Thursday, 17 January 2013

Spec Ops: The Line - Review

I had the good fortune of coming down with leprosy (or something) a few weeks ago and so with abundant free time and excuses to not do anything productive, I finally got to play a computer game start to finish in just two sessions!

I wasn't planning on writing about this game, until someone pointed out on reading my "The Walking Dead" review that my closing line ("The 'game' is to take a human, put them in front of a screen and make them question their own morality, and then kick them in the gut just because.") mirrors what many people said about Spec Ops.

Objectively that is true, but when I wrote that closing line - having only played The Walking Dead a few weeks after Spec Ops - it still didn't occur to me to compare the two.  They are incomparable.

Both games tried to do something very good, something that needed to be done to advance the art form, and made interesting choices in doing so.  The Walking Dead was made into a very simple game whose entire point is just that special thing it was doing, the story, the characters and their effect on the player.  The gameplay was largely put aside and used entirely as a means of telling the story, it was designed primarily to not get in the way and, in places, to add to the immersion.

Spec Ops: The Line tried to do a similar thing, but while it has received a lot of praise, my play-through left me more annoyed than anything.  Annoyed that I needed to play what was ultimately a sub-par third person shooter, just to witness the very interesting story and character development.

The only thing I knew coming into Spec Ops, and what convinced me to play it, was a friend telling me that there's more to it than I'd expect, it is fascinating and there is a "white phosphorus scene" that I have to see.  Nothing more than that.

Maybe that tiny spoiler ruined the game's big moment for me, because I saw it coming a mile away, but honestly I think I would have seen it coming regardless, and that isn't the game's biggest flaw.

Concept Art From Spec Ops

The problem I found with Spec Ops, is that it just wasn't a fun game to play.  I found myself getting so bored during some fight scenes that I'd want to just leave and play any one of a half dozen other great games, only to push myself through because my friend was so adamant that I should play it and that he wanted to discuss it with me.  I was really expecting something special.

I've read in several reviews that the gameplay style was intentional, that it was a parody of modern shooters designed to deride them for their various shortcomings, but I'm not convinced that is entirely true.  I think that was probably a justification made after the fact.  Perhaps the idea was originally to parody shooters, but it went from being a parody to just being a poor impersonation of.

The game's ostensible purpose per the story could have been done better justice by making the game insanely fun as well.  In fact that would have made the point of the story burn much more deeply when it hit at the end.  Actually if they just made it half as long it would have had more impact as it wouldn't have had as much chance to become so repetitive.

Both Spec Ops and The Walking Dead are games that I am very happy exist.  They are both experiments in story telling that advance the art and open the door for future works of genius.  The Walking Dead however is an existing work of genius, whereas Spec Ops made a few too many mis-steps to quite qualify.

You could argue that The Walking Dead played it safer, focusing solely on the one thing it was really trying to do, where as Spec Ops tried to do too much and fell apart because of it.  Perhaps that is true, but it is the end product that really matters and the end product of The Walking Dead is a heart-wrenching masterpiece, where the end product of Spec Ops just made me bored.

Launch Trailer

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