Spec Ops: The Line
|Spec Ops: The Line|
|Engine||Unreal Engine 3|
|Release date(s)||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Spec Ops: The Line is a 2012 third-person shooter video game developed by the German studio Yager Development and published by 2K Games. It was released on 26 June 2012 in North America and 29 June 2012 internationally for Microsoft Windows, and the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. It was ported to OS X, which was released on November 7, 2013., and also to Linux, released on May 14, 2015. It is the eleventh title in the Spec Ops series, and the first entry since Spec Ops: Airborne Commando in 2002.
In Spec Ops: The Line, the player controls Captain Martin Walker, who is sent into a post-catastrophe Dubai with an elite Delta Force team on a reconnaissance mission, where they find dead American soldiers. Upon the finding, Walker declares that the team's mission has changed, and that they will search Dubai for survivors. An online multiplayer mode, developed by Darkside Game Studios, is included with the game, allowing players to engage in both co-operative and competitive gameplay.
Video game critics gave Spec Ops: The Line generally positive reviews. Praise focused on its narrative and themes, while criticism was targeted particularly at the online multiplayer mode and generic third person gameplay. Spec Ops: The Line also won, and was nominated for, several industry awards, including Best Narrative at Machinima's Inside Gaming Awards.
Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person shooter with emphasis on cover and elements of squad-based tactics. Various new weapons and equipment become available as play progresses, some dropped by downed enemies. These include several different rifles, handguns, and machine guns, some with alternate firing modes, like attaching a suppressor or using a telescopic sight; as well as grenade launchers and hand grenades. Single-player squad commands include focusing fire on a particular target and ordering medical attention for an injured squad member.
A multiplayer mode is also included, with six competitive game types across seven maps, loadout customization, and community leaderboards and challenges. Yager describes the multiplayer as a campaign that expands the single-player experience. In addition, there will be multiple mode types with several focusing on terrain deformation and expansion.
The game has several subtle effects as the team loses their sanity, with Walker having visual and auditory hallucinations, and his executions of enemies becoming more violent, his team orders and shouts becoming increasingly angry and ragged versus his original stern command voice and kill confirmations of enemies degrading from professional in the beginning to outright psychotic. Similarly, loading screens initially display helpful gameplay hints to the player, but as the game progresses, the texts become increasingly hostile towards the actions of Walker, and by sometimes breaking the fourth wall, addressing the player directly.
Six months prior to the game, the worst series of dust storms in recorded history began across Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Dubai's politicians and wealthy elite downplayed the situation before evacuating in secret, leaving countless Emiratis and foreign migrant workers behind. Colonel John Konrad (Bruce Boxleitner), the decorated but post-traumatic stress disorder-troubled commander of the fictional "Damned 33rd" Infantry Battalion of the United States Army, was returning home with his unit from Afghanistan when the storms struck. Konrad volunteered the Damned 33rd to help the relief efforts, then deserted with the entire unit when ordered to abandon the city and its refugees. As the storms intensified, a massive storm wall engulfed Dubai for miles, disrupting surveillance and communication, air travel, and all but the strongest radio broadcasts. The 33rd declared martial law, and struggled to maintain order amid 80 mph winds, riots, and dwindling resources. The last communication from Dubai stated that the 33rd was attempting to lead a caravan out of the city. The caravan never arrived, and soon afterwards the UAE declared Dubai a no-man's-land. All travel to the city was barred, the 33rd was publicly disavowed for treason, and no further news left the city.
Two weeks before the beginning of the game, a looped radio signal penetrated the wall. Its message was brief; “This is Colonel John Konrad, United States Army. Attempted evacuation of Dubai ended in complete failure. Death toll: too many.” The United States military decides to covertly send in a three-man Delta Force team to carry out reconnaissance. The team, consisting of Captain Martin Walker (Nolan North), Lieutenant Alphanso Adams (Christopher Reid), and Staff Sergeant John Lugo (Omid Abtahi), are told to confirm the statuses of Konrad and any survivors, then radio for extraction.
The game begins in medias res with Walker, Adams and Lugo aboard a helicopter piloted by Adams, flying over a half-buried Dubai. Other helicopters begin to chase them, which Walker attempts to dispatch with the helicopter's minigun. However, a sudden sandstorm causes the helicopter to crash in the desert.
