Friday, January 4, 2013

After Spec Ops: The Line, nothing will be like it was, Part 2/2

Continuation from part 1. 

This really is the turning point. I don't want to get into much more detail here, but give you a general outline: everything the game did lead to this point. It threw you in a generic opening, utterly not special in any way, and let you fight your way gradually deeper into a hell. Remember the objective that was given to you in the beginning? Make contact and then leave. We made contact, over and over and over, but all we did was moving deeper into Dubai. Walker constantly changed the objective. Find out what happened to the 33rd. Rescue a soldier. Rescue a CIA agent. Help the CIA. We then help the last remaining CIA agent to destroy the city's water supply, condemning everyone to die of thirst in the next four days. Walker then talks to Konrad over radio, promising him to kill him for what he's done. To evacuate the city, our next objective, we need to get to Radioman and use his equipment. When we finally arrive there and Lugo murders him in cold blood, Walker states over the comm that he will rescue the people, but first, he will destroy the 33rd. And so we move on, and on, and on, killing as we go. 

Oh, glorious battle.

I mentioned game mechanics earlier. As the game progresses, the commands and shouts become more aggressive. It's a slow change, but eventually, you catch up to it. The clean, military language becomes the one of killers. Instead of "Take out the sniper", we have "kill the fucker". The execution moves become more and more violent, and we can see Walker relishing the violence. After kills, he starts to shout. "Got one!" at first, a thing he would never have done in the beginning of the game. Later, it becomes "And stay down" and even more aggressive stuff. In case you didn't notice this playing, Walker now orders the helicopter to make a turn and to destroy the whole radio tower, which obviously is the home of the 33rd, looking at it. Thing is, you as player most likely won't and only pick it up on your second play-through, like so many other small details that are worked in your surroundings. After having destroyed the tower, the helicopter is chased by Hueys - that could only be here in time to attack us because we took our sweet time of senseless destruction - and we are back in the prologue, where you sat at a gatling with infinite ammo shooting down enemy chopters. Walker blatantly breaks the fourth wall, calling out "Wait, I remember this, we did this before!" Yes, we did. But you couldn't possibly remember, because it was a flashforward. Only the player can. (At this point, some argue that Walker dies in the crash and is doomed to relive everything that led up to this point, with the following chapters being the purgatory, but I don't share this opinion of the story.)

The whole section feels so much like Call of Duty and out of touch with the rest of the game, it can't be happenstance.
Trying to reunite with our comrades, we come too late to rescue Lugo: he get strung up by angry civilians. Adams wants to shoot them in revenge, but grudingly waits for our command. This situation is the most defining line to cross in the game, and I would even say the titular one. The game simply gives you control over your character back. Nothing has changed in mechanics, not a bit. You are not able to talk to the civilians. You can't simply tell Adams to stand the fuck down. If you open fire, Adams shoots, too, enjoying it, and several civilians will be dead, the rest fleeing. You could simply hit someone, using the melee attack, which would prompt everyone else to flee. Or you could simply shoot in the air and scare them away. I wager 10$ no one even considered shooting in the air on their first playthrough. Why, it's a shooter, so shoot, right? I just waited, hoping the situation would resolve itself, but it didn't. The civilians started throwing stones, which was justification enough for me to shoot. Man, does this tell yourself something about human nature. When the dead bodies of unarmed civilians lay on the ground, I surely crossed the line. And I didn't even realize it. The game made me do it, after all, right?

The big threat: a mob of angry civilians, waiting for you slaughtering them
And really, that's what the whole game is about. You can't alter the story. Everything you do is ending in violence and dead people. The more you progress into Dubai, the deeper you go (the mission objectives pointedly read "go down"), the bloodier the mess becomes. Crossing this line, Walker changes the objective one final time: kill everyone of the 33rd, obliterate them, and kill Konrad, because he's "responsible for all this". But of course, he's not, and he tells us over the radio. Playing, you will dismiss it as empty talk, the typical ravings of the endboss, but he's just dead right when he's telling us: "You could simply stop." Of course, the choice can't be made in the game. In the game, we have to go on. Why? Because it tells us to do. Forward, always forward. We are playing a guy named Walker, remember? The one that walks. So we walk. Steadily, shooting our way through to the highest tower, because Walker decided Konrad must be there. By the way, another thing I didn't realize until then, Walker is getting hallucinations. Lots of them. You just don't realize it because, again, the game doesn't tell you. On a second play-through, you won't be sure what is real anymore, with fallen enemies turning into mannequins and such.

