TV Tropes Org
site search
Spec Ops The Line back to reviews
Comments
Crosses The Line...Of Subtlety
(Note: it's been a while since I've played this game. This review may in for revisions. Also? SPOILERS!)

It's rare to find a game as unusual as Spec Ops: The Line. A military themed third-person-shooter, with Gears of War style gunplay (sans roll dodge and general fun) and white-bread protagonist, but with a strong emphasis on story and characters? Color me intrigued! If there's one thing Spec Ops does well, it's taking a tried and true formula and turning it into something shocking and memorable. Unfortunately, I must take issue with the game, as it is hands down one of the most blunt, hamfisted, cliched, pieces of pearly putrefied pretentious wank I've played in years.

Most of my ire is directed at the game's attempt at deconstructing the Modern War Shooter, taking an element of the genre and flipping it on it's head: American soldiers? They're the bad guys! Middle Eastern dudes? They're the good(ish) guys! American Hero sent to sort this shit out? Go crazy and possibly die after driving your friends into depression by your dogged persistence in pursuit of a goal that only makes sense to you! That could have gone well, but unfortunately the theme of the piece really seems to be "players are dicks". Often times that game comes short of breaking the forth wall in admonishing the player for the many acts of brutal violence you are FORCED to commit. This is undermined by the game reveling in bloodshed to a level that would impress Mortal Kombat. When the game shows you the fifty civilians you accidentally dropped a butt-ton of Wiley Pete on, it zooms in real close and focuses on a mother and daughter melted together by the intense heat. The gratuitous nature of that scene provoked less My God What Have I Done, and more the feelings of a small boy poking roadkill with a stick. It takes incredible hubris to shame a player for indulging in violence, when your game features exploding heads, Ludicrous Gibs, and the ability to pound downed enemies into meat paste.

Combine this with plot holes, moral choices that mean exactly dick, and twists that make the story make lose much of it's weight, and you've got a story heavy game that gets an A for effort, but a C in execution.
I think the point of the game is less a "Take that" directed at the player (particularly since at least the game's Steam page makes it pretty clear that it isn't your typical war shooter), and more about taking the piss out of the current generation of "war is glorious" shooters. Whether dropping some necessary anvils justifies producing a largely mediocre cover-shooter is debatable.
comment #17468 Bobchillingworth 28th Dec 12
The thing is, the very games it's railing against, the Call of Duty series, don't have a War Is Glorious message. It just seem like that because the games are actually fun. The current crop of Medal of Honor's and other imitators seem to miss the nuances though, and so they end up being about glory and America, Fuck Yeah!
comment #17469 MachineMan1992 28th Dec 12
Personally, I believe that "Wars Is Hell" and "war is fucking awesome" to neccessarily be mutually exclusive. Which is why the so-called Do Not Do This Col Thing trope in works does not bother me much. This applies to most video games of war.
comment #17470 doctrainAUM 28th Dec 12
@machineMan Co D post Co D 4 has had a Waris Glorious message. It's been repeatedly noted that most of your actions in Co D games break the geneva convention and are war crimes. In fact your point that it only seems that way because the games are actually fun is the point. A game isn't detached from its gameplay and that gameplay has a strong message, which is what Spec Ops railed against. When it makes you commit an atrocity, its doing it because its an atrocity that you will willing commit in the name of fun in a normal Modern Military Shooter.

Think of the throat-slitting quicktime event they use all the time. Or this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DD3NBqEUgkE or these articles http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/criticalintel/10100-Killer-Robots-and-Collateral-Damage http://filmcrithulk.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/the-bat-shit-evolution-of-the-modern-warfare-series/

comment #17491 TomWithNoNumbers 30th Dec 12
I'll concede that double-tap and funeral strikes kind of cross the line between "ruthless pragmatism" and "mustache twirling" in terms of dick moves, but I find it odd people keep going on about war crimes, as if war has "laws" you can break. It's only a war crime if your side loses. Secondly, and this is mostly a semantics issue, The WP Incident did not involve drones; that thing you first launched was a recon camera, basically a camcorder with a bedsheet tied to it. They even come in grenade launcher sizes. Third, I can tell what white blobs are bad dudes and which aren't. They're the ones with muzzle flare.

