Spec Ops: The Line has accrued a bizarre reputation as a third-person cover-based shooter that stands against violence. This is obviously and annoyingly oxymoronic, to have the game condemning the source of its own entertainment value. I’m not the first to say so.
But the contradictory nature of the narrative does offer a surprising level of motivation, pulling you deeper into the game to see what sort of knots the protagonists will tie themselves into next over the games’ central moral conundrum. The writing and acting are excellent, and the script does its very best to scale the impossible face of paradox.
Lucky job too, because as a shooter alone it’s merely fair to good. All the essential ingredients are there, but the context-sensitive controls are often frustratingly clumsy, and the initially impressive library of weapons have a tediously indentikit feel. In play terms alone it’s hard to see why you’d pick this over a Gears of War or a Band of Brothers.
The answer is that struggling, wriggling plot. And the more of the game I’ve played, the more I’ve come to suspect that a lot of critics got it wrong: this isn’t a violent game condemning violence so much as one that tries to unpick the often-flimsy motivations and justifications offered for violence by its perpetrators.
Once I’d seen it from that angle, it became a much more subversive and less problematic experience, allowing me to soar over the games’ jagged narrative canyons with a clearer and more appreciative eye.
The Line demonstrates that a compelling story can often trump detailed mechanics when it comes to video games. It’s a lesson more AAA writers and producers ought to learn.