Follow TV Tropes

This is based on opinion. Please don't list it on a work's trope example list.


Nightmare Fuel / Spec Ops: The Line

Go To
We cannot escape anguish. It is what we are.

Someone has to pay for your crimes, Walker. Who's it going to be?
Col. John Konrad

This is War Is Hell: The Game. In fact, fuck it. Let's call this game what it is. It's a horror game wearing a mask of a generic shooter.

Get ready for a lot of Nightmare Fuel.

As a Moments subpage, all spoilers are unmarked as per policy. You Have Been Warned.

  • Many of the corpses you come across are creepy. Among them is Agent Daniels', which is burned and mutilated. Even worse is that there's a speakerphone that's connected through his body and is propped up in his mouth.
    • And that's not to mention the mass grave you fall into filled with corpses or the countless people seen hanged on the street lights and billboards.
  • The aftermath of the white phosphorus incident. Smoke everywhere (which, by the way, is toxic), horribly burned bodies, the few survivors whimpering or shrieking in agony and often missing limbs, the pen full of dead civilians — including women and children — and the knowledge that it's all your fault. Imagine the AC130 missions, but with chemical weapons, and played completely straight on how the damage actually is immediately afterwards, rather than playing it for "awesome" against pre-rendered, unchanging backgrounds. Made even worse by how completely impersonal the actual bombing is. You don't even get to look directly at what you're doing until it's all over, at which point you get to see just how horrible it really is.
    • The bodies of the mother and child in particular is a Tear Jerker, Nausea Fuel, and Nightmare Fuel all rolled up into one shot due to how detailed it is. The fact that in one way or another they keep popping up later in the game doesn't help.
    • What adds to the scene is that you can see Walker's reflection in the computer screen. You have to literally look at yourself in a mirror as you condemn dozens of soldiers and civilians to a horrible death.
    • Advertisement:
    • Furthermore, listen to the background noise during the scene. When you start, the air is filled with the sounds of gunfire and explosions as the soldiers try to take you out. But as time goes on the gunfire gets quiet and begins to be replaced with the dying screams of people being burned to death.
    • For bonus horror and guilt-tripping, watch Lugo's hand as he says "This is your fault, God dammit!" while Walker stares at the bodies of the mother and child he just gave the order to kill. He's not pointing at Walker. He's pointing at you.
    • You know it's really messed up when a video game reviewer like Yathzee Croshaw, who's desensitized from all the violence in video games, is actually shaken by what happened. No wonder it's a wake-up call that Violence Is Disturbing.
  • Advertisement:
  • Walker finding Konrad's decaying corpse, with its pitiful, helpless expression. Not only is the sight of this dead body disturbing in and of itself but the deeper psychological revelations that come with it basically invalidate everything Walker had been working up to in that one moment. The Despair Event Horizon comes and it hits hard.
  • Some of the graffiti found throughout the city can be unsettling, whether it's actual pictures or just scrawled writing. These are the thoughts and feelings of the survivors, so when you find pictures of violence and suicide, artwork bordering on Body Horror, and one piece of graffiti that simply reads "DUBAI DIED SCREAMING", you can guess what the people left here are going through.
    • Early on, just before you fight the 33rd for the first time, you pass through an abandoned civilian campsite. On the wall at one point, there are several childish drawings. Very few of them look innocent, with the majority depicting horrors such as civilians getting bombed and shot by helicopters, parents killed by a soldier in front of their daughter, an implied rape of a woman by soldiers next to trees filled with hanging bodies, and a boy playing with a girl whose face looks like it was burned/torn off.
  • The way that in the ending Konrad gives you a simple choice — shoot him or he'll shoot you — is so menacing in how deliberate and definite he is about the choice. Walker is trying his best to maintain his composure and find some way to reason his way out of the situation, but Konrad continues his countdown regardless. Konrad's cold and mechanical thought process has already been decided, either he suffers judgement at Walker's own hands or Walker dies when he pulls the trigger; and then when he finally finishes his countdown, the tone of voice he uses sounds evil, like that of a true monster. The whole exchange is very terrifying.