Hulk does make a good point that the MW series has gone completely snooker loopy since the first one, but I chalk that up Activision pressing Infinity Ward to make more MW games after the first one turned out to be a surprise hit. I also agree that the games have lost a certain verisimilitude in trying to portray bigger and bigger action sequences and all at the cost of player agency. If Co D 4 had not have done so well, there likely wouldn't be a Spec Ops: The Line.

Lastly, having a strong message told through gameplay does not excuse the gameplay being crap. If they wanted to tell this story at the expense of player enjoyment, they should have gone whole hog and just made the game a movie. And that's part of my problem; the developers want the player to feel bad, but they seem to be trying to keep the player as un-immersed as possible. Most of the "shocking" moments happen within confines of cutscenes. If the aftermath of the WP scene took place in a player controlled sequence, it may have resonated better.
comment #17528 MachineMan1992 2nd Jan 13
Thanks for reading the links, that was a lot of text to play through. I'm afraid I didn't quite follow your point about war crimes. We've got an actual definition of them and international courts and international laws that can be broken. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Criminal_Tribunal_for_the_former_Yugoslavia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_crime http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Conventions Are you saying something along the lines of they're pretty much a sham since it's rare for a victor to be prosecuted and it's just an elaborate way to justify fighting a war? But then we do court marshall and punish soldiers who kill innocents and go beyond the guidelines set to them. We've, for example, given life sentences to soldiers who shot prisoners and even Germany generally respected the rules of prisoners of war with all the people who signed it. They kept allied prisoners fed, housed, clothed and exercised and in most cases didn't kill prisoners who tried to escape. The Russians who didn't sign the Geneva convetion on the other hand weren't treated like this by Germany.

On the other hand General Patton clearly thought more along the other lines because he tried to pardon and cover up massacres committed by US soldiers during WW 2. In one incident they got away with it and in the other his subordinate refused and a perpetrator was sentenced to life (although again another was pardoned and died during the war)

The WP incident didn't use drones as such, but it's the same example of remote warfare and the problems it creates. The US to this day have a horrible civilian casualty strike from situations where they have similar information and control to the WP incident

I don't agree they should have made the game a film though. Games are a wholly different medium and can do some things far better than a film ever could. Most of the impactful moments of Spec Ops would have been stripped of meaning if they weren't exploiting the tight bond between player and character that games create. I might agree with you on the cutscene front. On the other hand they do let the player have a pretty unprecedented amount of choice during the moral option moments compared to almost every game other made. There aren't many other games that would let you solve the crowd mob problem like you can, or provide so many natural alternatives to the sniper moment. I think maybe the gameplay should have been stripped down, it was bad and wasn't intended to be fun so they should have removed everything possibly that didn't directly link into the theme. So have a couple of slicing unaware soldiers throats but don't have battle after battle of mowing down lives. Keep them short and focused perhaps
comment #17529 TomWithNoNumbers 2nd Jan 13
Maybe there wouldn't be a high casualty rate if the bad guys didn't keep hiding around civilians.

As for my point on war crimes, it just seems kind of silly to try and attach rules and regulations to a conflict that involves killing lots of people and destroying lots of stuff. Sure we punish soldiers for massacres, but those are just the ones we catch, or the ones that are most blatant and unjustifiable. You could spin any of the atrocities in Spec Ops into justifiable actions: The first soldier you kill had a gun, the arab refugees were all armed and hostile, WP was regrettable but unavoidable, that mob you mow down meant you serious bodily harm and you acted in self defense, etc.

