Spec Ops: the Line (Xbox 360) – This is actually the first time that Lucius and I have written something on the same game and honestly I couldn’t think of a better game to have two separate pieces about so if you haven’t already check out his. excellent and comprehensive review of Spec Ops: The Line from late last year.
Spec Ops: the Line is a brilliant piece of narrative driven game design that in my opinion rivals some of the best in the genre. And the best thing is it doesn’t collapse in a heap under the weight of its lofty goals at the end unlike other stalwarts, with Bioshock specifically coming to mind. From start to finish Spec Ops delivers a thoroughly thought provoking narrative while still managing to keep the shutters on your eyes as to what is really going on.
I want to remain firmly in spoiler free territory, but I think its safe to say watching the mental and physical deterioration of your character Martin Walker, expertly voiced by the everywhere man Mr Nolan North, has to be seen to be believed. The game doesn’t try and tell a story of a utopian idea gone horribly wrong, nor does it rely on the old ‘the United States are the tyrants’ trope, rather is an exploration of character and the frailty of the human mind. It would be easy to sit down and draw comparisons between Spec Ops and the defining moment in films exploring the nature of war and the human condition that was Apocalypse Now, but that wouldn’t be giving Spec Ops the credit it deserves. Having you play as a character and experience the things that you do, along with the feelings he has when all is revealed later on in the game makes it all that much more relatable.
For the first time in a modern-combat themed video game, the outright slaughter of hundreds of enemies doesn’t feel out of place either – rather it all culminates into the powerful impact that the narrative twists and turns the game takes the player on towards the end of the game. So not only is the shooting itself an extremely satisfying exercise in staying in cover, taking opportune shots at the enemy and managing the surprisingly scarce ammunition supplies, it serves a narrative purpose to justify it all. It’s not revolutionary in how it plays as a third person shooter but the way the combat weaves itself intrinsically into how the story the game is telling unfolds truly is inspiring.
Spec Ops: The Line is the Bioshock of war-based shooters. It is thought provoking, the game’s environments invite curiosity and there is always that lingering feeling that something just doesn’t feel right. Unlike that game it doesn’t grasp at straws toward the end to try and draw conclusion to an amazingly ambitious narrative. The way it tells its story from start to finish feels organic and natural and most of all satisfying. If you don’t play Spec Ops you are simply missing out on what I hope is held up as a benchmark for how video games can approach narrative but even more importantly, without compromising gameplay.