    Konrad: Is this really what you want, Walker?… So be it. FIVE! (*BANG*)
  • Walker's descent into madness over the course of the game. The cool, collected, mild-mannered captain slowly transforming into a gung-ho, vicious psychopath over the course of just two days is quite mortifying to behold. Even his physical appearance has noticeably degraded by the end, where his grimy, tattered uniform looks like it's about to fall apart and his face is splattered with blood. Nolan North's performance really sells the transition: it's unsettling when you hear Walker start to scream obscenities in battle after the white phosphorous incident happens. It's even worse when you realize it's the same man who calmly used military terms like "tango" and "neutralized" at the beginning of the game.
    • What makes it even worse is that initially Walker comes off as a character similar to Nathan Drake (who Nolan North also voiced) from the Uncharted series. A more or less good guy who tries his best to do the right thing, but his wishes to be that kind of person are quickly deconstructed. Walker is basically what Nathan Drake would be like if someone broke his spirit and his mind and warped his moral compass. The idea of a good person being broken down like that is disquieting. Especially when you think about Walker's motivations and realize that they were never less than sympathetic. He wanted to do what was right. The idea that one can have unambiguously noble goals and motivations and still end up becoming a Villain Protagonist is a rather bleak one indeed, and almost a little heartbreaking.
    • And the facial reaction Walker gives when he eventually discovers that Konrad was Dead All Along and all the time he was hearing or seeing Konrad they were essentially hallucinations. Seriously, the look on his face is frightening. This also could be an indication that Walker has now realized who the true villain all along was... himself.
  • "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid I have some bad news. There's no way to sugarcoat this: they blew up the fuckin' water. That's right: Your water, it's gone! As of now, Dubai is under martial law." And now everyone who isn't dead at Walker's hands is going to die a slow, agonizing death of thirst.
  • When Walker assists Riggs in stealing the tanker trucks full of drinking water, Konrad berates him for assisting the CIA in their cover-up and spelling the doom of Dubai's remaining survivors. But as you may know from the end of the game, Konrad is just a voice in Walker's head and Riggs never reveals his true intentions until the trucks crash. This means that Walker recognized at some level that Riggs was orchestrating the death of thousands of people, but convinced himself to go along with the plan anyway.
  • The slow, horrible reveal that Walker, not Konrad, is the true villain of the game. Walker massacred hundreds of US soldiers who were acting purely in self defense. Walker murdered dozens of civilians with white phosphorus. Walker destroyed Dubai's only source of water, dooming thousands to a slow, agonizing death. Walker knowingly led his comrades to their deaths in a futile attempt to convince himself he was actually a hero.
  • The title screen opens with some rather striking imagery: a sniper lounging under a tattered, upside-down American flag fluttering on the top of a skyscraper overlooking the sand-covered wasteland of Dubai, set to the music of Jimi Hendrix's rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. A bit unnerving, but not too bad on its own. However, the sniper changes positions as you progress through the campaign, occasionally looking through binoculars or aiming at a target we can't see. The flag changes too, becoming increasingly torn as the game goes on. For the last level, we see a pair of ravens picking bits of flesh from his corpse against the backdrop of a night sky as fires rage in and on the buildings.
    • And once you've finished the game and played through the epilogue, the snipers corpse is gone, with only a bloodstain and some raven feathers to show he was ever there. The pole that the flag was on has fallen on the exact spot where the snipers body was, and the tattered strips that were once the flag is wrapped around the broken bundle of sticks. The buildings in the background are broken, with one almost cut in half and ready to fall, and the whole picture has barely any color. It's a very effective case of Nothing Is Scarier, as it makes you wonder just what the hell happened here.
  • A personal one players can set up for themselves is the lynch mob scene. You just ran through hell, desperate to make sense of things you've seen, rationalize everything you've done and now you are separated from your team. After reuniting with Adams, you hear Lugo over the radio is in danger of being found by the 33rd. Walker orders him to find a place to hide before they come find him, but the unspeakable happens. Lugo starts to panic and inform Walker and Adams he has been found. There's a violent scuffle heard over the radio and the last thing you hear is Lugo screaming in fear and begging for mercy. By the time you arrive, you find your fallen comrade hung on a rope, his arms (one of which was broken from the helicopter crash) tied behind his back, at first he’s still kicking but the closeup of him shows his eyes have rolled back, surrounded by an angry mob of civilians cheering. You shoot down the rope and desperately try to revive your ally while Adams threatens the mob to stay clear. When it is clear Lugo has died, you are left with the civilians wanting your blood, Adams literally begging you to give the order to gun them down, and your own burning rage at the unjust punishment handed down upon Lugo that you deserved, not him.