As for gameplay, this is where the game is self-contradictory; The game is trying to shame you for having fun with the mechanics, so the mechanics are meant to be crappy, but a game by it's definition is supposed to be fun. You could go in circles for hours trying to make sense of it. IF they had just done a straight copy of Gears, rolling and all, then maybe it could work. Remember how I said the WP scene would be better off as a gameplay sequence? It's even more galling they didn't do that because they did it earlier! That part where you slowly walk through a trench filled with corpses, or the part where you walk past all those burnt soldiers right after Wiley Pete, those were effective sections.
comment #17530 MachineMan1992 2nd Jan 13
Maybe there wouldn't be a high casualty rate if the bad guys didn't keep hiding around civilians.

Problem is, they do hide around civilians. Does that mean we should completely ignore collateral damage?

As for my point on war crimes, it just seems kind of silly to try and attach rules and regulations to a conflict that involves killing lots of people and destroying lots of stuff.

The reason we have professional soldiers in the first place is so that civilians don't die. We attach rules and regulations to conflict so that civilians don't die when they didn't have to.

Sure we punish soldiers for massacres, but those are just the ones we catch, or the ones that are most blatant and unjustifiable. You could spin any of the atrocities in Spec Ops into justifiable actions: The first soldier you kill had a gun, the arab refugees were all armed and hostile, WP was regrettable but unavoidable, that mob you mow down meant you serious bodily harm and you acted in self defense, etc.

All of Walker's actions past a certain point were unneeded. WP was hardly "unadvoidable" because Walker should have just pulled the fuck out when he had the chance.

We have rules for warfare so kill-crazy nutheads don't ruin our national reputations by causing unnecessary civilian casualties, and because it makes war more (Emphasis on more) ethical by reducing casualties of those who aren't actively participating.

As for gameplay, this is where the game is self-contradictory; The game is trying to shame you for having fun with the mechanics, so the mechanics are meant to be crappy, but a game by it's definition is supposed to be fun.

No it's not. Spec-Ops is not meant to be fun anymore than Heart of Darkness (The inspiration for some elements of the plot) is meant to be fun.

Remember how I said the WP scene would be better off as a gameplay sequence? It's even more galling they didn't do that because they did it earlier! That part where you slowly walk through a trench filled with corpses, or the part where you walk past all those burnt soldiers right after Wiley Pete, those were effective sections.

I agree that the WP aftermath scene could have been better if the entire thing was done in gameplay. That said, such a decision definitely doesn't undermine the entire scene as you seem to think, since some parts were done in gameplay.
comment #17546 Scardoll 4th Jan 13
@Machineman luckily I think we've found the key reason for difference of opinion 'but a game by it's definition is supposed to be fun'

I don't really look for fun in games in particular, fun is good and all but I often end up wanting something a bit deeper and more meaningful. Most games up until now don't aim for that but we seeing more and more try interesting non-fun things. If your primary drive is to go into a game to have fun, then fair enough, the impression you came away with seems completely reasonable.
comment #17548 TomWithNoNumbers 4th Jan 13
Okay maybe "fun" isn't the right word. How about "entertaining?" You can watch a tragic movie or play, or read a sad book and still be entertained. Likewise, a game can be harsh, bleak, cynical and still be worth sitting through. Horror games are meant to provoke feelings helpless, terror, and the spreading warmth of involuntary wee. From that short sentence, you'd wonder why anyone would want to sit through that, but the fact that a lot of gamers do indicates that they are getting some kind of pleasurable experience from it.

Spec Ops is meant to produce feelings of guilt and shame, of self-loathing and deep introspection. That's fine in and of itself, but the rub lies in the execution; rather than subtly let these feelings worm their way into your consciousness, the game opts to bludgeon you over the head, and boldfacedly tell you to feel shame. When a game tries to railroad you emotionally, that is when the writing has failed.

