Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spec Ops: The Line. This is my dream, this is my nightmare

So yesterday I finished Spec Ops: The Line

O my god.

I've always felt that video games have potential to be the current form of narrative. Like books, video, TV, or what have you... Video Games are the new form of story telling. They aren't something to simple be played any more. The problem with this is that most games bank on hooks and game mechanics which provide replay value. In this day in age when the gaming market is so competitive you need to give the player something that's worth investing their time and money in.

This leads to shit like multiplayer games, death matches and what not. Simple game hooks that are easy to pick up and carry on so as not to loose the gamers attention.

It's with these things in mind that I wonder how the heck did Spec Ops: The liner ever get made, and I know that there are other critics that share my sentiments.

"The Line's" hook isn't so much in the gameplay, although I really enjoyed it, instead The Line brings you in with story. And yes there are heaps of games with great stories but the Line does an incredible job of slowly soaking you into itself.

Spec Ops: The Line tells the story of a small squad of Delta Force operatives sent to the shattered city of Dubai after a massive sandstorm has rendered the city uninhabitable. You play as Walker, the leader of the Delta squad. Your mission: locate the survivors of the 33rd Brigade led by the mysterious Colonel Konrad.

It starts off pretty average, you shoot at people and yell out orders.

But then something happens. Your character starts to question what's going on. Why are we shooting these people... do we need to kill so many to move. It's this semi breaking of the 4th wall to make you question your actions that starts Spec Op: The Line's descent into darkness.

The thing is, it's not that The Line doesn't make you do things you don't already do in other shooters, in stead it's innovation lies in the fact that it makes you feel like shit for doing it.

Anyone who has read Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" or seen Apocalypse Now will be familiar with the story. "The Line" is the gaming link to Conrad's Novel the way Apocalypse Now was the film link.

There are heaps of articles and such all over the net now about how awesome this game is, and so many articles discussing the ideas and theme the game puts across. There's even a really cool write up which has a real Marine commenting on the game and giving his 2cents on all the cool stuff the game accomplishes. And this one in particular called "Don't be a Hero" is a great read as it has a lot of insight shared by the Devs in the making of the game. There even an article that tries to break the game down psychologically.

Earlier I was talking about how a game like this would be such a hard pitch to sell to a publisher. Because the beauty of The Line is in exploring the narrative and like all good narratives, it's the ending that nails it. The narrative being so focused does aim the whole thing towards a more leaner style and one might think that this takes away from such things as "re-playability" but I found myself immediately starting the game again on a higer difficulty.

And like all good narratives... I didn't mind "reading" through it again. The ending totally floored me, and though I could see hints of it coming it didn't diminish the impact in any way. As if the ending wasn't enough of greatness... the game throws in a killer epilogue as well.

Choice and consequence is what resembles a "hook" in The Line. And though a lot of decisions seemed forced on to... it feels legit because you feel these same limited choices can forced on to real people out the fighting wars. Its so easy to sit back and criticise those involved in conflict,  accusing them all of all sorts of things while not really know what it's like to be in their war torn shoes.

I'm not saying that The Line is an exact replica of what these people go through... but it's clear that the devs wanted to hammer some of that feeling home. Watching the characters decay and break as you lead them from one circle of hell to another is intense and engaging.

Also... to some extent. Spec Ops the line feels like a horror game. Not in 100% of the term, but in the way it messes with your head, making you question everything around you... and the way there's something horrifying waiting to be seen around the corner.

I've played a lot of games... and loved them for all kinds of reasons. But I can't remember the last time I played a shooter and thought to myself: "damn what have I done?"

There's a quote in the game which really struck me when I heard it, and of all the 4th wall breaking stuff... this one really naild it:

"The truth, Walker (player), is that you're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not: A hero"

Play any game... what are you if not the hero?

Not here... not in The Line. A hero doesn't do what I did to get to the end. A hero doesn't stand for any of this. Spec Ops: The Line takes situations and scenarios that would otherwise be considered "Bad Ass" in other shooters and makes you feel like a psycho for doing it.

There's nothing glorious in killing... no matter what it's in name of, and The Line will cut and bleed this idea into your head... before it makes you shoot it off.

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