Spec Ops: The Line

“Can you even remember why you came here?”

That’s the question that appears on the loading screen between levels in the last third of the game. It takes me a moment to fully understand and then I try to find an answer. I struggle.

Spec Ops: The Line seems like any other military shooter or Gears of War clone. And comparing only the game play, it is. But the story – or better the portrayal of the setting – sets it apart.

In Spec Ops: The Line you play Captain Walker, the leader of a three-man squad that enters an evacuated Dubai that has been flooded by sand. Your mission is to investigate about a missing American Battalion and it’s leader. What starts as seemingly standard premise for a game soon turns into Apocalypse Now as the lines between enemy and ally become blurred.

In military shooters, I admit that I usually don’t stop and think to why these armed people are shooting at me and who they actually are. The game usually never forces the player to reflect on that. The Line takes breaks in between and the squad discusses questions like: Who is the enemy that just popped up? A resistance against foreign influence? Rogue american soldiers? Why are they fighting you? Couldn’t you stop this blood-shed?

Soon some scenes pop up that force you to choose in one way or another, and the consequences are never foreseeable. Get intel from an important agent or save civilians instead? And this is just one of the early occasions.

Harder decisions not only weigh on you but also on the protagonist and your squad. Captain Walkers battle comments get more frustrated, your squad mates follow your orders less if they lose trust in you. This is the kind of reflection on actions I wanna see in titles that show war – the most terrifying thing on this planet.

I salute Spec Ops: The Line for going this way, it shows that military shooters can still hold depth, be relevant and intelligent as well and ask important questions. The game play itself is quite linear and plays smooth, nothing that hurts flow much, but also nothing outstanding – simply solid. Having even more consequences to your actions à la The Walking Dead would make the impact feel even stronger – but part of me is glad that I don’t have to look into war’s ugly face anymore.

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