    • Even if you don't shoot them, the fact that you can hear them jeering and laughing at you as you leave the camp, having murdered Lugo and gotten away with it, might make you wonder if it's too late to change your mind. Neither decision has a satisfying outcome, but that's to be expected given that the whole situation is your own fault... And even if you choose the “good” option they’re still going to die later of thirst. In a twisted way it’s merciful to kill them right then and there and spare them of the slow, agonizing death they’ll otherwise have.
    • If you did at all. Steam achievements show that the majority of players don't show that restraint. (Or perhaps missed the fact that you have to think just a bit out of the box to make to show mercy.)
    • It gets worse with hindsight, as right before this scene Walker has a hallucination of a bunch of decayed, rotting bodies pulling Lugo into the ground.
  • Here's one that can easily be missed on a first playthrough. At the beginning of a chapter, Walker and Delta find themselves in an antechamber with a double staircase leading up to the balcony where the white phosphorus mortar is set up. In between the flights of stairs is a planter with a lively looking tree in it; it's a faint, but reassuring glimmer of hope that life can still flourish in storm-ravaged Dubai. But if you climb the stairs, then look back at the tree, you'll find that the tree has suddenly become completely bare, if it even had any leaves when you found it. It's a disturbing bit of Foreshadowing regarding Walker's eventual Sanity Slippage which directly precedes the game's Genre Shift into Psychological Horror.
    • More generally, replaying the game after an initial playthrough and noticing little details such as these (along with others such as Konrad's face appearing on billboards) will make the player come to an unsettling conclusion: Walker was always insane, teetering on the brink of a complete mental breakdown; he was just better at hiding it in the earlier parts of the game.
  • The two Snicket Warning Labels in the game are curiously unsettling in a Nothing Is Scarier kind of way. Delta are approaching Dubai, readying their equipment, and what's the first thing they see? A big red STOP sign, pointing directly at the player. The idea of a game telling you to stop playing it is weird enough; after Konrad's line at the very end of the game it becomes downright unnerving:
    Konrad: None of this would have happened if you'd just stopped.
    • There's also the stop sign you see right after the White Phosphorous scene, where it's all damaged and riddled with bullet holes. The player had scoffed at the warning, and even if they quit now, the damage is already done.
  • Riggs' increasingly desperate cries if you don't Mercy Kill him after he crashes the water trucks. Sure, he had it coming, but it's still disturbing as hell.
    • For that matter, the ending flashblacks imply that Walker simply stood there, listened to Riggs as he begged to be spared from an excruciating fate, and then watched him go up in flames while he screamed in agony. The fanbase doesn't much dwell on this scene, but it's arguably one of the most cold-blooded and needlessly cruel choices Walker can make in the whole game, since Riggs didn't ask or expect Walker to save his life; he just wanted a less horrible death.
  • Most of the trailers for the game misrepresent it (probably deliberately) as a generic Modern Warfare clone, but the "Journey" trailer gives a much more accurate sense of the game's tone and themes, with much of the horrific imagery from the game hinted at, distorted Semper Fi-esque phrases ("STRENGTH", "DUTY", "HONOR", "FREEDOM", "ME") flashing on billboard screens in a manner reminiscent of the montage sequence from The Parallax View, and a creepy, tinnitus-like tone ever rising in pitch throughout, all building up to a terrifyingly evocative clip of a shell-shocked Walker with a Thousand-Yard Stare staring at the Burj Aurora engulfed in flames.
  • In the worst ending, Walker slaughters the Deltas who arrived to his rescue, picks up a communicator and addresses whoever is on the receiving side: "Gentlemen, welcome to Dubai" before arming himself and heading back into the city. God help any survivors...
  • Throughout the game there are various audio log entries that describe the absolute madness that has spread through Dubai like wildfire. However, this gem is absolutely bone-chilling.
    33rd Interrogator: Thought I'd make it the whole way without screaming. Hacked my way through the sandboarding. Even bit my tongue when they brought out the knives. But the fire...dammit...I screamed like you wouldn't believe. I'm disappointed, but at least now I understand the breaking. Once my flesh started melting, I'd have thrown my own mother under a bus to make it stop. Every insurgent brought before me will know the same pain. And when they break, we will be like brothers. Having stared down death...and flinched.