The story jumps back to the beginning, with Walker, Adams and Lugo traversing the storm wall through to the outskirts of a mostly-buried Dubai on foot. They come in contact with a group of hostile armed survivors speaking in Persian, referred to as "insurgents", who have captured a squad of 33rd soldiers. Contradicting his orders, Walker elects to follow the insurgents and try to find out what has happened in the city. Throughout most of their journey, the team hears broadcasts on homemade speakers by the Radioman (Jake Busey) aka Robert Darden, a former journalist turned DJ who was once embedded with the 33rd in Afghanistan and now speaks on their behalf.
As the journey progresses, the squad finds evidence of what had happened in Dubai over the preceding months, indicating that after the failed evacuation, the 33rd returned to Dubai as an occupying force and committed atrocities against the civilian population with the intent of maintaining order. Aggrieved by this, elements of the 33rd staged a coup d’etat against Konrad in protest, forming the exiles. The CIA has been organizing the insurgents to attack both Konrad’s loyalist 33rd and the exiles for unknown reasons. Although there is now clear evidence against Konrad's virtue, Konrad once saved Walker's life in Kabul during the war, which inclines him to trust Konrad.
The team attempts to peacefully intervene when they come across refugees being rounded up by loyalist 33rd soldiers. However, the soldiers mistake them for CIA operatives and begin a firefight, resulting in the team having to kill fellow American soldiers, much to their dismay. As the 33rd retreats with a number of civilian prisoners, Walker insists on investigating further in hopes of evacuating survivors and finding Konrad. The team learns that a CIA agent, Daniels (Rick Pasqualone), has been captured by the 33rd and is being interrogated. Arriving to rescue Daniels, they are ambushed by the 33rd and discover that Daniels is dead and that it was a trap set for Gould (Chris Cox), another CIA agent. Gould arrives with a band of insurgents, allowing the team to escape. Gould is captured and killed, but the team learns that they may get more information at a location called the Gate. Arriving at the Gate, which is heavily guarded by the 33rd, the team, disregarding Lugo's objections, uses a mortar loaded with white phosphorus to attack the 33rd. After the fire clears, the team learns to their horror that the 33rd were only providing shelter for civilians for their own safety in the coming battles, all forty-seven of whom have been killed by the white phosphorus rounds. Walker vows revenge on the 33rd, claiming that the 33rd had forced him to fire the phosphorus.
The team discovers Konrad's former command squad, who have been executed. Walker finds a small handheld radio, via which Konrad begins communicating with him and questioning the morality of Walker's actions. Shortly afterwards, Konrad forces Walker to choose between executing an Emirati survivor who stole water from the 33rd, or a 33rd soldier who was tasked with bringing the former to justice and killed the man's family in the process. Lugo and Adams begin to more and more openly express their wariness and doubt about Walker's judgement. Subsequently, Delta finds CIA agent Riggs (Patrick Quinn) leading a raid on the Underwater Aquatic Coliseum, the city's last water supply. Riggs tells Delta that insurgent control of the water will cripple the 33rd's operations in Dubai and bring peace. However, after the team aids Riggs, he intentionally crashes and destroys the water trucks. Walker learns from Riggs that he wanted to wipe out the entire remaining population of Dubai so that no one would learn of the 33rd's atrocities, which he feared would cause the whole region to declare war on the United States in retaliation, a war he believes the US wouldn't be able to win. Riggs, injured and trapped after destroying the water supplies, can be killed by Walker or left to burn to death under a pile of debris.
The entire city will begin dying of dehydration within four days. To prevent this and organize an evacuation, the team, which is now becoming increasingly hostile toward each other and the enemies, with Walker suffering from hallucinations, heads to the Trans-Emirates Building to silence the Radioman and warn the city of an evacuation using the radio. The Radioman surrenders; after instructing Delta on how to use his PA system, he is shot dead by Lugo. Before an evacuation warning can be issued, 33rd reinforcements arrive, forcing the team to leave. To escape, Adams commandeers a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Walker orders Adams to circle around the radio tower, destroying it and rendering any further communication with Dubai impossible, in hopes of making his intentions clear to Konrad. Other helicopters give chase, leading to the helicopter sequence from the opening of the game (which Walker seems to remember), following which the helicopter crashes in the desert after a sudden sandstorm.
