Monday, October 21, 2013

Spec Ops: The Line: completed!

The title seems overly jovial, but in some ways it's fitting.  I'm glad I've finished the game, relieved in some ways, because the last few hours were the most harrowing experiences that videogaming has ever given me.  If you've not played the game, do yourself a favour and do so now.  Play it to completion, no matter what choices you make throughout.  Do not read the rest of this post until you've done so.


As I said in my previous posts, I was finding that there was an increasing gulf between the choices I was playing and the way my character was acting in cutscenes.  As I moved through the game, I was less and less willing to kill everything in my path, but was forced to do so as this was the only way to progress.  The path to reach the radioman was full of commentary on the people I was killing - they had wives and children, they were close to retirement, they never wanted to be a soldier.  As I jumped into the helicopter, some of the broadcasts were starting to ring true.  Were we really the good guys? What were we trying to achieve?

The game dealt with the descent into uncertainty really well.  It wasn't just the changes to characters' actions and dialogue, but little things such as the messages on loading screens and the way the characters dress changed.  Walker's burnt face and ragged clothes were a far cry from the immaculate uniforms he started in.

Not right at the start, however.  The first mission of the game is actually repeated later on, flying through Dubai in a helicopter, shooting down others.  Why are there so many helicopters, when the population is considered stranded?  Where did they come from?  Most games wouldn't have had me questioning this, since the narrative would already have been full of holes, but the world and path in Spec Ops is robust enough for things like this to matter.  There must be a reason for the helicopters, and that reason was becoming very uncomfortable.

The last few missions continued this story.  The endgame meant that I started to question everything that had happened, unsure of what was real and what wasn't.  As an example, one of the flashbacks shows the soldier and civilian hanging and Walker being told to make a choice.  These people flit between being living, breathing, struggling, and being lifeless corpses.  Was Walker imagining their life at the time, or is it now that he is seeing that they were both going to die anyway?  Or are both cases true?  They were once dead, but Walker saw them as living through his insanity or through the fact that he was replaying the passage of time in his mind as he lay dying?  Did Walker actually die in the helicopter crash in the very first mission and the rest of the game is his recollection of how he got to that point - and what would happen afterwards?

One of the great things about this game is that these questions are not answered and it's left to the player to make their mind up.  Depending on the final choice of the game - an abstract choice of whether to kill the player's demons or himself - there can be an epilogue which can reassure players that much of the game was imagined, but that in itself leads to more questions - did Walker actually kill people in his delusion or were the street empty?  Had the 33rd died long before Walker reached them?  Did his companions actually exist - and if they didn't, why did Walker's mind kill them off?

It's rare for a game to explore such deep questions and difficult situations, and even rarer for a game that does try to be more than a superficial shooter to not make a huge deal of it.  This game started as a relatively generic shooter, but transformed through its story into one of the best narratives I've experiences.  I can't recommend it enough - but you'll already know that, since you've completed it, haven't you?

No comments: