So, below is a theory about how i am choosing to view the narrative of spec ops, so big massive hairy SPOILERS below
A Hollywood Reality
OK, so here is my take. Everything in the game, and I mean EVERYTHING is not happening in the real world, nor has it ever happened in the real world of Spec ops. Rather, I believe the whole "Dubai incident" is the bad dream or series of bad dreams that Walker is experiencing as repercussions from whatever happened with him and Konrad (and the radioman...more on him later) in Kabul.
You see, very early in the game it is mentioned that something went bad during an Op in Kabul when Walker was with Konrad. He dodges any reference to it and rather does not want to talk about it. This is told to us as we are introduced to the, frankly, slightly fantastical situation in Dubai.
The setting is straight out of Hollywood. Mother of all sandstorms, storms of apocalyptic power, just happened to hit one of the most exotic places on earth. It sounds, on face value, like the setting to a decent action flick. The type of movie that would star an unambiguous hero. An ALL AMERICAN HERO in large capital letters. The type of hero that Walker wants to believe he is.
My theory goes as this: Walker cannot forgive himself for whatever happened in Kabul while under Konrad's command. So in his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) riddled mind he is trying to create the PERFECT redemptive arc for himself. He places himself in a Hollywood style setting, with a Hollywood style plot situation spewing Hollywood style lines with his diverse yet all american squad.
Nice, clean and generic. He even places Konrad as the Kurtz style villain protected by "The Damned 33rd" a gleefully pulp name if ever there was one.
We even have over the top, totally unrealistic comic relief in the guise of the Radioman. He is, if i ever did see one, a Hollywood created comedic foil. Walker even comments at one point on how ridiculous the radio tower and speaker network is. He is literally taking all of those who were in his Kabul Op and recasting them, himself included.
Reality And The Baggage That Comes With It
The problem is, reality starts to butt in on this fantasy. We start to see this slowly, with the intel items where walker is clearly not the same personality reading the intel as the guy we have played to this point. When we start to receive intel in the Radioman's voice we REALLY see a difference in character between the intel and the character in the dubai incident.
Then, the fucking gates happen. At the height of his Macho power fantasy (remember, this is all in his head) he forges on with the righteous indignation of an AMERICAN MOVIE HERO and bombs the fuck out of everyone in sight, including civillians. THIS is reality encroaching on walkers brain. THIS is how the Kabul Op went tits up and Walker is floored. He was not supposed to see this anymore. This was his REDEMPTION story where he was the hero, what the fuck were that burned lady and kid from Kabul doing here?
So, he starts to unravel and blame Konrad as he probably did in real life and tries to push on with his power fantasy.
No go, though. Things just get really, really worse because he is trying to fix everything and his brain is trying to tell him: no, you fucked up and can't take it back. Deal with it.
So, hallucinations abound, his self doubt creeps into the tool tips during the loading screen and we revisit the helicopter scene where he says "no, we did this already." That was the nail in the coffin for me that this was all in his head and PTSD related.
Throw on top of that the stylized, twin peaks-esque conversation with Konrad and the mirrors at the end.
Did anyone else notice that the body of Konrad was considerably older looking than the vision of him talking to Walker?
I took this to show the dichotomy between reality and Walker's dream world. In reality, Kabul was many, many years ago, while Walker is trying to remember himself and Konrad as they were during that Op.
The Dubai incident never really happened and all the fucked up shit is what happened to Walker and Konrad in Kabul. The Dubai incident is simply Walker trying to work through his issues. Depending on how you approached the epilogue we may even be able to say he is somewhat closer to putting these things to rest.
Taken this way I believe Spec ops: The Line can be viewed as an interesting, thought provoking and masterful exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder using the tropes and trappings of our beloved interactive media.
It also nicely juxtaposes the clean, sexy image of war we tend to idolize in movies and games (see top picture) with the truly gruesome reality of it.
It also calls into question our complacence with the "flow" or recognized trappings of our medium. It gives us our "oh shit" action moment right out of the gate with the helicopter sequence and we follow along with everything because, hey this is a game. Those guys I'm shooting must be bad because this is a game. Without hesitation, we open fire on EVERYTHING in that opening sequence. Later when we revisit that, we are perhaps sapped of our previous glee as we realize that we are totally in the wrong in our actions.
In this way, and some others (the fantastic setting and audio items) this game reminds me of Bioshock. It sets us into our familiar box of video games and then gives us a new, uncomfortable perspective to study.