Ever play Far Cry 2 ? It too had a very Heart of Darkness-esque plot, but instead of judging you for your (quite immoral) actions, it lets them sink in by themselves, like self-revelatory depth-charges. When you take a step back from yourself while playing and realize you're a foreign mercenary willingly destabilizing an African nation, blowing up water pipelines and assassinating police chiefs and getting paid in blood diamonds, then do you realize, "man, I'm a douche".
comment #17553 MachineMan1992 4th Jan 13
I have heard good things about Far Cry 2 and you have a point, but Far Cry also didn't have as big of an impact on people. A lot of people just wrote it off (heck some people wrote Spec Ops off. There were actual reviews which criticised it for a weak multiplayer),

I'm coming more into line with what you're feeling now. I still think the things Spec Ops did to make you feel shame were clever, the executions in combat and the way they change, the naturalness of the WP scene pre-horror. Heck just the way the combat starts (although I'm proud that I didn't fire first even before I heard about the game and was playing the demo). But maybe minute to minute the actual combat isn't quite engaging enough
comment #17559 TomWithNoNumbers 5th Jan 13
So just because Far Cry wasn't a hit, it should be written off? By that logic we should write off this very game because The Line wasn't exactly a blockbuster either. Some people have said The Line hasn't done so well, because of how it actively tries to get you to not play it. And like I've said on the forum thread, if you deliberately design your game to not be fun ("entertaining"), I'm not going to hand you a game of the year award, I'm going to slap your hands away from the keyboard and give it to someone competent.
comment #17565 MachineMan1992 5th Jan 13
But I'm not convinced it isn't engaging even if it's not fun or entertaining. And by Far Cry I meant less the masses and more that there have been a surprising amount of people who've come away with very positive reactions to Spec Ops, whereas I feel the people who really understood Far Cry 2 were in the minority. I'm not suggesting we write it off, but if you write a message, that it's understandable enough for people is a criteria for judgement. For example in Far Cry 3 the writer intended to deliberately subvert and deconstruct the Mighty Whitey trope but I'm not sure if I'm going to give him praise for it, because a lot of people missed it and so the people who might be receptive to being negatively influenced by the trope might still have walked away with that
comment #17568 TomWithNoNumbers 5th Jan 13
Far Cry 3' lead writer is very blatantly trying to backpedal away from accusations of Mighty Whitey by saying "I meant to do that!" He was caught in a faux pas and is trying (and failing) to save face. Far Cry 3 doesn't go over the top enough to be a parody, nor does it possess the sophistication to be a deconstruction.

All I'm saying, all I've been saying, is that Spec Ops drops it's anvil so hard, it comes right back around and starts being silly. There's being blunt, then there's trying too hard.
comment #17570 MachineMan1992 5th Jan 13
I'm not particular convinced the writer was backpedalling, other people were talking about his themes before he started talking and his history makes his position sound convincing to me.

But I don't know, do you want to leave it here? I'm not fully convinced but some of it has made me rethink my perspective on the game and I don't think if I were to defend my position more I'd be guilty of trying too hard, you make good points of subtlety. Maybe I consider the state of MM shooters to be bad enough that some anvils need dropping and it has worked for some people at least http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/firstperson/9890-Crossing-the-Line-in-Spec-Ops but I can also believe that when we look back at it in the fullness of time, it's not going to look like a delicate piece of art =D
comment #17572 TomWithNoNumbers 5th Jan 13
To clarify I think he was trying to do it and just didn't do it well at all and so it fails at that particular objective
comment #17574 TomWithNoNumbers 5th Jan 13
I'm thinking about editing this review. I don't think it's negative enough.
comment #17620 MachineMan1992 9th Jan 13
Well isn't that a slap in the face.
comment #17638 LostHero 10th Jan 13
I'd like to present to you a musical piece I've created; it's a melancholy blend of Samuel Barber's Adagio For Strings and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata in C minor, played on the world's smallest violin.
comment #17639 MachineMan1992 10th Jan 13
In order to post comments, you need to Get Known
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy