Each Christmas for the last few years I’ve engaged in a new tradition alongside the feasting on ham and Christmas pudding. Every holiday season I find myself buying a load of games that I don’t really want and some that I’ll probably never even play.
Yes folks, I’m talking about the Steam Christmas sale. Every day during the Christmas holiday those crafty folks at Valve offer up whole catalogues of games at rock bottom prices. In amongst the bargain-basement tat can be found the odd gem. Past sales have netted me the complete Civilization IV collection and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games.
Last Christmas, I netted Sniper: Ghost Warrior Gold Edition ($1.99), Hotline Miami ($4.99) and Spec Ops: The Line. Of the three it’s Spec Ops that is the standout title, and one that I feel that I should have got back when it came out earlier last year.
For me Spec Ops: The Line st the much needed antidote to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Now, I must be the only guy in the world that buys the Call of Duty games for their stories. I’ve been following the series since the first one way back in the day. Call of Duty’s OTT plots are a guilty pleasure of mine. Like out-of-control Michael Bay movies, the Call of Duty games have provided me with top class interactive action movie entertainment for almost a decade.
Trayarch’s biennial fill-in have always been a just that to me. With World at War following the sublime Modern Warfare, Trayarch’s offerings started looking even more tired. With Black Ops, Trayarch tried to do something different by serving up a head-fucking plot that bounced about time-frames without any thought for players actually trying to fathom why they were supposed shooting all those foreign fellas.
With Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Trayarch finally stuck two fingers up to anyone stupid enough to try and follow their plot by subjecting player to a narrative that flicks between the past, present and future in nosebleed inducing blink of an eye, purposefully trying to confuse all-and-sundry in order to cover up what a load of bollocks it was. Throw in some fucking stupid “high-tech” gadgets and a lame zombie mode and bob’s-your-uncle, Activision have this year’s mindless hit game. If this is the sort of shite that my fellow gamers want to play, well fuck me if it isn’t time to do something else with myself.
And then I play Spec Ops: The Line. Developer, Yeager, have forgone Activision’s look-at-my-big-fat-cock-and-hairy-balls approach to military shooters and actually created a thought provoking piece on the horrors of war; as apposed to the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield, which show us just how awesome it all is. Shit, even the much-maligned Medal of honor: Warfighter tried to tell a tale about the impact of combat on the families of those that go to war; perhaps that’s why my brain-dead and blood-thirstly fellow gamers didn’t like it, much the same way they didn’t like Spec Ops: The Line. They just want to kill shit, no questions asked; no guilt and no thought.
Sad. Very, very sad.
Spec Ops: The Line is a game that anyone over thirty ought to play. By this age players should be in the head space of thinking about or already having started a family. It is around this time that you start putting the pieces together, you can no longer afford to shoot from the hip anymore. It all becomes about cause and effect. Whilst the teens and twenty-somethings are blowing the shit out of such to gay abandon, gaming’s older brethren should be starting to question the actions of gaming protagonists the same way we question what goes on in our lives.
So what makes Spec Ops: The Line different to Call of Duty? Apart from being a third person shooter, it is based on a book called Heart of Darkness. Sound familiar? Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was also based on Joseph Conrad’s story. Also, even though the game is set in the Arab city of Dubai, it isn’t scary-looking “rag-head” terrorist that you are up against, it’s fellow Americans. The thought that American soldiers could go rogue seems to be too much for the gaming public, even with Abu Ghraib still a recent memory. The fact that this is a isolated Dubai, devastated by a sandstorm of biblical proportions, help give the game a dramatic canvas to paint a tale that is, essentially, anti-war.
Whilst Call of Duty shoe-horns in harrowing scenes of violence to create controversy (playing as that machete-wielding lunatic in Black Ops 2 missed the mark in so many ways), Spec Ops shows us the horrors of war in a much more sombre tone.
Whilst at no point did I feel the need to put the game down and got out a make a flower necklace, a few times I did think “oww, I probably shouldn’t be doing this”; which is a good thing.
So, OK the combat is that generic shootout formula. But if works for Halo, it works for Spec Ops: The Line. Also your fellow AI teammates are a bit rubbish, but that don’t matter either. All this average gaming fodder is served on a platter that features a superb tale that questions the morality of war and how we, as gamers, play at it.
Spec Ops: The Line is propable still available cheap on Steam and probably in the bargain bin at your local EB Games or JB Hi-Fi. Go on, treat yourself to something different.