NYT doesn't place a score with there reviews, so you'll have to read the meat of it to get the gist. What I picked up from it, was at times Spec Ops: The Line is genuinely horrifying, but it doesn't put enough of the action and the moral descent in the players hands. I also know Arthur Gies has been saying some stuff on Twitter about it, mostly about how the story is essentially "shorthand" from the films they took inspiration from, making it sound like the story doesn't really commit.
New York Times review incoming:
Spec Ops: The Line, a new game for PC, PlayStation and Xbox, takes the opposite approach. It tries to make the player uncomfortable by lingering on the immorality of the first-person shooter.
When terrorists hijacked planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, the frame of reference the nation turned to in the surreal aftermath was just about universal. The director John Landis observed last fall, “Almost everyone said, without guile — and it shows how pervasive film is — that it ‘looked like a movie,’ ” adding that film is our “contemporary mythology,” the “shared experience” for people to draw on to help explain the world.
And yet, not anymore. After 11 years of fighting, this frame of reference has shifted from the movies to video games. (This is especially true for my generation, men in their 20s and 30s, most of whom have not served in the military.) The wars are not “like a video game” in the sense meant by those who do not play them: sterile, vapid, devoid of emotion. No, they are really like a video game: sweaty, intense, full of death.
Evidence of this shift is everywhere. When WikiLeaks released the ghostly footage of an Apache firing on a group of men in Baghdad, the journalist Christopher Beam wrote in Slate, “The video, shot in black and white from a helicopter circling above a Baghdad neighborhood, will be familiar to anyone who has played the game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or the sequel, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.” After the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, a digitally altered image circulated online of President Obama watching the operation with a PlayStation controller in hand.
On its surface, Spec Ops: The Line, developed by the Berlin studio Yager and published by 2K Games, has much in common with its forbears. Capt. Martin Walker, the playable protagonist, leads a Delta Force unit into an implausibly evacuated Dubai after it has been hit by a series of apocalyptic sandstorms. Walker is searching for a missing military hero and veteran of Afghanistan, Col. John Konrad, one of several winks in the game to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and to “Apocalypse Now.”
These are all hallmarks of the genre: an elite Special Operations unit, an absurdly fanciful mission, an alternative-universe story line, not to mention the skyscraper-to-skyscraper zip lines and the dialogue that more resembles stage directions than person-to-person communication. To add to the familiarity, Walker is voiced by Nolan North, whose omnipresence in games makes him either the Harrison Ford or the Kevin Bacon of the medium.
Quickly, however, Spec Ops begins to subvert its rivals, as Walker and his men end up going to war with the renegade United States infantry battalion they once intended to rescue. Philosophers can debate the morals of this instinctual reaction, but killing waves of virtual American soldiers is far more disquieting than shooting foreigners.
Even more unusual for a military shooter, civilian noncombatants exist in the game. In a notable instance, Spec Ops does not reward the player for holding fire, nor does it slap the player on the wrist for shooting an innocent. As with a real urban firefight, the civilian is just there. In another evocative touch, Walker and his men sometimes sneak up behind soldiers and eavesdrop on their quotidian but humanizing banter before — and here the game gives you no choice — ending their lives.
In moments like these, Spec Ops is a thoughtful and harrowing contrast to the power fantasies of its competitors. But it is not confident enough, alas, to trust players with much subtlety. This is the kind of game that can’t let a few ravens pick at a nearby corpse without a character’s interjecting, “At least the ravens aren’t gonna starve.” The images of death and execution become tawdry with repetition. In one sequence, Walker and his men enter an American-controlled section of the game atop a literal road of corpses. In another, their enemies drag themselves across the ground, limbs severed.
There are times when Spec Ops, which is rated M for Mature, is hard to stomach. I thought about quitting. At the beginning, the refusal to flinch from the consequences of death felt brave. By the end, it felt like a snuff game.
Spec Ops is so heavy-handed that I began to wonder if it were intended as a black comedy about Walker’s obtuseness regarding the genuinely horrific consequences of his actions. There is some evidence for this interpretation. After a convoy of tractor-trailers carrying water supplies is destroyed, the game rewards the player with a notification that the “Protect the Trucks” objective was completed. During the loading screens in the late stages of the game, Spec Ops begins gently mocking the player with text: “Can you even remember why you’re here?”; “You are a still a good person.”
And yet it is hard to believe that Spec Ops is a satire of dumb games when it assumes it has such dumb players. The game is not satisfied with having a character ask Walker, “You got a plan beyond killing everyone you see?” No, a loading screen has to explain the moral of the story: “Walker’s obsession with Konrad has brought nothing but destruction — to Dubai and his squad.”
It is probably unfair to compare Spec Ops with the masterwork of English literature from which it takes its inspiration. But “Heart of Darkness” has already been explored with more sophistication in a video game, Far Cry 2, from 2008. That game, set in central Africa, aimed to turn its players into the ruthless Mr. Kurtz by placing them in a bleak environment and then persuading them to take increasingly murderous actions. Spec Ops, in contrast, frequently takes control away from the player, relying on animated cut scenes to illustrate Walker’s moral descent.
In perhaps the game’s low point for literalness, Walker and his men come across a tortured, charred body dangling upside down from a piece of rope. At this moment the game rewards the player with an Xbox Achievement (known as a Trophy on the PlayStation 3) that is titled “The Horror.”