Upon waking up after the crash, Walker experiences a hallucination with the Burj Khalifa on fire while Konrad and other dead characters attempt to inform Walker that he is delusional and try to reveal the truth of what happened in Dubai. As the team attempts to re-unite in a ship graveyard after the crash, Lugo is lynched by a mob of civilians. When attempts to resuscitate Lugo fail, Walker and Adams either scare the crowd away or kill them in retribution. Walker's hallucinations are nearly constant at this point, and Adams is openly distrusting of his command and Walker is now too paranoid to fully trust Adams. Walker contacts Konrad and informs that he is coming to Konrad's headquarters to kill him. Walker and Adams make their way to the tower; however he hallucinates Lugo as a Heavy who tells him "the only villain here is you Walker, it's only you". Afterward the two are soon surrounded by the last of Konrad's men. Walker attempts to surrender to get inside, but an enraged Adams insists on fighting to the death and shames Walker into running for safety inside the tower. Walker escapes at the last moment before falling unconscious in gunfire.
Awaking, he stumbles to the entrance of the tower. Upon entering, Walker is saluted by the remnants of the 33rd, who surrender to him. Walker demands to know where Konrad is, and is directed to Konrad's penthouse. At first, Konrad appears to be the paranoid, charismatic force behind the atrocities Walker was hoping for, until Walker finds his decaying corpse on the penthouse deck. Walker has been suffering from a dissociative disorder to rationalize the actions he has witnessed and carried out. The real Konrad had committed suicide before the game had begun out of guilt, while the Konrad that Walker has been in contact with during the game is actually a traumatic hallucination that none of his team saw or heard, appearing only in his mind. This mental projection of Konrad appears to Walker, explaining that Walker knew he had the choice of stopping, but pushed ahead out of a desire to be a hero (which Konrad says he was not). To maintain his 'sanity' after the white phosphorus strike, many subsequent events in the game were distorted by Walker's mind to make Konrad look like the villain. With his fantasy coming to an end now that the truth is in front of him, 'Konrad' tells him that the two of them are now at an impasse and Walker must confront the lie he has been living. Pointing a gun at Walker's head, 'Konrad' tells him that he will give him until the count of five to make the decision of who is to blame for the events in Dubai, or he will shoot.
The Line has four possible endings. The player can choose to allow Konrad to shoot Walker, or to have Walker shoot himself. Both actions result in the first ending, which shows Walker's corpse next to Konrad's. Konrad's original broadcast then plays as the camera pans over the burning remnants of Dubai and fades to black.
The other three endings are accessed by having Walker shoot 'Konrad,' who disappears after telling Walker that he can still return home. Afterwards it is shown that the remnants of the 33rd who surrendered were also part of Walker's imagination. Walker uses Konrad's radio to request an immediate evacuation of Dubai. An epilogue after the credits shows a convoy of Army rescue Humvees locating a shellshocked Walker, who is sitting on steps near the Burj Khalifa wearing Konrad’s uniform and brandishing an AA-12. The player can either drop the weapon or open fire.
- If Walker drops his weapon, he then evacuates with the patrol. A soldier remarks that the unit has driven through the entire city looking for Walker and seen the shocking horror, brutality, and devastation of Dubai. When questioned about how he survived, Walker wearily replies, "Who said I did...?"
- If Walker is killed by the patrol, he is shown dying in a pool of his own blood while the patrol watches. Walker recalls a conversation between himself and the real Konrad during the War in Afghanistan where he casually remarked about returning home, to which Konrad replied, "Home? We can't go home. There's a line men like us have to cross. If we're lucky, we do what's necessary, and then we die. No... all I really want, Captain, is peace."
- If Walker manages to kill the entire patrol, he will pick up and use the patrol's radio saying, "Gentlemen, welcome to Dubai", which is one of the first statements Walker said to his team as well as one of the first statements 'Konrad' said to Walker. Walker then returns to the remains of the Burj Khalifa as the camera pans to a wide shot of the ruined city.