  • Walker's increasingly severe and horrifying hallucinations as he continues losing his grip on his sanity.
    • After Riggs dies after the truck crash, you encounter two statues of girls that, depending on how you dealt with Riggs, Walker hallucinates as one of them pointing a finger gun at the other's head, if you shot him, or them both being made of molten rocks if you let him burn. If you turn the camera towards them to acknowledge them the screen flashes to white and they turn back to normal.
    • After you go down a certain zip line after destroying the water truck, you crash into a 33rd soldier who suddenly appears as Adams screaming at you, asking what you're doing. You're only given the option to execute him, you can't shoot him, and if you wait too long he kills you. How does Walker execute him? By bashing his face in with his rifle 4 times. When the real Adams sees it he's genuinely concerned.
    • When Walker encounters the heavy soldier who seems to be Flash Stepping from side to side every time the light "goes out": he walks towards you, shooting and shifting position, and you almost panic because you have no idea whether it's real or a hallucination, whether there's just one enemy or two, and the whole time, Adams and Lugo are under fire waiting for rescue. While the heavy blazes away at you, one of the mannequins teleports around the room the entire time, sometimes almost blocking Walker's field of view - and then it starts shielding the heavy soldier.
      Walker: (Upon seeing the first couple flashes) What the fuck? (After shooting and another flash) SHIT! Where are you?
    • After the helicopter crash, Walker wakes up to find himself wandering through a desert with several charred bodies in the red sand in front of him. Konrad tells Walker they were ordered to abandon Dubai a long time ago, that it should have died long ago, and laments the damning fate they chose. Then characters who Walker has had a hand in killing come walking towards him one at a time, blaming him for the status of Dubai. First comes 1st Lieutenant McPherson, then Agent Gould, and finally Jeff Riggs. Lugo suddenly appears, crawling out from the sand, begging Walker to help him before slipping away. At the end of the hallucination Walker collapses onto the ground, insisting this wasn't his fault; Konrad reminds Walker of the destruction he's wrought onto Dubai as the camera pans out to fully show the image of the burning Burj Aurora tower, raging in the distance.
      Konrad: I thought my duty was to protect this city from the storm. I was wrong. I have to protect it from you.
      • This moment is scored by the appropriately named track, Nightmare, a section from the song "Storm" by Björk. A disorienting and chilling score, featuring a haunting woman's distorted wails, twisted chords playing in one ear as siren-like tones frantically change tempo in the other, before both blend together to continue switching from rapid fast tones to slower drawn out drones. It all perfectly blends together to create an incredibly unnerving and intense audio experience to accompany one of the most horrifying moments in the entire game.
    • One of the final hallucinations Walker has, where a mortar gun fires white phosphorus at him and Adams, Walker suddenly hallucinates everything around him in flames and a group of fire-people trying to grab him, as if dragging him off to hell.
  • Unrelated to any War Is Hell psychology, but instead to an easily overlooked detail: the oryxes. When they show up, it feels so unreal, it's almost creepy. So you wander through the human tragedy that is the devastated Dubai, when suddenly, you spot these weird long-horned antelopes – and you're not at all sure whether they're really there or Walker's seeing things.
    • A herd can be seen in chapter 1, and sure, they could just be taken as part of the scenery and a sign of how desolate the ruins are that animals are traipsing the grounds, but if you know Walker's mind already, they're cast in severe doubt. It's made worse that Lugo and Adams don't comment on them, implying they don't see the oryxes at all.
    • It gets worse: you spot another oryx early in chapter 11, eating contently... in the middle of a heavily urbanized part of Dubai, after the water trucks explode. You can only see his upper half because of a dune, and when you approach, you can see what it was feeding on: a soldier's corpse. Except oryxes are exclusively herbivorous with no recorded tendencies towards opportunistic carnivorism like deer have been known to act – in short, oryxes don't eat meat.
  • During Chapter 4, Delta is not able to move, because a turret has them pinned down, Walker goes to flank it, and while doing so a figure starts running towards you, you pull the trigger and kill it, thinking it was one of those psychos with a knife. It's not. When you take a better look at it, it's just a woman running away from the fight. Walker killed her, and no-one knows about what you just did, Walker doesn't even show remorse about it.
