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Spec Ops The Line back to reviews
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It's all right
As a character study and a deconstruction, I find The Line's story quite appealing, although it probably could've stood to be a little longer and/or built-up. The gameplay is, if not perfect, at least fully functional and not frustrating, which is all I ask.

Regarding the You Bastard implications, I have rather conflicting feelings. For the most part, I'm of the opinion that video games are no more inherently "interactive" than literature or films, unless you're explicitly given a choice on how to proceed in or resolve the story (and even then, there are only certain, pre-programmed, choices that can be made) . In the end you're only pushing buttons to follow a path or paths determined well in advance; turning the game off and trying to wish away the events of the story will be no more successful than stopping halfway through a novel and pretending all those pages aren't still there, and strikes me as akin to the action of plugging one's ears to drown out something unpleasant that's already occurred and cannot be undone.

That said, even if I were to accept the claim that turning the game off is somehow a valid ending to an already established narrative with four possible conclusions (and I won't consider any solipsistic arguments along the lines of "It only existed and happened because you watched/read/played it!") and that I need to take "responsiblity" for anything "I" did playing the game, I wouldn't feel bad about my actions. If the point is to think about anything (violence, morality of war, "power fantasies", whatever), I thought. And I decided not to change my opinion.
Yeah, that's the thing about the "turn off the game" ending. The bad stuff still happens, because it's on the disc, it's been tested by the developers. It still exists.

I take it as the devs trying to cover their asses and look more clever than they really are. And failing.
comment #19179 MachineMan1992 28th Apr 13
I actually do think turning the game off is a legitimate response, because you can do that if you're sufficiently disturbed by the content, the same way you'd walk out of am unpleasant movie or stop reading an unpleasant novel. So I can kind of see where the developers are coming from. Where I part ways with them is the idea that it's a legitimate end to the narrative, which it simply isn't, because it doesn't conclude the story in any way. What I would've preferred is something along the lines of a Non Standard Game Over if you left Dubai; an interesting argument could in turn be made about "game over" being a valid ending to what we play.
comment #19180 Robotnik 28th Apr 13
I guess. Though personally, if I'm forced to put down a game, it isn't because I'm disturbed by the content, it's because I'm disgusted that I paid money for a disc of solid pretentiousness.

Sorry. Got a bit ranty there.

I've mentioned on forums that if the game had an option right before WP to turn around and go home, then I'd be singing praises from the towers along with everyone else. (an exaggeration, obviously.)
comment #19181 MachineMan1992 28th Apr 13
In the words of critic Jim Emerson (some years back, covering for when Ebert was sick), on the movie Funny Games:

''You (the lab rat) are placed in a Skinner box (the movie theater) and subjected to random negative stimuli (filmed violence, as a substitute for painful electrical jolts). Haneke, whose academic background is in psychology, philosophy and theater, assumes the role of empirical taskmaster. He hypothesizes that his box will shock you into a knee-jerk ethical dilemma. To pass the test, you must reject the false premise of the experiment itself (if only on the grounds of insufferable smugness) and walk out.

An even better response, theoretically, would be to storm the booth and rip the film out of the projector, thus symbolically declaring your refusal to swallow the force-fed medicinal doses of synthesized abuse the film is administering. And if you really wanted to ace the challenge, you would just not see the movie.''

Something about this general approach offends me on some level. But, since I have never played the game, I can say that I have beaten it.
comment #19182 doctrainAUM 28th Apr 13
Something about this general approach offends me on some level.

Offhand, I would guess that's the fact that it's complete nonsense.
comment #19184 nrjxll 29th Apr 13
Your review fits a lot of what I thought about the game. However, I disagree with turning the game off as a valid response. Sure, you can turn it off if you want, like with any other video game, but with this the developers have created a no-win situation for the players. Like you've said, turning the game off will not make the events that have happened go away, because they'll always be with you. Like you've said, it's the same as plugging your ears to drown it out. To me, that's the same as cowardice and running away from problems and running away from responsibility, which is part of what this game is trying to teach us; taking responsibility for our actions. To me, it's a Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't situation; either play through the game and let it guilt-trip you for things it forces you to do, or turn it off, and thus run away from responsibility and the problem. Not to mention a waste of time and money.

