Boros here, and is a shooter about the horrors of war automatically hypocritical? After playing this game for the first time, I've looked up lots of other reviews to find that the consensus is split. There is no middle ground. Either you love the game, or you're really annoyed by it. Well, when I really thought through my experience with the game, my thoughts were also a little scrambled, but when it really comes down to it, I loved this game, flaws and all. It's because the story is told so damned well, and it's willing deconstruction of the military FPS genre cheered me up immensely. It's so damned dark as well, which I also enjoy. The gameplay is probably the reason for the big split on this game, because the story is air tight. Let's take a closer look to see what I mean.
Like I said just now, the gameplay is the reason for the big split. It's a third person shooter that feels like Mass Effect with a not so durable character, single button squad management, clunky controls, and piss poor cover mechanics. One of the reasons of the poor cover mechanics is that the A button is responsible for about 50% of things that are needed throughout most of the game. It's for running, getting into and out of cover, and slipping out between two pieces of cover. It would be nice if all of that s#!t didn't have to be the same button, because there are times when you'll stand up out of cover when you meant to slip out to another piece of cover, and then your face will have some brand new piercings. Plus, some covers in the game are mono-directional, meaning that you can only take cover on one side of the wall and not the other. This leads to a particularly annoying moment late in the game when you're pinned down and attacked on all sides by douche bags wearing some bulls#!t armor that protects their heads from the first shot which kills most other enemies. You are also basically alone at that point, so you're absorbing all of the gunfire from these bastards as well. It also doesn't help that the game has an obnoxious load time each time you die, and as established earlier, it is pretty easy to die, so it make the game all the more frustrating.
It also has probably the clunkiest controls of any shooter I've ever played. That's not saying too much, because I haven't played any infamously bad ones, such as Duke Nukem Forever, but the controls are pretty bad. The only way I can describe it is it's simular to how Neko Belic from GTA 4 controlled, but it's even worse because at least Neko ran when he was told. When you can run in this game is... well, it's quite random really. It usually lets you run during combat, but sometimes, it seems like double tapping A is the only way to get running while under fire. It also seems to work like a toggle switch at times instead of normal when you just hold the button to run. I'm not sure about this because sometimes it works like a toggle, but others it works like normal. Maybe it's a glitch, and it's sad too. If it wasn't for these two things, I don't think anyone would think less of the game for having this style of gameplay. As it stands now, the controls and cover mechanics are a spear of frozen bulls#!t sticking out of an otherwise perfect game. Being though that this is a shooter, that's a pretty big f@%king spear.
While the gameplay is dripping with assh0les that just soiled themselves, that really isn't the point of the game. No, we're here to get our story on. You play as Captain Walker, leading a small delta force of 2 other guys into the city of Dubai which was totally destroyed by sandstorms. You were sent there to look for survivors as they received a broadcast from Gen. Konrad who was sent in to help evacuate Dubai along with the 33rd battalion. However, the first survivors you see are hostile, and start firing. It starts off very typical of a military shooter, because you're objective is to shoot all of the brown people until you can move foward to shoot up the next area. It starts breaking from that formula when american soldiers start getting envolved with the shooting for unknown reasons in chapter 4. As the plot unfolds, the 33rd are known as the damned 33rd because they stayed to help Dubai survive the storms. Then, it went to war with itself over control of Dubai, and the CIA had to get involved to try to cover it up to prevent a war between the entire middle east and the U.S. There are a bunch of political issues here.
As Walker and Delta Force blunder through this hostile environment becoming more and more desperate to survive and help the surviving civilians, eventually their desperation to survive culminates in chapter 8, when Walker does something pretty horrific. I'm not going to spoil but it makes you think maybe that the easy way out isn't always the best way out, and that there is always a choice, even if it seems as though there is only one way to survive. Walker and his men could've just turned around and walked away, but they didn't because they wanted to help the people and become heroes so badly that they were willing to go through extreme lengths to do it. It wound up with a horrific screwing of the pooch. This is the kind of thing that really cheers me up, when peoples arrogance and want to be loved by all leads to a horrible result and becoming a pariah.
After that, Captain Walker and his men spend next 7 chapters spiralling down into pure madness, trying harder and harder to atone for what they did and failing in new and even more spectacular ways. Walker himself, the character you play as mind you, seems to be the most insane, because you start hallucinating in game wise. You begin seeing things that aren't there, hearing things. You even fight a boss fight while having a psychotic breakdown. The lights start flickering and you shoot at a heavy trooper, which have way too much god damned health, and the second a bullet hits him, he vanishes into thin air to be replaced with a manikin. This happens several times in this fight. Also, hallucinating people look like his squadmates is part of this as well. This is a perfect example of story meeting gameplay, and it just adds to the atmosphere of the story. I just love the way that the story is told, and it's a damned shame that it's attached to a less than sub par shooter.
I've heard criticism of the story in that it's overly linear, and you're force to make the bad decisions even if you don't want to. My rebuttle is that the story would have nowhere to go if you didn't make the bad decisions. A lot of great stories were told via a bad decision, and they wouldn't work if the protagonist had made the right decision in the first place. Like the Silent Hill series, the correct thing to do would have been to just leave the area, but nobody does. Granted it's for various reasons and I haven't played all of them, but the ones I played didn't have anything tying them to the area other than either want, desire, or just plain ignorance. As for the overly linear argument against the story, I say not every game can or wants to be Mass Effect. That game is based solely on choices made by the player which changes the story accordingly. However, not all games tell stories like this, and it'd get pretty boring if they did. Every game would have very simular first playthroughs, and make the world a much more boring place. Sometimes, it's better to have a story carefully constructed by someone else to go through so that the world can see their vision.
However, speaking of Silent Hill, this argument against criticism of the story did lead me to have a revelation about Spec Ops: The Line as a whole. Think about it, a linear but excellently told story involving the main characters psychosis, trying desperately to survive in an uncaring world surrounded by death and things trying to murder you, being confronted by the human heart at it's darkest, and gameplay with a frozen spear of bulls#!t sticking out of one temple restricting how well the player does in combat situations. Spec Ops: The Line was never a shooter. It was a horror game, all along. Almost every aspect of a horror game is represented here in a great fashion. It even can be a little scary at times, like with the light fickering strobe effect against that one heavy. So, with that said, maybe the game would've been better recieve if it was in the horror genre to begin with. But, then really, when it comes down to it, it's not that scary at all really. So, classifying it as a shooter means that theres the cover mechanics suck monkey f@%k problem, and classifying it as a horror game leaves it with the problem of not being scary. It has a major problem, either way.
In conclusion, I can see why someone wouldn't like this game. But, hopefully, they could see why someone would love this game. The story is so good that it literally makes a bad game fan-f@&king-tastic. Imaging if this was on a decent game, or hell, a good game. If the flaws were ironed over better, this would be my favorite game. As it stands, it's an excellent game held solely by the story. The other legs it has are way too weak to hold up the mountain of dookey that is the gameplay. I simply love this game for everything that it is. I'd recommend it to any lovers of great story.