  • Encountering Heavy Lugo. You can kill him and proceed with the mission, but if you die anytime between the start of the fight with the guy and the very end of the mission, you get a loading screen of the 47 innocent people YOU killed at "The Gate" while a woman hums a creepy tune of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". The way he throws the most biting remarks possible at Walker doesn't help.
  • The scene where Walker finally reaches the lobby of Burj Aurora is creepy on a very subtle level. After the vicious firefight outside, no shots are fired, no violence ensues. Colonel Konrad’s staff (the same officers and senior NCOs Walker thinks were burned alive by Konrad) line up at the Position of Attention, salute sharply, and quietly declare the formal surrender of the city of Dubai. Seems like Walker has finally achieved his heroic victory, right? Then he asks where Konrad is. The reply comes from the same officer who announced the surrender, but his calm, respectful tone suddenly becomes much darker as he points to the penthouse elevator and cryptically answers, Where he’s always been.”
  • Spec Ops: The Line is often called a horror game instead of an action game. But many don't appreciate exactly how terrifying it is. Not because of any Nightmare Fuel within the game's levels, but because of the core central premise of the plot. In almost every other horror game, the player has to survive the monsters the game throws at them. In this game, you are the monster that other people have to survive, and most of them don't. And you don't even realize it until it's far too late. Most horror games ask "Can you survive till the end?" Spec Ops asks "Is your life even worth living after this?" And appropriately enough, you have the option to say "no".
  • When Konrad is having his final conversation with Walker, you'll notice that he is not pointing the gun at Walker. He's pointing the gun at you, for all the crimes you've commited.
  • The game is a perfect demonstration of just how terrifying a Player Character One-Man Army would really be. First, there's the idea of a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut who continuously traverses a hellish landscape, mows entire squads of soldiers with ease, survives every brush with death, and is fueled by sheer determination. The second, perhaps even scarier idea is their psychology. To them, they're the hero coming to rescue the civilians and stop the bad guys. After all, how could they possibly be anything like those guys? Even if they have to cross the line and do some terrible things, it's justified because they're the hero, the knight in shining armor coming to save the day. In games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, you take on this mantle pretty much all the time. Here? You're a deranged, psychotic shell of a man who only succeeds in causing countless deaths and dooming an entire city to a slow, painful demise. Hope you feel proud of yourself.
  • The loading screens. It's not so much the images they show on them, but rather the words that are on them. It's as if the game is talking to you.
    Do you feel like a hero yet?
    How many Americans have you killed today?
    Can you even remember why you came here?
    If Lugo was still alive, he would likely suffer from PTSD. So, really, he's the lucky one.
    White Phosphorus is a common allotrope used in many kinds of munitions. It can set fire to cloth, fuel, ammo, and flesh.
    To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless.
    Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two conflicting ideas simultaneously.
    The US military does not condone the killing of unarmed combatants. But this isn't real, so why should you care?
    Walker's obsession with Konrad has brought nothing but destruction — to Dubai and his squad.
    Collateral damage can be justified, if the gain outweighs the cost. How much do you think Adams and Lugo are worth?
    This is all your fault.
    You cannot understand, nor do you want to.
    There is no escape.
    No one can help you now.
    I exist and I find it nauseating.
  • A small but undoubtedly disturbing piece of Gameplay and Story Segregation, as well as Video Game Cruelty Potential ? In the fourth chapter (quite a while before the White Phosphorus incident), the player can kill a few civilians that are trying to hide or run away from all the fighting. Doing so does nothing – no mission failure, no reprimanding from the game or other characters, no penalty or commentary of any kind from the game. Walker himself seems generally unfazed in doing so. Of course, this could easily be an example of the developers not foreseeing that the players would do this, but considering The Ending Changes Everything, it might just go to show off how deep Walker's cognitive dissonance has reached.
  • When Walker mans the minigun on the helicopter in chapter 12, he starts screaming in excitement as he mows down scores of 33rd soldiers. Then, as the helicopter takes off, he orders Adams to circle around the nearby 33rd tower. Why? Because he "wants to see what this gun can do." At this point in the story, the cool, calm Delta Force captain is officially gone, and only a bloodthirsty monster remains.