Cool narative elements don't excuse uninspired gameplay
Spec Ops: The Line aims to be thought provoking and mature. Clearly drawing inspiration from works such as Apocalypse Now. It’s easy to turn this shooter into something pretentious. Here we have a game that takes the mass-murder we conduct in every game without much thought and puts the morality of that on center stage. The game often asks the player if it was right gunning down the rouge American soldiers and at many times questions if the main cast are the heroes or villains. There are a lot of especially dark moments in Spec Ops and developer, Yager, crafted a script that does a great job at making you feel like dirt for morally gray (mostly black) decisions. However, Spec Ops is still a videogame, and that part of the product is by the numbers.
Dubai has been the victim of vicious sandstorms that have isolated the massive city. An American Infantry Division was sent in as a rescue effort, but went rouge at some point and has seemingly taken hostile control over the city. A small Delta Force element, lead by protagonist, Walker, has been tasked with going into Dubai and figure out exactly what is going on. The mission goes from bad to worse and eventually leads the Delta team into a downward spiral into madness. The macabre they have to witness and often participate in slowly breaks the team from a cliché military squad into broken men forced into aggressive self-defense. Most conflicts end with the team regretting what they had to do, but unlike GTA IV’s protagonist, the team is actually forced into a lot of killing and difficult situations.
From a distance, Spec Ops is the game we all wanted. One of my biggest creative issues with videogames is the lack of consequence or discussion about casually killing people in mass, whether it’s for self-defense or not. Here’s a game that asks the question, “why”. It successfully makes moral choices matter without a meter going up or handing out contrived awards. But while Spec Ops has strong plot elements, it isn’t enough to carry the weight of the thoughtlessly constructed game. Everything from the moody acoustic riffs to the bickering among characters is interesting and successfully establishes tone and atmosphere. However, the videogame part is mediocre at best and actively playing makes up 95% of the experience. A lot of people have shooter fatigue but I’m not faulting Spec Ops for the genre it was chosen to be. But the gameplay doesn’t offer anything interesting and the basic elements of shooting and taking cover are either broken or uninteresting, which makes recommending this game difficult.