It only makes one wonder on why the developers even bother making this game in the first place if they're going to say "turn it off if you don't want to do this". Why bother to waste time and money building this world, creating all of these characters and forcing them into roles to be killed off? What will it be all for then? No, they want us to buy and play this game so that they can guilt-trip us in this ham-fisted, inherently hypocritical game. This is why I do not consider the "turn the game off" retort a legitimate response in any way.

Sorry for this long rant, but I had to say talk about this, and your review seemed to describe just how I felt about the whole thing.

-

"Offhand, I would guess that's the fact that it's complete nonsense."

Because it is complete nonsense.
comment #19518 Rahkshi500 24th May 13
>with this the developers have created a no-win situation for the players.

Life is a no-win situation. You might call it cowardice, but sometimes you gotta know when to fold them and realize that your involvement isn't making things better, it's making things worse. Feeling that you have a responsibility and that you've got to fix things is admirable, but perhaps that gets around to the theme in the game of "wanting to be a hero" and how that can actually have negative consequences.

I haven't played the game, I was directed here by someone else, but I'm finding these reviews interesting, and from them I'm also finding the scenario described in the game interesting. Whether this is a good "game" or not, it's clearly prompted some intelligent discussion.
comment #24845 flimflam 17th Jun 14
>"Life is a no-win situation. You might call it cowardice, but sometimes you gotta know when to fold them and realize that your involvement isn't making things better, it's making things worse. Feeling that you have a responsibility and that you've got to fix things is admirable, but perhaps that gets around to the theme in the game of "wanting to be a hero" and how that can actually have negative consequences."

Biggest fallacious statement yet. Try saying something new that hasn't already been said before. Life is not a no-win situation, it's a experience of many different possibilities and outcomes, and yes, things do sometimes go the way people want them to, and things do end up getting better. This however, is a game, pure and simple; it's execution of its story and themes is problematic, dissonance, and even downright hypocritical. Whether you like it or not, it is cowardice on the developers part in designing the game the way it is and then trying to shift it onto the players instead.
comment #26436 Rahkshi500 1st Oct 14
@Rahkshi500

While I don't agree with flimflam's statement that "life is a no-win situation," I don't see how it's cowardly of the developers to point out that games which require you to kill over and over again without commentary can't honestly present their main characters as the "good guys" the way they do. Look at something like Uncharted and you're left wondering what makes Drake in any way a better person than the random mooks he shoots down. And yet, the game tries to have its cake and eat it too by presenting him as a fun-loving, goofy, jerk with a heart of gold, and overall rather ordinary video game protagonist.

That the story has points to make (many of them negative) makes it no more cowardly than any other book or movie that challenges its audience.

Turning off IS a valid choice. Especially because these types of games are so endemic within video game culture. I actually saw a review of Spec Ops (I believe by Machinima on youtube) where the reviewer actually opened by saying (I'm paraphrasing here) "I don't want to sound like a little bitch, but I'm tired of all the killing in video games." Think about that for a second — the guy actually had to add a disclaimer about being a little bitch JUST because he wanted an alternative presentation to these kinds of games besides "murder all the dudes."

It's saying that there's nothing wrong with turning away from these types of games. With NOT being okay with them. That you're allowed to want something else and that doesn't make you a "little bitch."
comment #26437 RedHudsonicus 1st Oct 14
Sometimes the discussion about the game seems to turn in "I think the game's terrible because of what it was trying to do," which I think is kind of a bullshit argument.
comment #26438 Pannic 1st Oct 14
@Pannic: Why? If what was trying to do was the wrong thing to do, shouldn't they be held to task for calling the consumer a pathetic murderer, denying all responsibility for enabling the horrors, then making off with sixty dollars?
comment #26439 doctrainAUM 1st Oct 14
@doctrainAUM

Why is what they were trying to do the wrong thing to do? I never felt like the game was calling me a pathetic murderer. I felt like the game was pointing out that going into such games with the idea of playing the hero is absurd given the vast amounts of death and destruction the playable character causes. Having a point to make about the industry and these particular types of games (Modern Military Shooters but also games like Uncharted) doesn't mean that the devs are denying all responsibility — they're actively pointing out the cognitive dissonance that accompanies these games in the way you play them and the way the story is presented.
comment #26440 RedHudsonicus 1st Oct 14
They blame the player for killing digital people, but never blame companies for creating digital people for the sole purpose of letting players kill them. But that would lead the developers to realize that they were partly at fault, so they couldn't let that happen.

