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Video Game / Spec Ops: The Line

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"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-based Third-Person Shooter for PC, Xbox 360, PS3 and macOS, 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 some of the most violent sandstorms in history. 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 just another generic, dime-a-dozen Call of Duty-like cover shooter, with the player assuming control of a squad of gruff U.S. Delta Force operators who gun down wave after wave of "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 war — and criticizes the player for participating. To summarize: in most ordinary CoD-likes, your character is always a quintessential American hero, the USA (and sometimes the UK) always saves the world, and your enemies are always non-Westerners; in this game to the contrary, your character is Ambiguously Evil, and it's Americans versus Americans who, in their belief that they're doing the right thing, ultimately ruin everything.

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.

The following tropes are contained in this game:

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  • Above Good and Evil: The hallucinatory Konrad seems to think of himself as a savior and does not think of himself as evil or good. The real Konrad grew horrified at what he had done to Dubai and was Driven to Suicide long before Walker himself and Delta arrived.
  • Action Prologue: The game begins In Medias Res with Delta aboard a helicopter, being pursued by the 33rd.
  • Addressing the Player: The game registers the name of the profile you are playing it on, and has that name listed as "Special Guest" in the opening credits. Later, after committing a war crime by wiping out a garrison filled with refugees, the loading screens eventually begin mocking the player for it themselves.
  • All for Nothing: The 33rd keeps order in Dubai through thick and thin, only for Walker to undo all of their effort only days or weeks away from the storm clearing.
  • An Aesop: See here.
  • 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.
  • A Handful for an Eye: A variant. Throwing a grenade at sand will kick up a big dust cloud, and any enemies caught in it will stop to sputter and cough, blind and helpless for a while.
  • A.K.A.-47: Generally averted, despite the vast number of weapons.
  • Alien Geometries: You spend much of this game descending and climbing down great chasms and pits or falling off high things to the point that it seems impossible that it could be anything other than symbolic of Walker's state of mind. To wit, the city of Dubai has been destroyed by a massive, bizarre sandstorm that has been going on for months, an American infantry division went in to try to help, things went to hell, and you're going to play as a Delta Force operator on a Protagonist Journey to Villain in a Whole-Plot Reference to Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. And the game's Dubai enforces this because the path constantly descends deeper and deeper into Dubai, always going down, down, down, even to the point where you mysteriously find yourself up high again just so you can find another yawning chasm to climb down into, as if Dubai is The Inferno. If you look carefully in places, you'll even see bottomless pits and nonsensical drops in a game that otherwise pays a great deal of attention to level design.
  • All Just a Dream:
    • 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. Of course given the fact that the cue is also used to indicate self-deception, it may also simply indicating Walker's delusion that no alternative existed in that moment. Given its importance to the overall narrative, this simple scene transition calls into question all the most important plot hooks of the entire game, and offers yet more unpleasantries for the player to dwell on.
  • All There in the Manual: Konrad's tower, or Pseudo-Burj, is called Burj Aurora in game scripts and foreign versions.
  • Almost Dead Guy: The lone survivor of the 33rd's Alpha Patrol at the end of the first chapter survives long enough to mention that a fellow soldier of the 33rd, First Lieutenant McPherson, was taken by insurgents to the "Nest", but dies just before Walker can get the whereabouts of Konrad from him.
  • Ambiguously Evil: The 33rd Infantry, AKA the Damned 33rd. Signs of atrocities committed by soldiers of the 33rd like massacres and rape abound, but Walker is an extremely Unreliable Narrator who is subconsciously inventing things to justify his own actions. Adams and Lugo often don't react at all to things that they should find extremely disturbing, indicating that those things aren’t really there. In the white phosphorus incident, for example, the 33rd were in fact fighting to protect a camp full of refugees, while Lugo is later lynched by refugees who recognize him as one of the men who's been shooting the 33rd. Even Delta's first encounter with a member of the 33rd, who is extremely suspicious of them to the point of paranoia, makes a lot more sense given that the only other American "reinforcements," the CIA team, have been trying to kill them since they arrived.
  • America Saves the Day: There are plenty of American military games that play this trope straight. This is certainly not one of them.
    • While the 33rd do some good in Dubai, Konrad himself was utterly horrified by the means they used to achieve this, and when his evacuation plan fell apart, 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.
    • While the 33rd, the CIA, and Walker himself aren't portrayed 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. 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...
      Colonel John Konrad: No-one ever does, Walker.
    • It is ambiguous, but some aspects of the story imply that the 33rd really were doing the most good in an unimaginably bad situation, but the CIA intervention spiraled everything out of control, and Walker's arrival was the final nail in the coffin. The timeline is too vague to say for sure. In war, truth is the first casualty.
  • And I Must Scream: If one interprets the game as Walker's purgatory or Ironic Hell, then he is at least semi-aware of this fact, if we're going by him lampshading the helicopter scene.
  • Anyone Can Die: By the end of the game, Castavin, McPherson, Daniels, Gould, Riggs, the Radioman, Lugo and Konrad all die, with Adams last seen making a suicidal Last Stand and Walker explicitly dying in several of the game's Multiple Endings. This is more or less every single named character in the game. Oh, and that's not even mentioning the entire population of Dubai if Walker kills himself instead of calling for evacuation.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 0. Dubai is completely gone due to the sandstorms, but the rest of the world is fine.
  • 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.
    • Also, "Let's keep movin'." It becomes a lot more disconcerting on repeat playthroughs once the end result of this line of thinking has been seen.
    • Additionally, "Gentlemen, welcome to Dubai" can be seen as this. It is said (possibly) three times: the first by Walker when they arrive in Dubai, the second again by Walker when he first hears the voice of hallucinatory Konrad and an optional third time after Walker guns down Falcon One, the US Army members responding to his distress call.
  • Armies Are Evil: Played with. While the 33rd do commit some very brutal acts in their occupation of Dubai, their ultimate goal is to simply keep the city and its occupants alive.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: The loading screens later in the game love this.
    • "Do you feel like a hero yet?"
    • “Can you even remember why you came here?”
    • “How many Americans have you killed today?”
    • “How much do you think Adams and Lugo are worth?”
    • “If the Radioman now speaks for the 33rd, then what happened to Konrad?”
  • Artificial Brilliance:
    • The enemies actually act quite intelligently without being unfair. An entrenched player will get a grenade thrown at them every now and then. The grenade timers give you plenty of leeway to move, but with large enough radius to still be dangerous. Some enemies 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 too, 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 mostly 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. The skyline changes every thirty seconds anyway. The geographic accuracy also takes a deliberate slide to accommodate Rule of Symbolism.
  • 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).
    • Actually, though Farsi is a common language in Dubai, most construction workers speak South Asian languages, not West Asian ones. Some theories posit that the Insurgents and refugees speaking Farsi may be another of Walker's hallucinations, inspired by his time spent in Kabul.
  • 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 best unstable, meaning that Adams should have relieved him of duty long before the White Phosphorus incident.
    • In the infamous WP sequence, the effects of the 60mm mortar's WP rounds are actually greatly exaggerated. The only white phosphorous rounds used by the mortar in reality are smokescreen rounds, and contain less than 1 pound of WP (in fact, its impact fuse would be more dangerous than the WP in said round). The large incendiary cloud effects shown are actually closer to the effects of the 100-pound rounds used in 155mm howitzers, and combine the effects of two different 100-pound rounds: the huge smoke clouds of smoke submunition rounds, and the widespread burns effects of powder incendiary rounds.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Radioman. He was unarmed and nonhostile at the time of death and there is no evidence he directly killed anyone, but his utterly disgusting attitude the entire game through means that neither the characters nor most players waste any grief on him.
    • Also applies to Riggs. Rather than try to help any of the citizens of Dubai leave, he decides to destroy their water supply to kill them all to prevent any details of what’s going on from being known, even though that likely would not have actually led to any conflict. As such, players often let him burn to death under a crashed truck while listening to him scream.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Heavy Troopers frequently call for their teammates to provide cover fire, which their teammates don't seem to do to each other, implying that they are officers of the 33rd battalion. However, it's unknown if they are authority, or if the other soldiers simply do so because the Heavy Troopers are strong and important, yet vulnerable due to their inability to take cover.
  • Audience Surrogate:
    • The further the game goes along, the more obvious the parallels between Walker and the player become. Martin Walker is played for every negative connotation this trope provides. He treats the events of the story the way your average modern military shooter player would: as a power fantasy and a chance to feel like a hero. In the process, he does a number of horrible things, and every single one of them is your fault.
    • 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 do that.
  • Author Tract: Konrad calls out Walker/the player for being delusional, wannabe action heroes looking for a thrill in the middle of a war; this reflects Word of God, as both the writer, designer, and a majority of the dev team despise modern shooters for trying to glorify war, or make realistic combat "fun".
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The M32 Grenade Launcher. It's very powerful, but it only has 6 grenades in the magazine and 6 in reserve. It only makes two appearances in the game (excepting the one Riggs gives you for a single scene), which means that if you manage to get it, you're reliant on executions and ammo containers for more ammunition, and even these give you very little ammo.
  • Ax-Crazy: Walker himself starts to slip into this as the game progresses.
    (Walker and co. can easily leave the current area.)
    Walker: Circle around by the pool, Adams.
    Adams: What?! Why?!
    Walker: I want to see what this gun can do.
  • 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.
    Walker: Priority target. Take! Him! Out!
  • Bayonet Ya: 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).
