Good, thoughtful stories in video games are a rare occurrence, especially in military shooters. Plenty of games do have good stories, The Walking Dead, Bioshock 1, Bioshock Infinite, Red Dead Redemption are just a handful of games which have been praised for their narratives. While these games do have amazing stories, and RDR is my favourite game of all time, only a couple of other games have had the impact that Spec Ops: The Line had on me.
The story in Spec Ops: The Line really is the standout reason to play it. John D. Carmack of id Software said that; “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” Well, he’s wrong. Story and gameplay should be equally important, but this is not usually the case, especially in the military shooter genre. But Spec Ops on the other hand, has a story about a soldier and his mental breakdown to rival many Award winning films and it instantly draws parallels with films that also have psychological narratives such as Apocalypse Now and Fight Club. Other films that come to mind when you play the game, are perhaps Jarhead and First Blood, but Spec Ops isn’t stealing from any film and carves it’s own narrative. This isn’t apparent straight away as the game starts off leading you down the root of believing this is just another military shooter. And while the story of Spec Ops is original, at first it could seem that it could appear in any number of brown military shooters. Captain Walker and his team of Delta Operators, Lugo and Adams, are in Dubai after sandstorms have buried it. The first US army team to go in, the 33rd, went in to Dubai with Walkers old Colonel, Colonel Konrad and then later went rogue and disappeared. We find out that the 33rd failed their evac mission and then committed atrocities against the people of Dubai. The 33rd then split and fought each other. This is only the surface of the story, but saying much else would spoil it. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is the plot to the next Call of Duty game, but Spec Ops is completely different in tone if not in gameplay.
For one, whereas in another shooter like Call of Duty, you may mow your way through hundreds of enemies and then your character won’t bat an eyelid. In Spec Ops: The Line however, each firefight takes it’s toll on the main characters and the player. Each firefight affects the way the characters interact with each other; at beginning of the game they are the best of friends, but that certainly isn’t the case by the end of the game. But much more than friendships are lost over the course of the game and this is mainly through the uncompromising choices given to the player. These choices don’t have a huge impact on the end result but in the moment you will be hard pressed to choose between the options. Options such as choosing whether to let a few civilians die or letting a CIA agent with information die. What ever you pick I guarantee you will be angry with yourself afterwards as there no clear cut good and choices, and none make everybody happy. It’s good that the game has such a strong narrative because the gun play is only above average and is reminiscent of the games it is critiquing. It’s enjoyable and it does compliment the story but the game’s main draw should be the narrative. Despite the gameplay being slightly generic Spec Ops is better than it’s counterparts when it comes to it’s aesthetics, each level is gorgeous and is often surprisingly full of colour. As the game goes forward what’s real and what’s not comes into question, and this leads to some great, trippy dream sequences and is another thing that raises the game above the others in its genre.
The Bottom Line: Spec Ops: The Line isn’t the greatest shooter out there but if you are looking for a disposable action game I could probably just about recommend it. But the game is so much more and you should defiantly get it if you are into great and inventive stories and complex characters. Some great voice acting by people like Jake Busey and Nolan North help add to the overall package of an extremely unique and interesting game which should defiantly be played if you are into more interesting and complex narratives especially seeing how they are few and far between when it comes to video games. The game is also beautiful at points and constantly surprises with various twists and turns. Also, seeing as it’s dirt cheap at the moment, you really have no excuse not to buy it.