"You wanted to be something you weren't - a hero." That's really Yager speaking. I don't understand the idea that wanting to feel important is a bad thing. Pretty bizarre, if you ask me.
comment #26441 doctrainAUM 1st Oct 14
Honestly, I think that this dilemma would be more-or-less solved if the game was engineered to provide endings at any point in the game, instead of the game-over screens. Thus, if you get shot by the 33rd after you destroy their water, the game shows a minute-long cinematic about further troops arriving to find people dying of dehydration, etc. If you get shot by locals in the first hour, there's simply a cutscene that shows other troops arriving many months later, and your team's bodies expatriated and buried in the States. Should you press "quit", the game could ask you something like "Rest or Desert?" and if you choose the latter, you get shown a cinematic of Walker deserting/siding with 33rd/surrending depending on how far he's into the game.

Essentially, the game would then change its storyline if you left at a given point, and accept any conclusion as valid. Then, the player would be truly responsible for what happens in the game, as they could've had settled with the ending of Walker escaping from Dubai as soon as he's encountered 33rd for the first time, for instance. Instead, they chose to press on, not realising that things would be made worse by doing so. While saying that the "entire life" is a no-win situation is fallacious, saying that in certain situations you can only choose between the least bad outcome is very sensible.
comment #26442 NTC3 1st Oct 14
@doctrainAUM

But the game IS criticizing companies by pointing out that the presentation of video game protagonists as wholly good when they do horrible things is irreconcilable. One of the issues I think you're overlooking as well is that the game speaks directly to the player more often because the player IS the audience. There is no way to talk to game companies through the game rather than through the player as the player is the one who will choose which kinds of games to spend money on (and thus the direction companies will take). That doesn't mean the game isn't criticizing the current state of the industry.

Yager isn't saying that it's bad to want to be a hero. It's criticizing the parameters by which we define heroism in these games — Walker does NOTHING but kill people. And TONS of modern military shooters present this as your only option throughout the game while still wanting the player character to be a lily-white hero. THAT is the cognitive dissonance — that you are killing over and over and over and over and over again in order to be a hero. Wanting to be a hero isn't bad. Wanting to be a hero by any means necessary, and when your actions are doing FAR more harm than good, absolutely is.
comment #26443 RedHudsonicus 1st Oct 14
I don't recall the game ever "calling the consumer a pathetic murderer." Looks to me like you're taking the game a little personally.
comment #26445 Pannic 1st Oct 14
Spec Ops: The Line is definitely interesting and divisive, and I'll take 'interesting and divisive' over 'decent but unoriginal' any day, but whenever someone says 'Turning off the game is a valid ending', I have to laugh a little.

If you stopped playing the game you wouldn't know that the game was going to tell you that you suck for not stopping the game. And on a practical level, a game that doesn't want you to keep playing is a failure. It's an interesting narrative, but I think it's much better if it's just a story about Walker. Any time a comparison is made to the actual player, it becomes a pretentious mess of mixed metaphors and blame-throwing.

Still better than most modern military shooters though.
comment #26457 Elmo3000 2nd Oct 14
@ Red Hudsonicus: I would still say it's cowardly because despite whatever intentions and points the developers of the game wanted to make about the industry, they still went the same route that the industry generally does in rather than making their points through different means. Whatever context is, players are not bothered by games with linear gameplay, nor do they have a problem with linear gameplay that has you perform a certain action over and over again. What those who hate Spec Ops have a problem with is that it talks over and over about choice while providing no choice at all. You are in no position to criticize linear gameplay when you are using linear gameplay yourself, and using the "criticism" excuse is the same thing as having its cake and eating it too, only on the meta sense, and thus that's being cowardly and hypocritical.

This is why I have more respect for the makers of BioShock than I do for Yaeger, because 2K Boston/Irrational Games at least admitted and acknowledged their own hypocrisy of doing the same thing of criticizing linear gameplay even though BioShock itself was being linear too, even though BioShock came off better by at least having choices that did made an affected outcome.