  • Big Bad: John Konrad. In truth, if there even is something as simple as a Big Bad in the nightmarish, anarchic mess that is Dubai, Walker himself ends up as a pretty good candidate. Throughout the game, Walker uses Konrad to justify his actions, since he needs to liberate Dubai from his martial law. However, finding out that Konrad (or more accurately, the version of him that Walker has dealt with all game — the real Konrad has been Dead All Along) was just a figment of his imagination that Walker created to deny his actions not only deals a potentially Driven to Suicide reaction from Walker, but also is the straw that breaks the player's morale as well. Really, the deconstruction of a villain as a justification for the protagonist's actions applies to all forms of narrative fiction.
  • Bittersweet Ending: If you chose to kill Konrad's shadow and surrender when the rescue party arrives thereafter, 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 (if you were merciful) will live.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: After the White phosphorus accident, Walker started to put the blame on Conrad, and everyone else who got him set up to do this. Conrad then starts to come into contact with Walker and his squad, which begins by forcing the Delta operatives into a Sadistic Choice, that also serves as an Establishing Character Moment to the Player, that Conrad wasn't really the good person that Walker thought he would be. This however, soon proves to be false in the ending sequence, as the true bad guy all along was Walker himself. And all of that radio chatter and Sadistic Choice that Walker and Conrad had was all in his head. If the player chooses to shoot Conrad in the mirror, an epilogue will play after credits, with Walker wearing Conrad's jacket. The man that he blamed for his whole journey.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Believed by all parties involved although Delta eventually rejects this at the end. Subverted, leading to Grey-and-Gray Morality (see that trope).
  • Black Comedy: Frequently from the Radioman. He can make jokes about Delta gunning down his bodyguards ("He had a... dog... maybe? I didn't really know that guy.") or everyone in Dubai being doomed to die from dehydration ("This is, after all, a family program. Rated E... for Everyone's Thirsty!").
  • Blamed for Being Railroaded: Walker encounters a heavily defended chokepoint that he and his squad need to get past. Luckily, they gain access to white phosphorous artillery and proceed to bomb their way through. They soon discover, to their horror, that they murdered innocent civilians. There is no alternative for the player, to proceed through the sequence, you must drop the bombs, which was quite a point of contention among the press since the game calls you out for completing the only objective available to you, and makes it a part of its postmodern message.
  • Blink-and-You-Miss-It: Take careful note where Lugo points when he gives Walker his What the Hell, Hero? speech following the white phosphorous incident. He's not pointing at Walker, he's pointing past him at the camera.
    • If you allow "Konrad" to shoot you at the end of the game, you'll notice that the moment he pulls the trigger, Walker's arm (seen in the reflection) actually points towards his own head. Whether you decide to commit suicide or wait till the countdown's up, Konrad doesn't shoot you. In both endings, you shoot you. The only difference is whether you do it of your own volition, or because you've lost it to the point that you shoot yourself believing that a hallucination pulled the trigger.
    • Right after the scene where Konrad starts talking to walker over the radio, there's a rappel point that goes down the outside of the building. Reflected in the glass is a hanging body where Lugo's rappel rope is, and no such body appears where it would be reflected from.
    • After Gould's death, there is a short cutscene in a shopping center where Lugo goes off on Walker and Adams for the violence they've caused. At the end of the scene, the camera briefly but deliberately settles on three mannequins in the store window behind them, positioned as if watching Lugo's outburst. Two at the sides standing at attention, and a third sitting in a chair (the only sitting mannequin in the whole game in fact) symbolically representing Konrad and his men as you find them at the end of the game. It's worth noting that this is arguably the last point Lugo could have possibly convinced them to turn around before the white phosphorous incident.
  • Body Horror: White phosphorus. The burns it causes are horrifying.
  • Bolivian Army Ending:
    • Adams meets this fate. Faced with the last remnants of the Damned 33rd, Walker attempts to surrender in order to confront Konrad, despite Adams' objections. Adams, aware that they failed their real mission long ago, pushes Walker over the edge to fight the 33rd himself, providing him with enough covering fire to escape. We never see Adams die, but the overwhelming odds of his Last Stand along with his suicidal outlook throughout the final chapter make it almost certain that he did.
    Adams: Fuck you! Just shoot me! I'm standin' right here! Come on! Shoot me God dammit! Fuckin' SHOOT ME!!
    • 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.
  • Bond One-Liner: Walker starts cracking out some rather cold blooded ones during executions late in the game.
    Walker: I guess you should've stayed home!
  • 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 " too many"
    • Upon Delta's arrival in a seemingly dead city, Walker says "Gentlemen, welcome to Dubai." If you choose to open fire on the American reinforcements at the end and survive the ensuing battle, Walker picks up the radio of the last man he kills and says the same thing.
  • 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.
  • Border Patrol: In some areas, if the player attempts to run past the combat zone, the game will make every enemy in the area shoot at you with 100% accuracy until you die.
  • 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.
  • Break the Badass: The team in general, who slowly lose their America Saves the Day attitude as it goes From Bad to Worse. Notable examples include the Phosphorus shelling and Lugo's death, both of which make the squad sink to even lower depths of despair.
  • Break the Cutie: Lugo, who begins the game a wise-cracking Friendly Sniper and radio operator. It doesn't last.
  • 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. Or course, at no point is the player obligated to execute enemies, and the times where use of sand is absolutely necessary to progress are few.
    • The achievement system in the game, along with the multiplayer mode, have also been criticized as glorifying violence, though these were included due to a publisher mandate rather than an artistic decision on the development team's part. The creators themselves have express disdain toward the multiplayer mode for this reason, along with the fact that they didn't think it was necessary to begin with. However, all these achievement icons have very non-militaristic "player" images on them to drive the irony home.
  • Bullet Time: Time slows momentarily when headshots are scored and during some special sequences.
  • Buried Alive: On a few occasions the player has the opportunity to shoot out windows which are holding back large amounts of sand to drop on enemies. This results in their slow agonizing death from asphyxiation.
  • But Thou Must!:
    • Despite Lugo's "There's always a choice!" remark, you must use the white phosphorus mortar at the Gate to proceed. (Tellingly, Walker answers definitively, "No. There's not.") 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, forcing you to use the white phosphorus or die. Considering that the game tries to make you feel bad about something it forced you to do, some consider this a Broken Aesop. The developers responded that the frustration of knowing there was no other way to proceed is part of the point. Furthermore, there is a choice: You can stop playing and let Walker die; being in a no-win situation and still having to make a choice is exactly what in-game Walker is facing. However in the sequence some players (and Walker himself, being a seasoned military commander) may recognize the refugees as such (by the way they're positioned on the map), but since the game doesn't allow you to shoot anything but the Humvee to save the civilians (the game won't continue otherwise) this trope ends up being played completely straight.
    • 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). Notably, the cutscene in which the Radioman is killed, also has his blood splatter on the camera.
  • Captain Obvious: Adams, most of the timenote .
    Adams: That guy was American.
    Walker: Yeah, I noticed.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Inverted then Played Straight, as the cavalry is on both ends of this trope.
    • On one hand, Delta is the advance scout of an impending evacuation effort, but the 33rd mistakes them for CIA reinforcement and attacks them unprovoked. If the player spares McPherson, this trope is even more pronounced as he will ambush the team even after they've shown their goodwill.
    • On the other, despite having faulty intel, Delta opts to resolve the situation by themselves instead of informing their superiors, causing them to unwittingly betray and kill nearly everyone they were sent to save. The story would have been over quickly had Walker decided to summon the proper authority and solve the situation peacefully instead of going on a mindless vigilante crusade against the 33rd.
  • Chair Reveal: Walker finds Konrad's corpse this way.
  • 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, and 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 feature in the game at all are the nameless refugees and a news anchor heard in one of the collectible intel pieces.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: VERY harshly deconstructed. Konrad and the 33rd's attempts to save the city even after being ordered to withdraw went horribly wrong, and Walker trying to save the day in a situation he doesn't understand instead of reporting back the second he confirmed the presence of survivors (like his orders stated) ends up getting everyone left in the city killed.
  • Climactic Elevator Ride: After battling through the most heavily-defended part of Dubai, Walker takes the elevator of the tallest building in Dubai to confront Konrad.
  • 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. Afterwards, you mop up a few more enemies, and then the final level is just exploration/cutscenes to wrap up the plot.
  • 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.
    Adams: Maybe it's time we got out of here. Called in the evac team.
    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, symbolic of the damage done to their minds.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Justified. The soldiers have pretty dirty mouths, as is typical for many in the army. As the game progresses and things get worse, this becomes increasingly prevalent to the point where almost every line features swearing of some sort.
  • 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.
  • Cold Open: The game begins with the helicopter sequence — the opening narration only comes after it cuts to black. This episode comes later in the game, and Walker comments that he had done this before.
  • Competitive Multiplayer: An Enforced Trope. The developers made a single player game, but the publishers outsourced the multiplayer to another studio, believing that the game would not sell without it. Some of the writers have gone on record as saying that they disagreed with this. Considering that several reviewers knocked the game a few points for having "lackluster" multiplayer, they might have a point.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Subverted. Lugo is the only member of Delta to object to using the white phosphorus mortar, and was right to do so.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The AI can, without any problems, use turrets in ways that will cause the gun to overheat after less than a minute if you try doing the same. Also, Enemies armed with Scout Tacticals can sometimes fire a second shot without chambering it first.
  • Continuity Reboot: Given that the game has nothing to do with past installments in the Spec Ops series, this is one way to look at it.
  • "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 responsibility in the mess of Dubai thanks to Walker's attempts to be a hero instead of just sticking to the recon mission.
  • Coup de Grâce: This can be done to wounded or stunned enemies. It also is used to show Walkers Sanity Slippage, as they grow more and more vicious during the course of the game.
  • 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.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Let's just say it never works in this game.
    • However, it is notable that this is one of the few video games to show visible compression of the ribcage and include the appropriate cracking sound effect while performing CPR.