One example. Note the enemy turning into a mannequin. You can easily miss it.
At the point where we obliterate the last line of defense the 33rd has, Walker and Adams both are breaking. When Adams finally seeks death, and finds it, Walker carries on alone into the tower of Konrad's. The atmosphere is eerie, unreal and frightening, and Walker's halluscinating again. Walker confronts him with his atrocities and pushed responsibility back to Walker, who doesn't really want to take it. You finally find Konrad on his chair on the balcony of his hotel, dead by suicide for weeks now, visibly decomposing. You imagined him to blame someone. The same is true for your hatred of the 33rd, but they were real enough. You just made them evil so you could feel a hero while slaughtering people left and right. In the end, there is one realization: you killed every living being in Dubai. Everyone is dead. The game now leaves you to choose again. In an imagined world with a mirror, you have to either shoot Konrad, or he shoots you. If he shoots you, you commit suicide, and we see the burning, devestated Dubai you left behind. In the other case, you get an epilogue (still keeping going, even after the credits!), where a rescue team of the US army arrives. You may let them disarm you, in which case you go home a hero. You can attack them and die in the attempt, finally getting what you deserve. Or you can attack them, defeat them and become the new Konrad, ruler over the ruins of Dubai. Each end fits the character.

Mirror, mirror.
After all, Spec Ops: The Line is a shooter about shooters, as I said. You kill ridiculous amounts of enemies in a brutal fashion, but instead of ignoring this fact, the game takes it to its logical conclusion. The 33rd is finally in total panic about you. "No human can do this!" No, not unless they have a save&reload function. Repeatedly, the message is hammered home: Nothing of this would have happened had you just stopped. There is no denying responsibility (not for the player, at least, Walker can do it and go home a hero, truly being a coward). The game didn't leave you a choice in the mechanics of the game, and that's precisely it: you could have stopped playing all the time. Right in the beginning, you even walk past a STOP-sign at the road, looking right at it while crows are ascending in the air! Of course, then you didn't know what was to come. Walker is a war-criminal, an animal slaughtering by the hundreds, nothing more. No hero. The 33rd weren't heroes, neither, of course. They committed genocide too. Evil fought evil here. But the greatest evil, in the end, were you. You killed everyone.
You might realize this in the 33rd headquarter, finding their death-wall.

This is a strong message, and it changes everything. After this game, nothing will be the same as it was. It doesn't answer any question, it doesn't offer alternatives, for after all, it is a shooter, and you do spill blood by the tankful. But the questions sink deep. Is killing harmless, as one loading screen tells you? Another loading screen, late in the game, suddenly asks you: "Feel like a hero yet?" Another explains the meaning of cognitive dissonance to you. And yet another explains what collateral damage is, stating that it may be worth the sacrifice it the gain is big enough and bluntly asking you which goal is worth the deaths of Lugo and Adams to you. Of course, you can't answer these questions. By the point they start popping up on the loading screens, you're well past the gate, and probably you have crossed the line already. The game lures you in, promising just your average military shooter, and when you realize what you are doing, when the game makes you realizing it, is already too late, same as for Walker. This, my friends, is true art in video gaming.


  1. Habe jetzt um Spoiler zu vermeiden nur den Anfang und den letzten Absatz gelesen, aber hört sich wirklich sehr interessant an! Videospiele als Kunstform haben so viel mehr Potential, als meist genutzt wird, da ist eine Nadel im Heuhaufen immer willkommen

    Übrigens lustig zu sehen, wie klein die Blogger-Welt manchmal ist. Bin über den Tower of the Hand hergekommen, mir kam dein Name bekannt vor, und Google hat mir verraten, dass ich wohl vor ein, zwei Jahren paar Artikel von dir auf dem Spiegelfechter gelesen habe :)

  2. Playing this game recently, it mindfucked me like no other game has so far. Mechanically, I had no choice however I as the 'player' did by just stop playing the game. I just keep going just to see the end of it and was it worth it? Was it worth the amount of death I both directly and indirectly caused? I do not have an answer for that.

    1. It's almost certainly not worth it. You achieve nothing.