses, the loading screen messages become increasingly strange and threatening ( "This is all your fault." "How many Americans have you killed today?" "To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless."), and the Leaning on the Fourth Wall lines become increasingly critical of the player. At the same time, though, you slowly lose control of Walker, and it becomes increasingly apparent that he's looking for someone, anyone else to blame for the mess he's in. The endings basically let you decide who you want to blame for the events of the game, and refuse to judge you either way.
The Radioman starts invoking this after a certain point.
"What are the eight scariest words in the English language? 'We're Delta Force and we're here to save you!'"note Since "we're" is used twice, the Radioman is correct to describe this as eight words. Additionally, it's a Shout-Out to Ronald Reagan's nine scariest words in the English language, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
Konrad's speech near the end of the game (and the subtext of the entire game) is basically a bitter ridicule of the escapist narrative of being a hero. He claims that embracing escapist-violent fiction to make yourself feel cool is delusional, and ultimately trivializes war and the experiences that a soldier goes through.
Wordof God states that the game isn't completely one-sided. He wanted to let the player judge themselves, either through an action that doesn't punish the player directly, letting the player silently judge for themselves; or through the ending, which directly allows the player decide whether or not Walker (and, by extension, the player) can be redeemed or excused. For more information, see Intended Audience Reaction above.
You Can't Go Home Again: Averted. Despite everything that happened in the game and all the horrors Walker witnessed and did, he can still go home. Lucky him.
You're Insane!: Walker to Riggs after the latter reveals what his real plan was.