  • Crapsack World: Implied, as one can wonder how bad the climate is that Dubai become enclosed by a "storm wall"? That, and when – not if – the happenings in Dubai leak outside, US' reputation will take a major hit.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Invoked during the helicopter segment, and explicitly denied. Walker's crazy plan to fly into a sandstorm to escape from enemy helicopters is just plain suicidal. In fact, according to the developers, one interpretation is that it did kill him, hence why he thinks he's done that part before.
  • Creepy Crows:
    • Per Lugo, "at least the ravens ain't gonna starve."
    • The last scene on the title screen shows the sniper's corpse being eaten by carrion birds, with the inverted U.S. flag waving next to him, and a burning tower in the background.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: There are many unpleasant ways to kill people, from burying them alive in sand, brutal and agonizing executions (among which include forcing the barrel of your gun into an enemy's mouth before firing and violently bashing their skulls in with a rifle butt), and roasting people alive with white phosphorous.
  • 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.
  • Cutting Back to Reality:
    • After Agent Riggs is killed, Walker can stumble upon two statues in a rather suspicious condition: if you mercy killed Riggs with a gunshot to the head, one of the statues is pointing finger guns at the other; if you allowed him to burn alive, the two statues appear to be made of molten lava. Either way, one flash of light later and the two statues are back to normal.
    • The attack on the Radioman's Tower goes slightly awry when Walker finds himself crashing into an enemy trooper who looks and acts exactly like Adams, prompting a shock-induced standoff, upon noticing the Adams lookalike reaching for a sidearm, Walker either shoots the man or beats him to death in a panicked frenzy. There's a flash of light, and when you look again, the now-dead trooper quite clearly looks nothing like Adams.
    • During the final assault on the Burj Khalifa, the Damned 33rd launches a white phosphorous rocket at Walker; one explosion later, and the landscape is engulfed in hellish flames, Konrad is welcoming Walker to hell, and screaming men on fire are charging in from all sides, immolating Walker on the spot. Then, there's a flash of light: cut to everything being back to normal.
    • The finale: Upon making it to Konrad's lair at the top of the Burj Khalifa, Walker finds Konrad's desiccated corpse and finally realizes that the man killed himself long before Walker ever set foot in Dubai: everything seen and heard of him up until now was just Walker's hallucinatory efforts to deflect blame onto a convenient villain. The imaginary Konrad remarks, "it takes a strong man to deny what's in front of him," - and then with a flash of light, the perspective shifts to reveal that Walker is alone in the penthouse, silently mouthing along with Konrad's lines.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than the average war shooter, including past installments in the series. Also serves as a critique on the trend in the genre as a whole.
  • Dead All Along:
  • The Dead Have Names: Darkly parodied; the Radioman attempts to invoke this for the soldiers the Delta team kills as they close in on his base of operations, but then...
    That guy? You shot that guy? I liked that guy.
    Aw, he had only two more days 'til retirement!
    He had a... dog... maybe? I didn't really know that guy.
    Well, shit. There goes my fantasy football league.
    He had a wife and kids! Won't someone please Think of the Children!?
    OK, you can have that one. That guy was an asshole.
    • 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.
  • Deadly Dust Storm: The game is set in Dubai, which has been devastated and isolated by an almost unearthly sandstorm lasting six whole months. As things go From Bad to Worse in the plot, the sand starts blowing again, making everything even more challenging. It even appears as a geo effect sometimes, bringing visibility down to "Silent Hill fog" and accuracy to near zero, and preventing Captain Walker from issuing voice commands to his squadmates. One piece of intel sums it up nicely:
    Radioman: It's wrong to call it a storm. I've never seen a storm that could blast paint off a car. This is sand, flying through the air at 80 miles an hour. It will shatter glass, tear your flesh, and fill your lungs.
  • Death by Irony: 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.
  • 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.
  • Death of a Child: The exact moment Walker snaps is when he finds out that he bombarded a civilian outpost, which includes women and children. Specifically, a charred corpse of a mother cradling and shielding her child's eyes from the fumes. Otherwise, Hide Your Children is in effect here with the exception of one intel item.
  • Deathly Dies Irae: "Dies Irae Verdi," the song that Radioman plays during the segment where Delta run from the Freebird. You can hear Lugo shout "I LOVE THIS SONG!" over the chaingun fire.
  • Decapitated Army: Averted, with the reveal that Konrad was Dead All Along the Radioman was likely the leader of the 33rd meaning they continued to fight after his death.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: The game deconstructs various tropes found in modern military shooters, like Black-and-White Morality and "moral choice" systems, players playing as a power fantasy, various facets of Gameplay and Story Segregation, and American military interventionism.
  • Deconstruction Game: Of modern military-themed shooters (with some particularly vicious digs at the Call of Duty series, specifically Modern Warfare).
  • Dehumanization: Walker dehumanizes as the story progresses. He starts with neutral, technical, professional expressions, distancing himself from what he's doing and making it seem like something simple and clean, with tidy calls of "Target confirmed", "Tango down", "Hostile neutralized" and so on By the end of the story, he's relying on moral condemnation and sheer spite to keep him going: "GOT THE FUCKER!", "AND STAY DOWN!" and more and more swearing whenever anything happens. He's not removing targets anymore, he's killing people.
    Starting Walker Commands: Take down that hostile.
    Mid-Point Walker: Take down that fucking shotgunner!
    Ending Walker: I need him DEAD!
  • Despair Event Horizon: Damn near everyone in the game crosses this at some point, but the worst is in the last ten minutes, as Walker realizes that Konrad was Dead All Along, and everything he's done has been for nothing.
  • 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.
  • Developer's Foresight:
    • 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, especially if the order isn't fully heard over combat noise.
    • 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. There are even achievements for taking these third options, considering that the options not directly presented to the player are often the most moral ones (choosing to fire warning shots at the lynch mob, for instance).
    • Zig-Zagged on one occasion: if you shoot the hostile at the end of the zipline in Chapter 12 instead of executing him, Adams and Lugo will not have their usual comments on it, but Radioman's comments on "bashing heads in" will still play.
    • Falcon One, the American rescue force seen in the epilogue, has entirely different lines from the rest of the 33rd. Given how they only appear in this one scene, the devs truly went the extra mile making sure that the player understands they are not facing the same group faced throughout the game.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Averted 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 "bad things happen just because". Every bad thing that happens — and there's a lot oi those — 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.
  • Distress Call: Starts off the events of the game. Depending on the ending, Walker either lies dead while the same one from the beginning plays, or makes one of his own.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: There's a lot of parallels between Konrad's situation and recent US military forays like Iraq and Afghanistan. Best summed up in a quote from {Errant Signal}'s review of the game:
    Konrad's entire journey reflects a recent American military adventurism. He leads the 33rd into a Middle Eastern nation with noble intentions, but his actions result in death and loss on all sides. The primary objective turns out to have been a bust, and the whole operation ends with an American military occupation stuck with the responsibility for the lives of natives. Sound familiar?
  • Do Not Drop Your Weapon: As mentioned in the loading screen tips, "A dying enemy won't drop his weapon until he's dead."
  • Doom Troops: The Zulu Squad is this to the regular 33rd troops. Not only they are more powerful, but they also wear special gray uniforms with orange stripes, and speak in a Creepy Monotone artificial tone instead of shouting like their regular comrades.
  • Double Meaning:
    • When Konrad name-drops his battalion as "The Damned 33rd", he means it in sort of a rugged, grizzled way. In context, it turns out being far more biblical than he probably intended.
    • 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.
    • There are many times when Walker will be subject to a Hannibal Lecture or Reason You Suck Speech from various characters, and these lines could just as easily be directed to the player as they could the Player Character.
    • 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.
  • Double Tap: One of the Finishing Moves near the end of the game, with one to the knee, then one to the head of a wounded or melee'd foe. Contrast to the usual Double Tap, both to vital areas, which makes Walker's variant seem excessively malicious. Maybe that's the point.
  • Do with Him as You Will: After joining CIA Agent Riggs in his plan to destroy Dubai's water supply:
    Adams: Do you want me to shoot him? Or would you rather shoot him yourself?
    Walker: If we get out of this alive, he's all yours.
  • 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: Unless you go for the most heroic ending option — which itself is a Bittersweet Ending at best — all of the conclusions are depressing.
    • 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; 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 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.
    • This is reinforced by having simple knowledge of Middle Eastern politics. All things considered, a lot of the countries around the United Arab Emirates would be happy that they were destroyed. Plus, the UAE is pretty small meaning that neighboring countries are also probably being hit by major sandstorms. Meaning, they would be too busy dealing with their own problems to care. Everyone in that city is basically going absolutely insane from dehydration, fear, and hunger which has turned into rioting, violence, and defections. It becomes very clear that mass hysteria has engulfed the minds of practically everyone in the city no matter how well trained they are. It's telling that the only good ending is Walker killing his delusions through shooting the fake Konrad and then giving up his paranoia and going home with the rescue team.
  • Dramatic Drop: Should Walker choose to shoot his hallucination of Konrad in the finale, he's shown dropping his pistol in slow motion, which shatters upon hitting the floor as if it was made of glass.
  • Dramatic Irony: The entire plot happens because Walker wants to prevent a single soldier from coming back home in a body bag. He then spends the rest of the game killing U.S soldiers and personally making sure that the whole lot of them will go home in body bags.
  • 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.
  • Drone of Dread:
    • 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 Björk's "Storm" which in itself can be described as dissonant shrieking, howling and 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.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Lugo cracks a few pretty tasteless jokes, which gets a sharp response from Walker. He mostly stops making them after the White Phosphorus incident.
    Lugo[rappelling]: Wheee!
    Walker: That's enough, Lugo.
    Lugo: Just keepin' it light, boss.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?:
    • 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 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 defied by 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 . 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).