That argument about turning off the game is a false equivalence. The machinima video you mentioned only makes it a case of personal preference in games, which before Spec Ops came along, there were already games that weren't about killing all enemies. However, Spec Ops itself was talking about turning off the game in that sense. It was talking about turning off the game to stop all of the death and destruction from happening, as part of its whole game character-player interaction commentary. Where that falls apart is that 1. its overall point and message does not show up until the very end, which means you have play it through all of the BS it throws at you until the end, and 2. all of the bad stuff still happens, at the very beginning. As the article pointed out, the very first scene of the game took place after all of the horrible things Walker had done, so it didn't matter if you later did it in the gameplay, that stuff still happened. In the very first scene.

It doesn't matter whatever kind of points Yaeger or Spec Ops is trying to make. If you're gonna frame in the same way that other games have done, put all of the horrible stuff into the game themselves, and shift the blame/responsibility onto the players, that is still making them hypocritical and dissonance themselves, and whatever points they have to make falls apart.
comment #26499 Rahkshi500 4th Oct 14
How did Bioshock "acknowledge its own hypocrisy," and how did it offer more choice in the game's outcome than Spec Ops: The Line?
comment #26500 Pannic 4th Oct 14
The developers admitted and acknowledged that in spite of the criticism the game made, they still followed the same course of the things they were criticizing in the first place. It offered more choice mostly through the Little Sisters of whether you harvest them or not, arbitrary as though choices may be, still affected the outcome and happened at various parts in the game instead of making it all happened at the last minute.
comment #26501 Rahkshi500 5th Oct 14
@Rahkshi500

Again, though, you're missing the point. Spec Ops: The Line is purposefully criticizing the lack of choice in modern military shooters (and games like Uncharted) while such games still hold your character to be a hero. They even point this out in the most controversial scene of the game — the white phosphorous scene. They show you the effects of the white phosphorous beforehand, they have Lugo object, they have Adams say "there might not be a choice," Lugo reply "there's always a choice," then have Walker say "No, there's really not" to absolutely hammer this point home. You don't have a choice and the game is telling you that. It's pointing this out because the white phosphorous scene is INCREDIBLY similar to so very many scenes across the modern military genre. Scenes which ALSO don't offer you a choice and yet are never questioned or criticized.

On the contrary, though, in Spec Ops the Line, when you DO have a choice, the game DOESN'T tell you and doesn't pass judgement. That first US soldier being interrogated by the CIA? You can kill him and avoid a brief firefight. The game never tells you this. The first time the white phosphorous drops when you encounter a heavy? You don't HAVE to fight him — you can hide and let them pass peacefully. The civilians who lynch Lugo — you don't have to kill them. And these are just a few examples — in each case, you are organically presented with a choice and must act. In fact, though, I know a lot of players who weren't even aware that these were choices — who didn't know that you could kill the US soldier, avoid the heavy or avoid killing the civilians. And these choices you make don't arbitrarily push some kind of dark or light meter — they're choices that your character must simply live with.

It's not being cowardly and hypocritical when you are deliberately pointing out how choice is constructed in these types games. That's what Spec Ops does and it does it exceptionally well.

I discussed the machinima video because people often criticize the "turn the game off" option as though it's the creators calling anyone who keeps playing a murderer. And it's NOT. It's the creators saying that it's okay to be disturbed by game violence and the conflation of that violence with heroism. You're not a "little bitch" if you think so. It's not about "stopping all the death and destruction" as it is about understanding that you can't be a hero if ALL you do is cause death and destruction. If your only action in the game is to kill and kill and kill without ever being offered the opportunity to do something else, then you can't pretend the player character is lily white.

If you do "turn it off" then that's a legitimate ending because that means that you've already decided you're not okay with it and thus the ending would just be redundant. You ALREADY know that you can't be a hero after what you've done.

The point of Spec Ops The Line is to criticize PERCEPTION. That's why the opening helicopter scene repeats itself. In the beginning, you have no idea what's happening — it's just a fun scene of some dudes shooting down a helicopter. By the time you actually played it in the game, though, Lugo has just brutally murdered the Radioman, you've savagely attacked and destroyed the 33rd's outpost on top of one of Dubai's towers (and a possible way to coordinate an evacuation) and your character is becoming increasingly unhinged. Konrad even talks about Walker's butcher's bill right before they get on the helicopter. It puts the scene into a completely different context.

