When I first beat Spec Ops: The Line, it left me with more questions than answers and I wasn’t sure what to think about the game. The hype around it was enormous and I heard many people say that it had been their Game of the Year candidate in response to my writing about the game previously. Well, three weeks have passed, I did my second playthrough on FUBAR difficulty and… I’m still not sure if I completely understand the story, the ending and the drama that unfolded. (As always, SPOILERS ahead)
Let’s get back to the beginning, or at least what seems to be the beginning. Delta soldiers Walker, Adams and Lugo are given the task to figure out what happened to the 33rd Infantry after a sandstorm that hit Dubai. The division, led by Colonel John Konrad, volunteered to assist the civilians weather the storm and evacuate the city. The conditions got so bad, that all communication was lost and it was up to our three protagonists to investigate what happened.
What starts like a simple search and rescue scenario quickly turns into hell, as the player-controlled Captain Martin Walker and his squad have to face not only the refugees but mostly the remaining soldiers of the 33rd in a seemingly never-ending carnage. The violence in Spec Ops is excessive and showcases the anti-war sentiments of the game. Piles of mutilated bodies, very graphic scenes of burnt soldiers and civilians and the gut wrenching image of a mother protecting her child from a white phosphorus air strike leave an imprint on the brain and make the player question his decisions all the way through.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the 33rd went rogue and turned against itself, killing many soldiers and civilians in an internal struggle. Despite many atrocities experienced and committed by Walker and his squad, the Captain refuses to let go and is adamant to carry on, in order to confront Colonel Konrad and make him pay for what he did. Aided temporarily by the CIA, who are also investigating the 33rd, Delta squad mows down the enemies by all means necessary, which includes the infamous Willie Pete and an airship gun.
However, the shooting sequences are only one facet of the game. The other one, probably more interesting, is all the choices Walker has to make. The truth is, in the war zone, as portrayed by Spec Ops, there are no good decisions. Whatever you do, people will die. Civilians, soldiers, allies, enemies, no one will be spared. Will you kill a civilian who stole water or a soldier who executed the civilian’s family as punishment? Or will you try to walk away only to be forced to face another wave of snipers and shotgunners? The choices are tough, they are depressing and they are the main driving force of Walker’s decay.
Spec Ops: The Line makes clever use of flashbacks and hallucinations although it’s not always clear what is what and I assume that is by design. Between the scenes, the screen will fade to black or to white, theoretically indicating if what’s happening is real or not, but I was often not convinced about what the reality was. Obviously, the hell-inspired imagining of Burj Khalifa with half-burnt bodies sticking out of the sand or the enemy soldiers turning into Walker’s comrades are in his head. Is the rest of the environment too, though? To me, this question remains unanswered, regardless of how the game ends.
In the final scene of the main story, Walker finds Konrad and they start a conversation. It becomes, clear, however, that this is dialog takes place inside Walker’s mind and Konrad is not physically there. The remaining soldiers of the 33rd greeting Walker in the hotel lobby, the abandoned suite, the painting of the white phosphorus massacre – it all feels like a horrible dream. Ultimately, Walker faces his final decision. Should he shoot his own reflection, committing suicide, or will he kill the voice of reason in his head, portrayed by Konrad’s reflection, and continue the madness?It’s all very confusing, in a good way, giving much room for interpretation. Does Walker even exist? Or is he really Konrad? The fact that our protagonist is seen wearing Konrad’s uniform in the Epilogue doesn’t help to answer this questions. Did all we just see happen at all or was it a PTSD-inspired hallucination, experienced by Walker, stranded in Dubai’s greatest hotel, overlooking the theater of war below him?
The more I think of it, the less clear it gets and I would very much like to read what your experience with the game was and what you thought of the ending and the story altogether. Please, let me know in the comments below. I also recommend an interesting YouTube video, which tries to analyze the plot of Spec Ops. Even though, I agree with some of its points, the one about suicide being the only way out, it still leaves most of the points open to interpretation.
I already mentioned that a large part of the game are the decisions that the player has to make as Walker. It really helps get into the character, although this may not be such a good idea, in a game like this. I didn’t want to do those things, they simply didn’t feel right. I agreed with Lugo that we should just turn our back and leave. Still, if it was all in Walker’s head, was it a real option?
| A Line, Crossed
| A Line, Held
One of such moments takes place in one of the final chapters, when, having defeated several waves of enemies, Walker and Adams finally find Lugo, whom they lost after the helicopter crash. The image is horrific, showing Lugo hanging, with his hands and legs tied up, surrounded by an angry mob of the local people. The scene perfectly conveys the feelings that the inhabitants of Dubai must have towards the ‘liberators’, the American soldiers. I don’t want to make political statements in this blog but I believe that the game does and it’s very powerful. Walker fails to revive Lugo and it’s up to him to choose now. Should he exact vengeance and shoot the civilians down or scare them away by firing in the sky? I would very much like to see the statistics of players’ choices, similar to what Telltale Games does with their titles. In my case, I just wanted to leave so I started to move towards the crowd, but they kept pushing back. Thinking it was my only option, I followed the path of violence and started shooting. Just another sequence in the game that doesn’t make you feel too good about yourself.
| The Road Back
|Live and let live|
| The Road to Glory
|Live and let die|
The Epilogue is also an interesting sequence which gives the player three options, each resulting in a different ending, one more intriguing than the next. Laying down the gun and surrendering to the soldiers leaves Walker staring out the Hummer’s window on his way back home. Asked about how he survived all this, his reply adds to the surreal feeling the player has all the way through the final scenes of the game – ‘Who said I did?’. Combined with the fact that the screen fades to white, this reply surely indicates that something is still off and my conclusion is that this is not real and this is not the true ending. The remaining two options – getting killed by the soldiers or killing them, produce a less optimistic outcome. Walker dies in the sands of Dubai or continues his way of destruction, ominously welcoming the other soldiers via the radio.
| Deer Hunter
|Kill an oryx|
I had to mention this trophy because of how different it is from all the other ones and from all the things happening in the game. In two or three places in the game, the player comes across these animals, and killing one of them unlocks the trophy. It’s the only trophy that has nothing to do with the shooting skills, collecting intel, making choices, etc. Or am I wrong here? Maybe it deepens the image of Walker as a killing machine, showing that even helpless animals aren’t safe around him? Or am I reading too much into it? Either way, the icon of the trophy is amazing, as most of the other ones. I have to say, the graphic design of the trophies is among my favorites of all the games I played.
| Legion of Merit
|Unlock all trophies|
With Spec Ops: The Line behind me, I’m getting the feeling that it was my final Platinum Trophy before PlayStation 4 arrives in just a couple of days. There are still games in my back log that I will come back to, but by next week, I will be adding another console to my collection and an additional platform which allows me to feed my trophy collecting hunger. Do you recommend any games that I should start with? Or maybe there are still some titles that I should go back to? Let me know in the comments below the post.