  • Eagleland: The game is extremely critical of the America Saves the Day mindset.
  • Earn Your Bad Ending: If you choose to slaughter the rescue squad sent to save you and manage to kill them all, you are "rewarded" with the bleakest of an already bleak set of endings. To get the best ending (well, least bad ending) where Walker survives and leaves Dubai, you only need to drop your gun in front of a (non-hostile) rescue team; it's not even a secret ending, as the shortcut keys required to do so are immediately displayed onscreen once you eventually encounter the rescue team.
  • 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. However, as the game goes on, they prove to be way over their head.
  • The Elites Jump Ship: The in-game intel items indicate that Dubai's upper classes had some foreknowledge of just how bad the sandstorms would get, and took steps to ensure that they'd be first in line to flee the country by censoring news broadcasts, smuggling out their families, and even killing aid workers. By the time the 33rd arrived, the commoners had been left entirely to fend for themselves, which made stabilizing Dubai that much more difficult.
  • Elite Mooks: Zulu Squad, the elite of the 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.
    • Later in the game, the rag-tag, PMC-like 33rd soldiers are phased out and replaced with more professional-looking 33rd soldiers wearing body armor and Kevlar helmets instead of tactical vests and boonie hats. They are more durable than standard 33rd soldiers and are often equipped with better weapons.
  • 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.
    • That, and Dubai itself was closed off by a "storm wall" during the events of the game.
  • 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 it must have been made after the storms hit and Dubai was cut off from aid. In the same moment that he realizes the people they've been killing are what's left of the civilians that Konrad attempted to evacuate along the nearby highway and the very people whom they're onstensibly there to help; Walker decides he won't inform his subordinates of his deduction.
  • Empathic Environment: During the scene in which Delta Force discovers the civilians they have killed, while difficult to tell due to the sound of smoldering and washed-out visuals, it is raining-as if God or nature itself is trying to put out the fires and wash away Walker’s mistake.
  • 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 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.
  • 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. At least, this is how Walker thinks it went down.
    • For that matter, not all of the locals that appear in the game are affiliated with the CIA-led insurgents that Delta comes into contact with at the beginning; there are in fact some 33rd loyalists, as Lugo finds out the hard way...
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: Lugo, Adams, the Radioman, the supporting cast of soldiers and CIA agents and the entirety of the 33rd Battalion are dead at the conclusion of the story, with anyone else left in Dubai doomed to die of thirst. Whether Walker becomes a casualty as well comes down to player choice in the final chapter.
  • 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 or at the ground 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.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Burj Khalifa Expy now doubles as Konrad's stronghold.
  • Evil Wears Black: Whenever Konrad appears in the campaign after the opening credits, he's wearing a simple black t-shirt and dark green cargo pants. This takes on a different meaning when it's revealed that this Konrad is only Walker's hallucination, showing that Walker was so desperate for a villain he even imagined them dressed as a villain should. In the epilogue, Walker is wearing Konrad's black shirt and uniform jacket and it's in this outfit he has the chance of completely losing himself and massacring the rescue team sent for him and wandering off back into Dubai.
  • Evolving Title Screen: The game changes the appearance of the character, the American flag and the city below on the title screen depending on the last level visited.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eye Take: Walker does this once he discovers Konrad's desiccated corpse.
  • Fallen Hero: With the exception of Riggs, everyone started with the best of intentions. And even Riggs seems to have had good intentions once upon a time.
  • Famed In-Story: According to a loading screen blurb, the 33rd Battalion was the US Army's most decorated battalion before going rogue.
  • 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.
  • Faux Adventure Story: It starts off (and was marketed as) just another gung-ho modern military Third-Person Shooter in the vein of Call of Duty, but turns out to be a ugly and grim deconstruction of the genre, rife with PTSD, war crimes, and a nihilistic exploration of the hero complex.
  • 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: Two, both of which occur after the helicopter crash that occurs in the prologue of the game takes place.
    • Dying from the nigh-invulnerable Lugo-Heavy will prompt a Fade to White and a creepy loading screen complete with a nightmarish hummed rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", 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.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: The Radioman's death is telegraphed by his last words ten seconds before Lugo shoots him.
    The Radioman: You are on the air, my friend! Give it a shot!
    Sgt. Lugo: Yeah, thanks. *shoots him*
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Before you even begin the game, the difficulty selection screen represents each difficulty setting with an image of a US Flag shoulder patch. The patch is upside-down, as an upside-down flag is a universal signal of distress and request for help. The higher the setting, the more dirty, faded, and damaged the flag patch becomes, with the highest setting showing showing the patch held onto the sleeve with strips of duct tape that completely cover the patch itself.
    • One of the first things you see when entering Dubai in the first chapter is a billboard advertising bottled water, which, fittingly for what happens down the road, has a large hole in it. Said hole will also get bigger the harder the difficulty you've selected.
    • 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. 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's team accuses the Radioman of "working for a war criminal", he claims that they have "no idea what that man had to do."
    • The chapter immediately before the one where you drop the white phosphorus has you in turn narrowly missing a white phosphorus bomb dropped by the 33rd. The game shows you in excruciating detail what you will cause in the next chapter.
  • After the Gate there are fade to white bleaks around certain areas onward Chapter 8 before the Non Standard Game Over of Chapter 13 and 14. Best seen in this video.
  • 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.
  • Upon first meeting Riggs, Adams sarcastically asks "You got a plan beyond killing everyone you see?" As it turns out, that really is the extent of the CIA's plan in Dubai: liquidating everyone left in the city.
  • 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" or "Willy P" is military slang for white phosphorus.
  • Everything said by Walker's hallucination of Lugo foreshadows the twist that Walker is insane and Konrad is already dead. Unfortunately, the player can only hear these lines if they manage to kill him on the first go.
  • You might not notice it the first go round, but when Delta finds Castavin interrogating McPherson, Castavin is trying to find how many 33rd troops are stationed at the water depot. The significance of this only becomes apparent six chapters later.
  • Take a close look at the window on the side of a building you rappel down at the start of chapter 9. Notice how there's a reflection of a hanged man to Walker's left? The same side that Lugo rappels down? That's another hint towards his death later on.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: From the game's condemnation.
  • 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.
    • 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 hanged, ghostly body is briefly visible in the reflection in the glass. Many readers took this as a sign that Keogh was over-interpreting the game, but in an interview Word of God confirmed that the ghostly presence is there and, moreover, that it's Lugo after having been lynched, foreshadowing his eventual fate. The moment can be viewed here.
    • Another happens when Walker confronts the fake Konrad at the very end of the game. For one, Konrad's dialog can be seen as Walker miming it to himself. If the player pays close attention to when Konrad shoots Walker, it can be briefly seen that Walkers gun extremely suddenly shifts from pointing at Konrad to suddenly pointing at his own head right after Konrad pulls the trigger.
    • Later in the game, the large banners, which normally have national leaders on them, have Walker's face on them.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Zoom in on the eyes of Walker or anyone in his squad, and you might notice something interesting: their eyes are cracked, like they're made of glass.
  • 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.
    • Lugo's Id and Adams' Superego roles are also more flexible than they may first appear; it's Adams, not Walker, who first suggests using the white phosphorus to advance their situation, and Lugo is clearly opposed to the idea on moral grounds. By the time of the helicopter crash, Lugo's conscience seems to be the most openly troubled of the three, and Adams is only slightly less unstable than Walker.
  • Friend or Foe?: The entire game is essentially one big friendly fire incident. Both Delta and the 33rd want to help the people of Dubai, but due to paranoia from the latter's part, the former is designated as CIA's supporters, who want to to kill off the entire city's population. Meanwhile, the brutality of the 33rd makes Delta believe that they want to harm the civilians, forcing them to ally with the seemingly well-meaning CIA instead. It's only after helping the CIA achieve their goal that Delta realizes they have been duped, but by then it's too late to mend things with the 33rd.
  • From Bad to Worse: It's like a train wreck. A train wreck that you caused.
  • Gatling Good: At one point, Delta commandeers a helicopter, with Walker manning the rotary gun.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration:
    • Walker's declining mental state is reflected in gameplay: as the story progresses, his incidental combat dialogue becomes increasingly aggressive and vulgar, eventually progressing into him outright screaming abuse at his enemies and squadmates alike. His animations for executions also get increasingly brutal; at the start of the game they mainly consist of him pinning down the enemy's shooting arm and quickly shooting them in the head, but by the end he's breaking their limbs and bashing their skulls in.
    • Some of the most powerful guns in the game are also the rarest, meaning you'll barely find any ammo for them. Killing a downed enemy with an execution always gives you ammo for your equipped weapons. If you want to consistently use those nice guns, you'll need to start deliberately aiming to wound so you can kill your enemies up close and personal, just like how Walker gets more bloodthirsty over the course of the game.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation:
    • Done intentionally and eventually deconstructed in point of view of characterization. The writer explained 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.
    • One straightforward example: at the end of chapter 6, Adams injures his leg. Lugo tends to the injury, and warns Adams that walking will hurt. This injury never actually comes up in gameplay, although whether that could be explained by how much of a badass Adams is is open to debate.
    • During the lynch mob scene, Walker's Regenerating Health is disabled in order to force the player to make a decision.
    • Storywise, the 33rd shouldn't have more than 500 soldiers, seeing as how half the battalion was executed following a failed coup attempt. Yet, Walker can have a kill count of over one thousand by the time the credit rolls. Of course, Walker could just be imagining his foes to be more numerous than they are, in which case this example snaps back to Gameplay and Story Integration.
  • 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 AK-wielding Middle Eastern men who are hostile to Americans and look every bit like the nameless "insurgent" stereotype games usually use to invoke the Iraqi Insurgents, Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban. 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.
    • There are plenty of Exploding Barrels too.
    • 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.
  • Great Offscreen War: Offscreen in the single-player, that is. Prior to Delta's arrival, Konrad's commanding staff and half of the battalion turned against him, forcing him to put them down. The corpses hanging from lamp posts and the charred bodies in the chairs are the remains of this conflict. The multiplayer mode uses this war as the backdrop, but its canonicity to the main game is debated since it's made by a different developer without the main team's approval.
  • Giant Mook: The 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 All Along: Compared to everyone else, The 33rd. While they are not above killing unarmed civilians and torturing enemies, their presence as a whole is appreciated by the people of Dubai. After Lugo was killed by a lynch mob, Walker admits in an intel item that his killers did so out of love for Konrad.
  • 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.
    • Also applies to the 33rd. Their methods are undeniably heavy-handed and they are certainly not without legitimate detractors, but they're the only people keeping everyone fed and safe for months on end. Walker's intervention renders all of this moot.
  • Graffiti of the Resistance: Anti-American graffiti covers the walls of Dubai, where the local residents come into bitter conflict with the American troops imposing a military occupation upon the city.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: You can hear Cantonese and non-accented English among the Farsi-speaking refugees, implying that some of the aid workers survived and stayed behind.
  • 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. The insurgency is only trying to fight against what they see to be a murderous, oppressive regime. 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.
  • Guilt-Based Gaming: The game has things go from bad to worse wherever the main characters go, with everyone in the game constantly berating the player character for interfering. As the game goes on, the loading screen advice starts turning from gameplay advice to wry, pithy observations about the themes of the game. After a certain point is reached, the narrative gradually begins to turn post-modern, with the accusations against the main character being aimed as much at the player as at the player character, and the loading screens outright stating that everything that's happened is the player's fault.
  • Gut Punch:
    • 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.
  • Hanging Around: Around the midgame, Colonel Konrad starts contacting Walker over a walkie-talkie, and in one instance offers Walker a Sadistic Choice of choosing which of two men dangling from streetlights to save: a civilian convicted of stealing water, or a soldier who massacred the other man's entire family for the crime. Part of the end game reveal that Walker had hallucinated all of his in-game contact with Konrad shows that the two civilians were actually hanging corpses.
    • Later, Walker encounters a lynch mob in a refugee camp who attempt to hang Lugo. Walker interrupts the hanging, but Lugo dies anyway.
  • Hard Mode Perks: Very slightly. Since one or two bullets will likely kill you on FUBAR difficulty, the teleporting Heavy in Chapter 11 will stop doing so after a few successful hits.
  • 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).
  • Heel Realization: Walker, at the end, realizes how he's made the situation horrifically worse than it was because of his mentality and his actions.
  • 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.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The 33rd and Delta Force (but especially Walker himself).
  • Hide Your Children: With the notable exception of the white phosphorus incident and one or two intel items, this trope is in full effect throughout the game — on the frequent occasions Delta encounters refugees, children are nowhere to be seen.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Played straight. There are several sequences where you can take out a chunk of guards before a firefight using silenced guns.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: A variant. When Delta reach the Gate, they survey a virtual army of the 33rd, and decide that taking them on using small arms would be impossible, electing to use the white phosphorus mortar instead. If the player should attempt to fight them using firearms anyway, infinite waves of enemies will spawn, and as there is no additional ammo available in the area and the rappel lines down to the Gate will not spawn, the player will eventually run out of ammo and be killed. The point of the hopeless "boss fight" in this case is to force the player to use the white phosphorus mortar in order to advance the plot.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: Averted. Walker can only carry a pistol and two primary weapons, with three or four magazines' worth of ammo for each weapon, and three types of grenades.
  • Hypocritical Humor: At one point the Radioman loudly speculates that Delta's violent behavior is caused by violent videogames.