Walt Williams, lead writer of the game, has stated that its events are open to interpretation. "For me, everything after the crash is Walker kind of reliving the hell of what he had just done," said Williams. "You can even interpret Konrad as being not necessarily a delusion inside his mind, but some kind of external projection of his guilt in this purgatory or hell or afterlife, or however you choose to view it." Many other theories and interpretations had been discussed by the development staff.
Critics have pointed out that the "mechanics" of the game—the actions available to the player, and the responses resulting from said actions—contrast pointedly with many mechanics of popular FPS games, and that the game deliberately used shooter genre clichés in order to illustrate how ludicrous they are in comparison to real warfare. In particular contrast to other games of its kind, some critics believe that Spec Ops: The Line does not intend the combat to be a fun experience for the player, but rather aims to engage the player through its narrative which critiques the shooter genre for being removed from reality and providing players with an unrealistic, morally dichotomous escapist fantasy. The white phosphorus strike scene has been the subject of much scrutiny due to images such as the corpse of a mother clutching her child. In response to complaints that the massacre was unnecessary or exploitative, Williams justified the scene for its emotional impact. The plot device was intended to evoke anger from players and according to Williams, one of the game's endings is simply for the player to put the controller down and stop playing.
The Line generated a substantial amount of articles from the gaming press. Writing for Polygon, Russ Pitts interviewed Walt Williams, Cory Davis and Richard Pearsey. David Rayfield mentioned how discussion from the first wave of players may have diluted the impact of the game on successive players. Patrick Lindsey argued that because it sticks to genre conventions, The Line cannot be "profound." Similarly, Brad Gallaway wrote that The Line was held back by such rigid adherence. Corey Motley's Second Opinion piece to Gallaway's review accused the game of "cheap, bullshit guilt tactics." Writing for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Alec Meer commented positively on how bad the game made him feel. Nick Dinicola and Brandon Karatti wrote about how The Line made them reflect upon killing in past games. Raymond Neilson took issue with The Line, calling it "supremely interesting...Perhaps even important...It does however, fail." David Sadd argued that The Line's playing with shooter conventions is why it worked. Bernardo del Castillo wrote about moral relativism in The Line for Gamasutra. An article by Tom Bissell published on Grantland.com used the game to examine players' reasons for playing shooters. Game critic Brendan Keogh wrote a long-form critical analysis of the game entitled Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line, analysing his experience of playing it and the game's core themes of violence in video games, American military interventionism and wars conducted via proxies. The text is available in eBook format. Keogh later interviewed lead writer Walt Williams at length at the 2013 Game Developers Conference for Unwinnable. Art director Mathias Wiese and art lead Jason Flanagan were interviewed by Edge.
Following the release of several Spec Ops games in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the series was met with low sales and poor reviews, causing a halt to production of successive games. In 2003, Take-Two mentioned in their financial results that Rockstar Games was working on the franchise but in 2004 the project was canceled. It was later revealed that Rockstar Vancouver was the developer of the canned project with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme developing the soundtrack for the game.
From 2005 to 2009, the series remained largely unmentioned, with the rights belonging to Take-Two Interactive. On December 12, 2009, a ninth game in the series was announced at Spike Video Game Awards. A trailer was accompanied that depicted several minutes of gameplay and showed off the setting. A subsequent press release detailed the premise, other game features, and a possible 2011 release date. An official site was soon launched, and a new trailer was released in November 2011.
The gameplay mechanics of Spec Ops: The Line are based on a game that Yager pitched to 2K but was rejected. Instead 2K wanted Yager to develop a Spec Ops title. The studio had no restrictions on developing the game except it should be military themed. Full scale development of the game started in 2007.
An Xbox 360 only multiplayer beta was announced for the game from 2K Games during E3 2010. The beta was shut down on November 15, 2010. The multiplayer component of the game was created by a separate developer, and included "at the detriment of the overall project and the perception of the game," according to Cory Davis, lead designer at Yager:
It sheds a negative light on all of the meaningful things we did in the single-player experience. The multiplayer game's tone is entirely different, the game mechanics were raped to make it happen, and it was a waste of money. No-one is playing it, and I don't even feel like it's part of the overall package - it's another game rammed onto the disk like a cancerous growth, threatening to destroy the best things about the experience that the team at Yager put their heart and souls into creating.
