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Spec Ops: The Line – 10 Years On

hello world!
Rohan Elliott
| July 18, 2022
hello world!

The year is 2012-

What the hell are you talking about Rohan, is Australia that far behind the rest of the world?

It’s a rhetorical device. Anyway, as I was saying, the year is 2012. The PlayStation 3 was crippled at the mercy of the Xbox 360.

Actually, the PlayStation 3 wasn’t so much at the mercy of the Xbox 360, it was much more of a healthy competition between two rival brands than the media portrayed at the time which could be chalked up to…

Oh my god, please stop interrupting me, I’m trying to tell my story. Also, I don’t know how you can be so boring but please just shush.

Humph, well I don’t know what all the fuss is all about, I’m just trying to keep people informed against misnomers because that’s what’s truly dividing this country…

Sorry about that, everyone. Anyway, 2012, PlayStation 3, at the mercy of Xbox, yadda yadda… now we’re all caught up. The world ten years ago was different from 2022, The Avengers had just hit cinemas, the term social distancing was only uttered by people unfortunate enough to get stuck in a conversation with a close talker, and YAGER released their third-person shooter, Spec Ops: The Line.

A wide shot showing Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye from Avengers, but in a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch with SNL cast members playing Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow, reproducing a battle scene from the first Avengers film.
Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to experience these guys on the big screen in 2012 (even the real ones). (Credit: Broadway Video)

I didn’t end up getting a PlayStation 3 until 2013, so I missed Spec Ops the first time around and I didn’t hear about it until I stumbled upon it one day on Steam. After checking if my worn-out laptop could handle running it without spontaneously combusting (the answer was “yes, but by the skin of its CPU”), I downloaded it and gave it a go. 

The next thing I knew it was dark, a guy named Snowden dropped some hot goss, and my perception of what a video game narrative could be was changed forever.

Close-up shot of Walker in Spec Ops: The Line looking puzzled with soldiers and debris in the background
(Credit: YAGER)

Spec Ops: The Line follows Captain Martin Walker and his Delta Force team as they are sent to investigate the ruined city of Dubai after an apocalyptic sandstorm ravages the city. Walker and his team are on the lookout for survivors, and they discover some soon after arriving… along with slaughtered U.S. Marines.

From there, Walker and his team march on an inexorable descent into pure madness as both Walker and his men are confronted by the deepest, darkest hearts and minds of the human race. Mass graves, White Phosphorous, and war crimes fracture the psyche and mental stability of these hardened Delta Force operators.

Players control Walker through his descent into madness, and throughout the six hours of stop-and-pop third-person shooter gameplay, we get a front-row seat as events unfold. In the end, we’re little more than the last vestige of self-awareness in him as we watch his psyche unravel, powerless to do anything.

This culminates in some truly horrible acts towards the end of the game which really affected me as a player. It was nothing I hadn’t seen before, worse had been committed by me playing other games, so why did Spec Ops affect me like this?

Profile of Captain Martin Walker from Spec Ops: The Line against a dark cloudy sky.
Do you feel like a hero yet? (Credit: YAGER)

The difference is that Spec Ops makes you feel responsible for all the despicable acts Walker carries out throughout the game. Instead of giving us a healthy buffer between us and the actions undertaken by Walker by using cutscenes, the game forces you to control Walker.

The game makes you choose when to pull the trigger.

The game makes you choose who to shoot.

The game makes you choose who lives and who dies.

The game makes YOU choose.

You spend the entire game hating Walker for the monster he becomes without even realizing that is what you’ve become.

There’s a scene towards the end of the game where Walker bombs an enemy outpost with White Phosphorous. It’s a harrowing scene, and throughout the sequence, you’re confronted with the face of a true monster without remorse or empathy for his fellow man.

You’re confronted with Walker’s face.

You’re also confronted with your reflection, your own face.

The face of a monster.

What are your thoughts on Spec Ops: The Line? Do you want to see a movie version of Spec Ops? (Although that never seems to end well.)

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