  • Icarus Allusion: Just after the White Phosphorus incident, you enter an area with a fallen, broken Icarus-like statue lying on the ground. Similar winged figures are suspended above it, representing Walker's fall from grace as a result of his mistake.
  • 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.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms:
    • The AK-47 that's so common in-game would actually be rare in Dubai, as the UAE police and military use 5.56x45mm rifles. At the time of release, the standard rifle of the UAE security forces was the M4A1. But considering that Walker believes the 33rd to be the bad guys, it only makes sense they'd use the classic bad guy rifle in American media.
    • The Desert Eagle that Walker ends up with on several occasions is not a Delta Force issued sidearm. Its sudden appearance on Walker's person is an early sign that he's an Unreliable Narrator.
  • 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 as 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.
  • Infinity +1 Sword: The AA-12. High damage, lots of ammo, large magazine, auto fire, and even decent range for a shotgun (one of the few videogame shotguns that use slug shells). You only get to use it a handful of times.
  • Injured Player Character Stage: Walker gets badly injured a couple of times, reducing him to an agonizing crawl, armed with nothing or just the basic pistol, for the next section.
  • 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 (which was a series of early predecessor to the SOCOMUS Navy Seals series for PC and Playstation). In a sense, this game is something of a Continuity Reboot of the franchise.
  • Intended Audience Reaction:
    • 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 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.
    • One of the load-screen "tips" underlines this theme of using bad means for good intentions, stating simply, "Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two conflicting ideas simultaneously." Another, at least leaning heavily on the fourth wall if not breaking it, asks, "Can you even remember why you came here?"
      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.
  • Intercom Villainy:
    • Colonel Konrad starts giving Walker some Not So Different Remarks and Breaking Speeches over a radio Walker finds soon after the white phosphorus incident. Except it's all actually in Walker's head, as the radio has no batteries in it.
    • The Radioman gets in on this as well, using his makeshift broadcast system to chastise Walker's squad and the Dubai insurgents for putting up a fight against the Damned 33rd. He also engages in some back-and-forth arguments with Walker on the radio just like Konrad does.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Implied to be the case in the background. The CIA is fully aware of Dubai's current status, but they refuse to share it with the Army. Having to do their own investigation is the reason why the Army sends Delta to the city, setting the plot of the game in motion.
  • 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.
  • In the End, You Are on Your Own: By the time Walker reaches Konrad, Lugo has been killed by civilians and Adams is most likely dead, so it's just you and Konrad. And even Konrad isn't really there.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Captain Walker, from the white phosphorus incident onward.
  • 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."
    • There's also Walker's Distress Call at the end.
      "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, God damnit" appears at the top of the screen. Obviously, you have to follow it.
    • In chapter 1, Lugo jokingly describes himself as a "hardened killing machine". After discovering the civilians Delta have killed with white phosphorus, Lugo begins freaking out and yells at Adams "He [Walker] turned us into fucking killers!"
    • Riggs pulls one when you meet him. Lugo says "You're welcome" for "saving [Riggs's] ass." When Riggs takes down the two snipers in that initial firiefight, he says the same thing about your asses.
  • Irony: In chapter 5, when faced with the choice of rescuing either Gould or the civilians, Adams advocates that the civilians should come first while Lugo argues they should protect the mission and rescue Gould. In chapter 13, Lugo is lynched by a crowd of the civilians he disregarded, while Adams is then so full of rage that he begs to be allowed to fire on the same civilians he tried to protect.
  • It Gets Easier: And boy howdy, it is not a good thing.
  • It's the Only Way: Repeatedly said verbatim by Walker. Not too dissimilar from his repeated insistences that "I Did What I Had to Do".
  • 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 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.
  • Jenny's Number: A soldier that Delta Force encounters has an ID that matches up the 8675309 number, but he doesn't quite get to finish saying it before he's interrupted.
  • Jerkass:
    • 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.
    • About Walker himself, alongside Lugo and Adams, they weren't saintly soldiers right from the start. But as the story progresses, they start to become bigger assholes.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: After "The Gate", Walker urges the others to keep moving, rightly pointing out that, if they don't move, enemy forces will converge on them shortly.
  • Jitter Cam:
    • Employed increasingly often in cutscenes as the game goes along, such as when Lugo kills the Radioman.
    • The "sprint" function makes use of this, almost identically to the "roadie run" mechanic in Gears of War.
  • Just Following Orders:
    • 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 government, 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.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: While Delta call out Lugo for killing the Radioman, it's hard not to root for him given how much of an asshole the Radioman is. Or seems to be.
  • Kill It with Fire: White phosphorus.
  • Knee-capping: One of Walker's execution animations involves him shooting out the injured enemy's kneecap before killing them, in order to prolong and intensify their suffering.
  • 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.
  • Kung Fu-Proof Mook:
    • 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.
  • Lampshade Hanging: The Radioman likes to do this. A lot. He even mocks the protagonist for playing too many video games.
  • Last-Name Basis: Almost everyone. Adams addresses Walker as "Martin" in one cutscene, the Radioman addresses Walker as "Marty" a few times, and 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 suspiciously accusatory 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 died killing 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.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall:
    • In the beginning cutscene of Chapter 1 while the pre-credits roll, you can see "Special Guest: (Your name here)". In the dialogue shared by the characters during the beginning of Chapter One, Lugo comments that he thought he heard noise soon after the game encouraging you to press keys/buttons, and Adams comments that it feels like they're being watched. Shortly thereafter, Adams and Walker find a fresh body in a hummer, killed by "probably the same people been ghostin' us": depending on the theory you follow, it is possible that this is also a reference to you the player having been through this area before in your purgatory/death dream loop.
    • "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...
    • "I'm done playing games, John," says the Player Character and Audience Surrogate at the end of the last chapter of the game.
    • "You brought this on yourself." Walker is talking to a fatally wounded 33rd soldier following the white phosphorus incident, but he clearly looks like he's talking directly to the player.
    • Which is then immediately followed by Lugo pointing at Walker and screaming "This is your fault, God dammit!" during said white phosphorus scene, but the camera is at an angle to have Lugo point at the camera instead.
    • As Delta are raiding the Radioman's tower, he taunts them over the speaker system:
      Radioman: Where's all this violence coming from man? Is it the video games? I bet it's the video games.
    • Played straight with one of the loading screen hints which straight out says: "The US army does not condone killing unarmed civilians. But this isn't real, so why should you care?"
      • Another: "To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless."
      • The most bracingly direct one being, "This is all your fault."
      • Or the more subtle gut-punch, "You are still a good person."
  • Leave No Witnesses: CIA agent Riggs believed that if word got out of how the Damned 33rd went rogue after their rescue mission went FUBAR, and had set up a de facto military dictatorship within Dubai, the rest of the Middle East would declare a war that the U.S. would ultimately lose. To prevent that, he came up with the plan of destroying the city's remaining water supply to ensure anyone trapped in Dubai would die of thirst before any other rescue attempts were made.
  • 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!"
  • Lethal Joke Item: The limitations of Lugo's TAR-21 rifle 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.
  • 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.
  • Limited Loadout: Walker can only carry two weapons and an assortment of grenades.
  • 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 
  • Ludicrous Gibs: Happens to any enemy killed by explosions-grenades, Exploding Barrels, etc-complete with a Bullet Time effect.