The game's score was composed by Elia Cmiral and features mostly guitar-based compositions, along with several ambient tracks. The game also features several licensed tracks, including: Alice in Chains's "Rooster", Björk's "Storm", The Black Angels's "Bad Vibrations", The Black Angels's "The First Vietnamese War", Black Mountain's "Stormy High", Deep Purple's "Hush", Inner Circle's "Bad Boys", Jimi Hendrix's "1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)" and "The Star-Spangled Banner", Martha and the Vandellas's "Nowhere to Run", Mogwai's "Glasgow Mega-Snake" and "R U Still in 2 It", Nine Inch Nails's "The Day the World Went Away" and Giuseppe Verdi's "Dies Irae, Libera Me".
Reviews of The Line have been mostly positive, with many critics praising the narrative, themes, and provocative take on violence in video games, but note that it fails to innovate or present a strong multiplayer component. IGN awarded the game an 8.0 out of 10, praising the game's dark story and visuals, while criticizing the game's control issues and unremarkable multiplayer. Game Informer gave the game a score of 7.75 out of 10, offering praise towards the narrative, but stating that the game's gunplay and multiplayer were bland and uninventive. The Official Xbox Magazine gave the game an 8.5 out of 10, commending the game on its dark storyline, competent AI, and the environment surrounding the Dubai setting, but expressing disappointment with the scripted dynamic sand system.
Destructoid gave Spec Ops: The Line a score of 8.0 out of 10 for its compelling story, but also criticizing the AI and calling it a "mixed bag" in its graphics. G4's X-Play gave Spec Ops: The Line four and a half stars out of five, praising the game's story and multiplayer, despite finding some flaws with the game's mechanics. Edge gave the game a score of 7 out of 10 and called it "one of the most subversive shooters yet made" and commenting, "The Line... makes good on Haze's promise of morally complicated entertainment – a game that understands its own ugliness and base urges, undermining the third-person shooter even as it adheres to its formula. ... It may not be subtle, but it engages with problems that the bellicose ilk of Modern Warfare and Medal of Honor have yet to acknowledge."
The game was enthusiastically praised by James Portnow of the web series Extra Credits, who lauded the game's ability to express dark themes and experiences through mundane gameplay, saying, "[Yager] created the first true triple-A drama, where we're engaged through the exploration of a mental state rather than simply satisfied by achieving a goal." Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw of Zero Punctuation wrote a similarly enthusiastic review of the game, praising the game's themes, presentation and subversion of the player's expectations, but criticized the gameplay as unremarkable. Croshaw later published an article in his Extra Punctuation column examining what made the game's white phosphorus incident so effective, "Modern Warfare got into the habit of making a shocking moment that illustrated the ruthlessness of the enemy and the resources at their disposal. It's supposed to make you hate and fear them...The Spec Ops shocking moment, contrarily, is designed to make you hate yourself, and fear the things that you are capable of." He also later declared it his game of the year (see "Awards").
A more mixed review came from Chris Suellentrop writing in The New York Times, who praised the game's opening and underlying themes but found the level of violence and shocking material "hard to stomach", and criticized the game's lack of subtlety, comparing the game unfavourably with Far Cry 2.
In January 2013, Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw named Spec Ops: The Line his game of the year 2012 on his show Zero Punctuation, calling it "the most exciting thing to happen in video game narrative for fucking years." IGN awarded it "Best PC Story of 2012". Mature-Gaming.com awarded the game its "Surprise of 2012" award, praising how effectively it subverted the player's expectations of the genre. Entertainment Weekly called it the fifth-best game of 2012, also naming Nolan North's performance as Walker "the year's best vocal performance", a point echoed by Edge in their "alternative" awards for 2012. At Machinima.com's 4th annual Inside Gaming Daily Awards for 2012 the game received the award for best narrative.
This game is banned in the United Arab Emirates due to the game's depiction of Dubai in a state of destruction. Unlike other banned games, the UAE's National Media Council has focused particularly on this title, going so far as to block the creators' website and stop distribution of the title throughout the rest of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, as well as Jordan and Lebanon. Local retailers cannot sell the game via their online shops to UAE residents. Online distribution platform Steam does not offer the game in the region. The game is unavailable via PlayStation Network's official Middle Eastern hub.
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