The reason the game copies the tone of other modern military shooters is so that it can SUBVERT it — to show how those games are inherently employing cognitive dissonance. Because it begins by using those same tropes and then shedding light on what they would ACTUALLY mean if you paused and considered them.
comment #26502 RedHudsonicus 5th Oct 14
It offered more choice mostly through the Little Sisters of whether you harvest them or not, arbitrary as though choices may be, still affected the outcome and happened at various parts in the game instead of making it all happened at the last minute.

It was a choice between whether you wanted a large chunk of ADAM right now or if you wanted a large chunk of ADAM in a box a little later. Not that big of a difference. And with Bioshock, the only choice is "are you gonna press the murder button or the save button?" The choices given in Spec Ops: The Line are much better-implemented and subtle, even if they don't all have an obvious "payoff."
comment #26554 Pannic 8th Oct 14
There's quite a bit of people talking over each other here that I can see, but I'll say what irks me about Pannic and Red Hudsonicus's interpretation of Spec Ops is that I think gamers are not particularly predisposed to see their protagonists as necessarily "heroes" to begin with; hell, look at all the evil shit players like to pull in franchises like GTA, Fallout, and Elder Scrolls, even when the game pretty much lets them know that what they're doing is "bad" From a tabletop perspective, look at how popular 40k is, despite every faction basically qualifying for "bad guy" status in a more idealistic setting). Hell, from what I can tell, the main people who really liked Spec Ops were those who were already at least somewhat aware of how bullshit a lot of modern shooters are story-wise, while the kind of people it was trying to address were the sort who likely didn't care about shooter stories to begin with (probably buying COD primarily for the multiplayer) and just ignored it, even after it began making the rounds with the gaming press and blogosphere.

I supposed what I'm trying to say is that Spec Ops, like a lot of lesser deconstructions, falls flat and sounds narmfully preachy if you never took the conventions it satirizes seriously to begin with (like if someone made an animation deconstructing hentai for its unrealistic or unethical depictions of sexual relationships; no shit, Sherlock).
comment #26714 umbrellasareawesome 23rd Oct 14
My apologies for the double-post, but come to think of it, I almost suspect I'd like the game better if it was a black comedy (at least I get more amusement than simply viewing a set of criticisms that I've already read multiple times before).
comment #26715 umbrellasareawesome 23rd Oct 14
I think that turning the game off is a valid ending. You see, I always thought that this game ultimately boils down to the players reaction. In my opinion the white phosphorous scene isn't as important as the hanging scene. (I forgot where this was in the game and most of the little details like who the guy you are talking to, so bear with me please.) You come upon 2 people who are hanging by a rope by their arms and are gagged. One is a 33rd soldier and the other is a local civilian. You have two choices, you can kill the civilian for taking way more water than he should, kill the soldier for brutally arresting him, or walk away and kill all the people that are fighting just up the road. You can only kill one if you so decide. I found this point in the game the best in terms of decision making. You have two options plus the last one even though nobody says it. At THIS point you HAVE to make a choice. Be it killing the civilian who just wanted water, the soldier who was trying to do his job, be a hero and choose a third option, or just urn the game off which is a FOURTH option. This point really got to me and this is why I think that they should put more focus on this scene. They ruined it later but until then I thought my choice was final.
comment #26718 stormtrooper 24th Oct 14
I think that turning the game off is a valid ending. You see, I always thought that this game ultimately boils down to the players reaction. In my opinion the white phosphorous scene isn't as important as the hanging scene. (I forgot where this was in the game and most of the little details like who the guy you are talking to, so bear with me please.) You come upon 2 people who are hanging by a rope by their arms and are gagged. One is a 33rd soldier and the other is a local civilian. You have two choices, you can kill the civilian for taking way more water than he should, kill the soldier for brutally arresting him, or walk away and kill all the people that are fighting just up the road. You can only kill one if you so decide. I found this point in the game the best in terms of decision making. You have two options plus the last one even though nobody says it. At THIS point you HAVE to make a choice. Be it killing the civilian who just wanted water, the soldier who was trying to do his job, be a hero and choose a third option, or just turn the game off which is a FOURTH option. This point really got to me and this is why I think that they should put more focus on this scene. They ruined it later but until then I thought my choice was final.
comment #26719 stormtrooper 24th Oct 14
double post sorry the one below has the correct spelling of turn.
comment #26720 stormtrooper 24th Oct 14
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