  • 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.
  • Magic Realism: The game might dip into this depending on your interpretation. Just enough odd things happen through the course of the story that can easily be written off as hallucinations in the mind of the PTSD-addled protagonist, but there's also enough evidence to support the alternate, equally popular theory that Walker died at the start of the game during the In Medias Res helicopter battle, and the rest of the game is his own personal hell.
  • 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. Also, fade to white bleaks occur at certain areas onwards chapter 8 before the Non Standard Game Over of Chapter 13 and 14. Best seen in this video.
  • Meaningful Echo: The game starts with the quote at the top of the page — the game (can) end with Walker sending out a nearly-identical message, except instead of the death toll... "Survivors... one too many."
  • Meaningful Name:
    • J. Konrad, as in Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness.
    • 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.
    • They aren't called the "Damned 33rd Infantry" for nothing.
    • The game's name spells out what its Central Theme is: crossing the line.
  • Mêlée à Trois: Your Delta Force team winds up taking on both the Insurgents and the remnants of the 33rd Infantry, who are busy fighting each other as well.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • 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 hardly seem out of place in Manhunt. By this point it's only a mercy kill if you yourself point the gun at the agonizing enemy and fire.
  • Mind Screw: Almost uniquely among military-themed shooters, the game totes this as much as the likes of Eternal Darkness:
    • 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.
    • 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 an example of Breaking the Fourth Wall as his sanity, and the player's wears down.
  • Mirror Character: Like Walker, Riggs believes he works to achieve a heroic goal i.e. preventing a war between USA and the Middle East by sabotaging Dubai's water supply and eliminating all survivors, and just like with Walker it is clear that he is completely delusional about the validity of that goal and the methods he uses to achieve it by only serves to make the situation much, much worse.
  • Mirroring Factions: 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."
  • Misplaced Wildlife: What are those oryxes doing so close to a war-ravaged city? And what is one doing in the middle of downtown after an explosion and inrush of thirsty people that'd scare off any skittish prey like an antelope? Are they even real?
  • 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 Aurora and leaving Adams to die: "Run, God dammit!"
  • 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.
  • Modular Epilogue: A variant — the cutscene immediately preceding the last choice in the game (in which the player must decide whether to shoot Konrad or have Walker shoot himself) depicts several of the choices the player had made throughout the game, as a means of giving the player context to make their decision.
  • Moment of Lucidity: Walker has one after confronting Colonel Konrad. What happens next is up to the player.
  • Mood Dissonance: The Radioman thrives off of this by way of Gallows Humor. Walker and his team getting assaulted by an attack helicopter? Tense. The Radioman playing "Dies Irae" through their headpieces while that happens? Odd, but fitting. Him singing along, incredibly badly? Hilarious.
  • Mood Whiplash: Repeatedly. At one point, Delta corners the Radioman in his penthouse. The Radioman, who up until now has remained smug and unsuitably fearless, nervously waves a white flag and insists their guns aren't real, clearly having been brought back down to earth. The scene then continues with Delta being surprisingly affable, even complimentary, and he relaxes back into his usual persona while instructing 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. A notable change of pace from most examples of this trope is that there is no "hero" in this situation.
  • Morton's Fork:
    • 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: "Can you even remember why you came 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 "Exact revenge on Konrad". Indeed, the ability of Walker to effortlessly change his motive and exceed his command without reflection or explanation is a pretty obvious sign of his mental instability, and according to some observers, would by itself justify his squadmates relieving him of duty and taking over.
    • 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, violent, 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.
    • "A Farewell To Arms": Walker decides that he is too far beyond redemption and shoots himself. The game ends on a shot of his corpse alongside Konrad's that pans out to a view of the devastated Dubai skyline as Konrad's distress call repeats itself one last time.
    • "The Road To Glory": Walker owns up to what he's done and shoots the hallucinatory Konrad, who reassures him on how lucky he is to still be able to go home before disappearing for good. He makes a radio call for the evacuation of Dubai and some time later is met with a squad of soldiers who have come to bring him back home, but fires upon them when they tell him to put his weapons down. Walker is incapacitated by them, and he reminisces about his time with Konrad in Afghanistan as he bleeds out and dies.
      • Alternatively, Walker wins the firefight against the soldiers, and sends a message to their commander over the radio before retreating further into the city: "Gentlemen, welcome to Dubai."
    • "The Road Back": Similar to "The Road To Glory", but Walker lays down his weapons and lets the soldiers take him home. When asked by them how exactly he survived his time in the city, he replies, "Who said I did?"
  • Murder Simulators: The Radioman jokes offhandedly that these may be why Walker is driven to engage in so much violence. He's right -- at least about Walker. Just not in the most obvious way. Then again, the entire game can easily be seen as a massive Take That! to people who play modern military shooters as escapist power fantasies.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • All of the intel items from Colonel Konrad indicate this is how he felt about everything that happened in Dubai.
    • Walker himself in the ending.
      Walker: I... I didn't mean to hurt anybody.
      "Konrad" (Walker's Guilt): No one ever does, Walker.
    • 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.
  • The Needs of the Many: One of the loading screen quotes pointely taunts the player with this:
    Collateral damage can be justified, if the gain outweighs the cost. How much do you think Adams and Lugo are worth?
  • Never Be a Hero: The game spells out that things would have turned out much better had Walker and the player just stopped interfering.
  • Never My Fault: Why Walker created Konrad after the white phosphorus incident. Also provides some interesting context to the increasingly accusatory tone of the game towards the player, and your slow but steady loss of control over Walker's decisions.
    • Every character 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".
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The TV ads present the game as a generic-looking military shooter when it's closer to Apocalypse Now — The Game.
  • New Media Are Evil: The game was one long indictment of violent video games — specifically, modern military shooters, though it condemns violence in general as well — and the people who play them, while ironically being a video game itself.
  • 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. Really, this game could very well be called "Nice Job Breaking It Hero: The Game."
  • 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).
  • Non Standard Game Over:
    • If Walker dies before reaching the crashed helicopter in chapter 13, the player will be treated to Konrad's silhouette looming over them while a disembodied Adams will angrily yell to "just fucking stop".
    • If Walker gets killed by the hallucinatory Lugo, the game will fade to white before changing to a heavily distorted picture of the burnt civilians at The Gate while a woman hums "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star". After this, time "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.
    • When Delta comes across a group of US soldiers that have been lined up against a wall and executed, Walker metions that it's "like the Kabul death squads".
    • At the beginning of Chapter 12 Rooftops, if the player stands around for a little while, Walker will quietly say, "It's Kabul all over again" indicating that not only did the Kabul incident scar Walker, but the current situation in Dubai is brutally dragging those memories to the surface as it creates new wounds.
  • 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.
  • Not His Sled: Yes, it's loosely based on Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, but the story is about Walker's dark heart. Konrad (the Kurtz stand-in) is already dead by the time Walker finds him in Dubai.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • 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.
  • 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).
      • Although this wouldn't prevent him from being able to grip the flagpole altogether.
    • On the way down the window, Walker slams into a piece of construction equipment and manages to not even crack any of his ribs in the process.
    • After smashing into the window, Walker connects a rope to the flagpole only to fall again, until the rope reaches its max length and he abruptly stops, by what appears to be more than 30+ floors worth of distance. With the speed Walker had at that point and how fast the rope pulls taut, Walker’s spine should have instantly snapped.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Zulu Squad, who communicate with radio rather than shouting orders, will occasionally say "Oh, Shit" over the radio if Walker performs an execution on them.
  • Once More, with Clarity:
    • The helicopter scene, which plays out the second you start a new game and shows up again towards the end of the story.
    • The ending features a montage of earlier scenes in the game, with added context.
  • One-Man Army:
    • 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.
    • This can be played straight in the epilogue wherein Walker can choose to slaughter the entirety of a rescue team sent to pick him up all by himself.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted — there are two characters named John in the game (John Lugo and John Konrad), but both of them are generally referred to by their surnames.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Robert Darden, despite being one of the most well known characters, is referred to his real name once — in an intel item collected after Lugo kills him. Seemingly everyone refers to him as "Radioman", including himself.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • 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.
    • As the 33rd sees more and more of Delta Squad, their Enemy Chatter becomes more panicked and profanity-laden. Then Zulu Squad shows up, and their chatter is ice-cold. Between superior armor and superior weapons, they have little reason to panic.
  • 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.
  • Outranking Your Job: The Delta team consists of a captain, lieutenant, and a sergeant — two officers leading a single NCO.
    • This may be a nod to the authors of a March-April 2005 article in the U.S. Army magazine Field Artillery [1] which described the use of white phosphorus in Iraq that was reported on by BBC news on November 16, 2005, after being discovered by bloggers. The article was written by a captain, a first lieutenant, and a sergeant.
  • 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.
  • Philosophical Choice Endings: The finale asks you "Is there a moral line beyond which a person is beyond redemption?" Throughout the game, the Player Character Capt. Walker commits worse and worse atrocities in the name of the greater good, hiding from his conscience behind delusions of justice and revenge, until the final revelation breaks it down to him how much he (and, by extension, the player) has screwed up. It is left to the player to decide whether Walker can still be redeemed (in which ending he surrenders to the authorities) or not, and in the latter case, whether he commits suicide (directly or indirectly) or embraces his monstrous nature and becomes exactly what he purported to fight against all along.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Among the victims of the white phosphorous attack is a woman who was cradling her daughter in a seated position just before dying.
  • Pistol-Whipping:
    • 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...
  • 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. Also, had the 33rd told Walker and his team that Konrad was dead, Walker probably wouldn’t have done so many bad things. Instead, they don’t tell him it until he’s in their base, at which point it’s far too late to save anyone. They also don’t tell the CIA, leading to them destroying Dubai’s water supply.
  • 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" and keep the stereotypical faceless look.
  • Posthumous Character: Daniels and Konrad.
  • 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.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Captain Walker certainly considers himself to be one of these. Whether the player still agrees with him by the end of the game is another story...
  • 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.
  • Prolonged Prologue: A common criticism of the game is that the Deconstructor Fleet elements of the game only really come to the fore about halfway into the game, prior to which the game is essentially just a slightly darker take on the modern military shooter genre, which might not unreasonably turn a lot of players off it.
  • Promptless Branching Point: Played with. The "moral choices" the player makes are clearly framed as choices, with the options laid out, but often have other options possible through in-game actions that aren't spelled out. The clearest example is the lynch mob scene, where the player is never told that they can fire into the air to scare the mob and get them to scatter.
  • 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.
  • Psychological Horror: Critics such as Yahtzee noted that in some ways the game feels more like a horror game than a traditional military shooter (Word of God acknowledged this element of the game in an interview). This aspect of the game becomes increasingly pronounced after the white phosphorus incident, with a surreal, otherworldly Eldritch Location for a setting, Interface Screw-y hallucinations, unexpected Fission Mailed moments, increasingly horrific imagery, a guilt-ridden Unreliable Narrator suffering from Sanity Slippage and a Through the Eyes of Madness approach. This is perhaps not too surprising considering co-writer Richard Pearsey had previously worked on another franchise known for its blend of intense gunplay and psychological horror.

  • Quick Melee: Used to knock nearby enemies to the ground, making them open for an execution.
  • Rage Quit: The developers have said that they consider the notion of the player simply turning the game off refusing to play as the "best ending" to the game. Indeed, several players have been known to do this after the infamous white phosphorus scene. This is perhaps less a case of "rage quit" and more a case of "horror and self-loathing quit", however.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Implied. When passing through a refugee camp, Walker passes a wall covered in crude childrens' drawings, some innocuous, some disturbing. One depicts a crying girl looking on as a man, presumably her father, hangs from a gallows in the background and two helmeted stick-figures, presumably soldiers of the 33rd, carry her sobbing mother away.
  • Real Is Brown:
    • 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 Has No Subtitles: Used in the first chapter to increase the tension when Delta first come across insurgents speaking in Farsi.
  • Reality Is Out to Lunch: Many surreal environments appear as the game progresses. A number of statues at the City Gate can be seen floating in midair, seemingly hanging from wires, but with no ceiling above to support them. In a more extreme example, the stained-glass butterflies in chapter 11 are obviously not attached to anything. They're justified in that they're likely a figment of Walker's imagination, seeing as he's gradually losing his mind at that point.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • 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 hallucinatory Lugo gives Walker (and by extention, you) one near the end of the game.
    • 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.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • 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 Burj Aurora, the tallest tower, where Konrad is hiding out, is also missing from the model. But it's not there, just like Konrad in the final chapter.
    • 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.
      • What's fascinating to note, though, is that there's one level in the entire game where Walker is entirely ascending (that is to say, there is no point in the level that Walker has to descend in order to proceed). The last one, where all the pieces are finally arranged to make sense. Was all that descending worth it?
    • 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 — specifically, Jimi Hendrix's famous Woodstock rendition of it. 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; both prisoners were already dead by the time Delta reached them. This results in making the scene come 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).
  • Saharan Shipwreck: Chapter 13 shows quite a few ships buried in the desert surrounding Dubai, which helps to give the player some idea of how bad the sandstorms must have been...
  • Sanity Slippage: The entire game is this for Walker past the white phosphorus incident and discovering Konrad's former command squad. There are subtle hints that he's not all there from the beginning of the game.
  • Scenery-Based Societal Barometer: The Evolving Title Screen reflects the current state of Dubai throughout the game. Depicting a sniper sitting on a ledge overlooking some of the bigger skyscrapers with an American flag flying upside-down in the background, things are initially calm despite the apocalyptic sandstorm that's hit the city: the sniper is at ease, the flag is a little frayed at the edges but intact, the buildings are still standing, and Jimi Hendrix's rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner is playing. However, as Walker and his team continue their mission, the flag becomes increasingly damaged to reflect the destruction the player is unwittingly wreaking on American troops and innocent civilians alike; the sniper becomes more alert, and can occasionally be seen taking aim; the song becomes more discordant. Towards the end, the sniper is dead and crows are pecking hungrily at his corpse, while two of the skyscrapers are ablaze in the background and the flames consume them both as the final levels continue corresponding with Walker's deranged attack on the Radioman's tower; worse, several other buildings catch alight in the distance, filling the air with smoke. In the end, there's nothing left of the sniper but bloodstains, the tattered remains of the flag have collapsed onto the perch, the two skyscrapers have been burned down to skeletal husks, and the background is obscured by a putrid mass of sickly white smoke - reflecting the fact that Dubai and all it's people are essentially dead, and it's all your fault.
  • Scenery Porn: Even After the End, Dubai is still a beautiful place.
    Once the world's most fantastical city, Dubai is now its most opulent ruin.
  • Scenery Gorn: All over the place. A particularly noteworthy one is the huge vista overlook provided at the beginning of Chapter 5, "The Edge". After walking through the desert for a while, your squad finds itself atop a building overlooking what seems to be a huge chasm with buildings rising up from the depths, an infinite expanse of sand to either side. Then it hits you—these are the tops of skyscrapers, and that's in fact empty air. You're actually thousands of feet up, with what qualifies as level ground having risen just that far from the pavement. That's a hell of a sandstorm.
  • 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.
  • Secondary Fire: Some of the games' weapons have secondary modes that can be toggled, such as fire rate selectors, scope magnifications, sound suppressors, Laser Sights and in one case, a Grenade Launcher.
  • Self-Deprecation:
  • Send in the Search Team:
    • And guess who you play as?
    • 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 Out the Lock: Adams takes care of locked doors through application of the shotgun and then kicking it open (including one instance, rather memorably, after he'd sustained a leg injury during a helicopter chase)
  • Shoot the Dog: The entire game. Everything Walker does is in the name of stopping Konrad. This, like many other tropes in this game, is deconstructed to hell and back, as the Konrad that Walker is trying to "stop" is Dead All Along, and Walker himself winds up as the true villain because of his desire to be the hero.
  • 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. Notable in that it's one of the few things Walker says or does late into the game that Adams responds positively to.
    Adams: So how are we gonna do this?
    Walker: Shoot everything that fucking moves.
    Adams: Sounds like a plan.
  • Shoot the Rope:
    • Used by Walker to try and save Lugo. He does succeed in severing the rope, but he was way too late to save his friend.
    • When faced with Konrad's first Sadistic Choice, the player also has the option of trying this.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog:
    • "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.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: Played straight with the W1300 and M1014. 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. Possibly intentional, given that the ending where you use the AA-12 has much more realistic gameplay balancing than the rest of the game, implying it's less hallucinatory than the preceeding events.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A pretty obvious one in John Konrad; the developers don't bother to deny it.
    • Similarly, Cpt. Martin Walker may be an allusion to Martin Sheen, the actor who played Cpt. Willard (Walker's analogue) in Apocalypse Now.
    • A captured soldier repeats his military ID number, which happens to be 8675309 (from the song by Tommy Tutone), but it is cut short before he can finish it.
    • There are vending machines selling Fontaine-branded water.
      • Another brand of water is St. Gotthardo's, complete with a Swiss flag. The namesake mountain range is not known for its mineral water, but its Nominal Hero overseer.
    • One of the loading screen messages, "Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you", is an unattributed quote from Jean-Paul Sartre, which may be a dark reflection of Call of Duty's tendency to feature game-over screens with historical war-themed quotes, but linked to The Line and its themes instead. Another loading screen says: "We cannot escape anguish. It is what we are," paraphrasing another Sartre quote: "It is certain that we cannot escape anguish, for we are anguish."
    • When the team are preparing to raid the Radioman's tower, the Radioman paraphrases Rorschach's famous line, "I'm not locked in here with you. You're locked in here with me." His tower is likewise decorated with a bloody smiley face much like the Comedian's.
    • The Radioman also states, in one of his recordings, that "they say a paranoid is just someone in possession of all the facts", which is a reference to Transmetropolitan.
    • When asked what the range on the radio is, Radioman responds that it's "To infinity and beyond! Or to the storm wall. Same thing."
      • At one point during that same chapter, the Radioman plays "Nowhere to Run" by Martha and the Vandellas, which was the first song that Adrian played in Good Morning, Vietnam, another work that featured a military DJ.
    • Some of the Achievements/Trophies are references to works of fiction that also deal with the subject of war such as Deer Hunter, A Farewell to Arms, A Bridge Too Far, The Great Escape, The Horror and We Were Soldiers
    • The CIA Gray Fox team has the same name as a popular character from a series known well for its espionage elements.
      • With them being a "dirty work" team of a federal agency, their name may also refer to the NSA special ops team from Black Lagoon.
    • One critic (who also composed one of the harshest critiques of the game yet published) identified a possibly unintentional one to the ending of Fight Club, as both films end with the protagonist engaged in a Battle in the Center of the Mind atop a skyscraper in the middle of the night, resolving the conflict between himself and his "other" with a handgun.
    • In one of the endings, Walker goes insane and attacks the rescue party, after spending most of the events of the story blaming his paranoid actions on someone who turns out not to exist — someone who, incidentally, he becomes in the end. This is a reference to The Phantom Blooper, the sequel to The Short-Timers, the novel that Full Metal Jacket was based on, in which Private Joker spends most of the novel harassing and injuring his fellow comrades, in an attempt to find information on a rogue US Soldier who joined the Vietnamese forces, and when US Army forces show up to relieve the besieged base Joker's in, he's already completely insane and shoots at the relief team.
    • One of the more subtle ones is the Radioman's comment on the eight scariest words in the English language; "We're Delta Force and we're here to save you.", mirroring Ronald Reagan's comment that the nine scariest words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
    • Walker suspiciously looks a bit like default male Commander Shepard. He is a part of a three-man team and gameplay involves a lot of running from cover to cover.
    • Adams pilots a Black Hawk that ultimately goes down, and the length of a Delta Force team's mission far exceeds what it was supposed to. In other words, Black Hawk Down.
    • You can find a giant Warhammer 40,000-themed display in the mall known as 'Legions of Krakator', complete with a Bolter-wielding Ork statue.
    • In the devastated area after the white phosphorus incident, there is a statue of some children dancing. It looks rather like the Barmaley Fountain, a statue which survived the battle of Stalingrad.
  • Shows Damage: Used horribly and as realistically as possible not only for the 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.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • When you come across old dead bodies, they look realistically mummified. And you can blast their heads into shreds.
    • 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.
    • In perhaps the most horrifying example, the effects and aftermath of a white phosphorus strike.
  • 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.
  • Sigil Spam: The vehicles, helicopters, and fortifications of the Damned 33rd are liberally draped with American flags, yet another sign that Walker is not The Hero.
  • Skewed Priorities:
    • Lugo yells "Ha! I love this song!" when the Radioman plays Dies Irae. Walker yells at him to shut up and run, because Radioman chose to play this as they were being shot at by a machine gun mounted on a helicopter.
    • Lugo also has trouble reading the room when it comes to making a joke, up to and including in the middle of a pitched battle.
    Adams: Lugo, take him out!
    Lugo: Say please!
    Walker: Sergeant!
  • 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 the 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.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: First Lieutenant McPherson, the first living 33rd soldier that Delta encounters. He's the only person capable of initiating peaceful contact between the 33rd and Delta, but he chooses to mistrust them instead and this encounter colors Walker's perception of the rogue battalion to disastrous consequences.
  • Smug Snake:
    • 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.
  • The Smurfette Principle: The only significant female character, featured in one of the intel items, is a news anchor who was forced to deliver a report telling civilians to stay put and wait on a non-existent evacuation force.
  • 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 wanted to be, but failed to realize. 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.
    • The tone of the game, nature of the plot (being sent on a mission to an outpost and encountering a mad general, while ultimately succumbing to the same madness he did), and themes the game explores (such as colonialism/interventionalism, the horrors of war, and the fallability of man as a saviour) have also warranted people referring to the game as the third installment of an unofficial trilogy along with Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now.
  • Spoiler Title: Averted. In "Adams", it's Lugo who dies. Adams doesn't die (probably) until the next chapter.
  • Squad Controls: Albeit extremely limited ones, to the point that it's entirely feasible to complete the game without using them at all. Just about your only options are ordering Adams or Lugo to attack a specific target, ordering them to throw a flashbang, or ordering them to revive a downed squadmate.
  • Stress Vomit: Shortly after abandoning Adams to certain death, Walker leans over a bridge and vomits while the voice of Konrad admonishes him.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: As part of the game's Deconstructor Fleet project. For example, a key part of what makes the white phosphorus scene so horrifying is just how realistic it is in comparison to most shooters.
    • However, given that 60mm WP mineas portrayed to have same power, as 155mm shells, one would say that outcome was exagerrated to be more deconstructive.
  • Surprisingly Sudden Death:
    • 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.
  • Take a Third Option:
    • 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 the developers themselves, 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.
  • Take That!: The game contains (or, some might say, consists of) an impressively vicious series of digs at hypercapitalism, American foreign policy, and military shooters like the Call of Duty series and its Modern Warfare subseries. One of the antagonists, Agent Castavin, even has mutton chops like Captain Price. Word of God is that they knew that the game would be judged against Modern Warfare whether they wanted it to be or not, so they decided to run with it. 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.
  • Take That, Audience!: The game's whole schtick in regards to playing and enjoying war games.
  • 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.
  • Tattered Flag: Seen in the title screen. Practically every single appearance of the ol' Stars 'n' Stripes in the game is ironic to some degree, driving home the point that America will not, in fact, save the day.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: The ending where Walker kills the rescue squad sent to help him is this trope in full force, as it represents him abandoning any pretense of morality and fully giving in to the madness and bloodlust he's acquired in Dubai. Doubles as a meta-example, since it also represents the player continuing to want to shoot people even after the game's repeated messages that that's a bad thing to want to do.
  • This Loser Is You: Captain Martin Walker is a ruggedly handsome, physically imposing US officer in Delta Force, exactly the kind of character who is normally a projection of a usually male power fantasy. The game uses this trope in a meta way, as Walker's desire to be a hero and quasi-fourth wall breaking certainty that the events going on around him are a Hero's Journey just waiting for him to go through it proves to be his — and the player's — undoing.
  • Threshold Guardian: The "line" that's crossed by using the white phosphorus.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The whole game, but Walker's pent-up issues really start leaking out into the open after the white phosphorus incident.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone:
    • Chapter 12 is the only chapter post white phosphorus chapter that truly goes Delta Force's way, as apart from Lugo killing the Raidoman, the storming of his radio tower goes off without much of an issue. Then Chapter 13 hits and things go right back to being disastrously bad- not that they weren't bad enough already.
    • After everything they went through, the people of Dubai finally get a breather in the form of a rain. However, it's clearly not enough to solve all their problems, as implied in the epilogue.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Walker, Adams and Lugo all suffer through this, especially after the white phosphorus incident.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: 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.
  • Torture Technician: Deconstructed with the interrogator for the Damned 33rd. Far from being a sadistic maniac, he was tortured himself…and cracked, just like his victims. "We will be like brothers," he writes, "Having stared down death, and flinched."
  • Tragedy: The story was modelled on not only Heart of Darkness, but the classical Greek tragedy formula as well, in which Walker's Fatal Flaw is his inability to reconcile his desire to be a hero with his growing awareness that he is anything but.
  • 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.
  • Trap Is the Only Option: Deconstructed, in that it's partially this mentality that dooms Dubai. Instead of "easily" radioing for evac after discovering that the 33rd has gone rogue, Walker decides to push further into Dubai in order to contact the CIA. Delta picks up a broadcast of Agent Daniels being tortured, and the team concludes that it's a trap. Walker leads Delta into the trap anyway; this decision is followed shortly thereafter by Walker literally falling off of a skyscraper, and the team can't safely leave Dubai beyond this point. See Closed Circle for more information.
    Adams: You know this is a trap.
    Walker: Absolutely. But the whole city's gone crazy. Daniels might be our only hope of sortin' this mess out.
  • 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.
  • Trickster Game: The game starts off by doing its level best to convince the player that it is a standard military shooter; everything from the trailer, the demo, the cover art to even the first 40 or so minutes of gameplay is engineered to make the game appear as nothing more than a typical America Saves the Day, kill-all-the-bad-guys shooter. However as the story unfolds, it slowly reveals itself to be a Genre Deconstruction of military shooter games, and criticizes the genre for providing players an unrealistic and immoral escapist fantasy through the glorification of violence. The game straight up calls out the player for using the game to act out a power fantasy, calling into question the morality of playing games which simulate killing people for fun. The game's protagonist, Capt. Martin Walker, transforms from a strait-laced, no-nonsense soldier into a vicious, bloodthirsty maniac as a result of his experiences and the increasingly barbaric actions he is "forced" to carry out. At the end of the game, it is revealed that he had been hallucinating large parts of the game, including the existence of Col. John Konrad, the alleged "villain".
  • Trigger-Happy: Walker constantly Shoot Everything That Moves, whether to go somewhere, protect himself or others, or make a choice.
    • Choosing whether to save Gould or the civilians basically boils down to choosing between which Mooks to kill.
    • The Sadistic Choice can only be solved by shooting at something, be it the bodies, the ropes or the snipers.
    • The Multiple Endings of the game are all "selected" by a target decision.
  • 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.

  • Unfriendly Fire: Played for Drama. A great deal of the early game's angst comes from the fact that Delta know that they're killing American soldiers, and on a recon mission, no less. When the 33rd first open fire on Walker and his team, Walker instantly responds by returning fire, claiming "they will kill us if we don't." It's the first in a great many coping mechanisms Walker begins to use to rationalize his actions by claiming he had no choice in the game's events.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: Surprisingly, yes. Two particular moments stand out, and are particularly noteworthy in that the Devs, as a Secret Test of Character to the players, gave no indication they were available options just to see if players would make an attempt to try them:
    • When Walker is given the sadistic choice to shoot one of two prisoners hanging from a bridge, players can Take a Third Option by aiming at the snipers instead. Lugo and Adams will then shoot the ropes, freeing both prisoners.
    • When Walker and Adams are confronted by a mob of angry but unarmed civilians, the gameplay (and Walker's state of mind by that point) suggests that you will need to gun them down to advance forward. However, you can defy this by firing into the air, which will prompt the civilians to flee peacefully.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential:
    • Executions, except the ones before the 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 messily brutalizing 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. And even if you spare them, the mob will jeer and laugh at you as you walk off.
    • In Chapter 4, the player can shoot a handful of civilians either attempting to hide or run from the fighting. No penalty or commentary on the game's part is offered if you do so.
  • Video Game Vista: Chapter 5-The Edge is the first moment that lets Walker-and by extension the player-suddenly feel the verticality and scope of the city of Dubai, as the player realizes how high up they are after walking out onto the edge of the skyscraper they just battled through. It also comes with it the sinking feeling that Walker and his team might be getting into more than they can handle.
  • Villainous BSoD: Walker undergoes one of these when he discovers Konrad has been Dead All Along. What he thought was the real Konrad was an illusion, created by his mind in conflict with itself and acting as a sort of conscience. How Walker reacts to this development depends on the player; he can either commit suicide, or "shoot" the illusion of Konrad and radio for a backup team to continue his original mission of evacuating Dubai. Once they arrive, he can attack them and lose, attack them and win, or lay down his weapon and go home, a broken man.
  • Villain Pedigree: The Insurgents pretty much disappear from the game once you initiate hostilities with the Damned 33rd Battalion.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Windmill Political: John Conrad. When in the end it gets revealed that Walker and his men were fighting against windmills.
  • 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, killing of civilians 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.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Most of the few characters you meet die not long after you meet them, such as Gould and Riggs.
  • Welcome to Hell:
    • 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."
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: See Grey-and-Gray Morality.
  • Wham Episode: Chapter 8, "The Gate", marks a serious tonal shift both in-game and in the story, when the player uses a white phosphorus mortar to clear enemy soldiers out from an area, only to find not long after that the area was housing a group of innocent refugees, all of whom have been killed in the most agonising fashion thanks to your carelessness, as Walker stares at the charred remains of a mother clutching desperately onto her child. The scene comes as one of the biggest Player Punches in any video game, let alone with in the context of the game.
    • Similarly, every chapter afterwards has at least one shocking moment worthy of a Wham Episode, but none of them hold a candle to Chapter 15: Welcome, in which Walker finally confronts Konrad, the Big Bad, only to find that he committed suicide days earlier, and "Konrad" is just a coping mechanism to deal with the immense guilt of everything he has done throughout the mission, making Walker himself the real villain of the entire game. You're not a heroyou're a killer. This is immediately followed by the game's Multiple Endings. The entire message of the game is summed up by "Konrad" with this line from his "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    Konrad: The truth, Walker, is that you're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not. A hero.
  • Wham Line: One in chapter 8 that precedes the most disturbing scene in the game, and what more-or-less kicks off the actual Wham Episode part of the chapter.
    33rd Soldier: We... were helping...
  • Wham Shot: A mild one in Chapter 8. Going up the set of stairs at the start, you'll pass by a tree that's surprisingly flourishing, even in the sandy and dry climate. Turn around after passing it, and it's dead. It was always dead.
    • Chapter 15 has a much more obvious one, as Walker finally confronts Konrad sitting in a chair overlooking the ruins of the city and turns the chair around... and finds a rotting corpse staring back at him.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Player?:
    • 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, God damn 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.
  • While Rome Burns: Subverted. 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 flames.Walker later discovers that the Konrad he saw and communicated with was a hallucination, and finds the real Konrad's corpse nearby. It makes sense for Walker to confront Konrad like this; a fight with an Orcus atop an Evil Tower would've been a fittingly dramatic climax to his delusional fantasy of a quest. Pity things don't turn out that simple.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To Heart of Darkness (and Apocalypse Now, by extension).
  • World of Jerkass: None of the characters are truly heroes here. The CIA are hellbent on causing everyone to die in an attempt to prevent a war that is suggested to never be coming due to Riggs' delusions, the Radioman is a complete Jerkass who constantly mocks everyone, and Konrad, even though he was just an hallucination, did some terrible things when he was alive and killed himself when he realized nothing was going to get better. And as for the Delta Squad, Walker's attempts to play hero as a result of his own delusions lead to surefire doom for everyone.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Dubai is one of the richest cities in the world... all of which has become entirely irrelevant. Among the things you can find is a place where insurgents are smelting down salvaged gold jewelry into bullets, and a clearly home-made childs doll with diamond earrings for eyes wearing a crudely made dress of fine silk.
  • 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.
    • Lugo completely averts this when he shoots the Radioman in the head: although he was likely the 33rd’s second in command (or at least the closest thing the 33rd has), he is still unarmed and not a combatant.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • 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 bittersweet Heroic 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.
  • You Bastard!:
    • 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 
      "Where's all the violence coming from? Is it the videogames? I bet it's the videogames."
    • 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.
    • Word of 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.
    • Played straight in the ending where you attack the soldiers responding to Walker's signal. As he lays dying, he remembers, from when they were serving together in Kabul, Konrad's response to him saying that he wanted to go home.
      Konrad: Home? We can't go home. There's a line men like us have to cross. If we're lucky, we do what’s necessary, and then we die. No, all I really want, Captain, is peace.
  • You're Insane!:
    • Walker to Riggs after the latter reveals what his real plan was.
    • When Konrad asks if Walker thinks he's insane, Walker says he does.
      Konrad: (amused) I'm as sane as you are, Captain.
  • Your Head Asplode: Scoring a headshot with a sufficiently powerful weapon, like a shotgun or sniper rifle, will cause the target's head to explode in a shower of gore. Whether it's because the guns really are that powerful or because of Walker's deteriorating grip on reality is left ambiguous.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Happens near the end, as Adams faces off against the last of the Damned 33rd to give Walker time to reach and confront Konrad.
  • Zero-Effort Boss: While Anti-Climax Boss is certainly averted, the battle with Konrad is dealt with by a single action — shooting Konrad... or shooting yourself, or even literally exerting zero effort and doing nothing at all.

"The US military does not condone the killing of unarmed combatants. But this isn't real, so why should you care?"


Video Example(s):


This Is Your Fault Goddamn It!

If you pay attention to Lugo while calling Walker out regarding the white phosphorus attack, he's pointing at the camera rather than the latter. And to twist the knife, Lugo adds "He turned us into fucking killers!"

How well does it match the trope?

5 (20 votes)

Example of:

Main / YouBastard

Media sources: