Spec Ops: The Line
2k Games, 2012
What always stands out to me with Spec Ops (which is, I have to be clear, one of my favorite games of all time) is how distinctly no fun it is. My first introduction to the game, as I wrote over at The Border House, came from playing it in my Brooklyn apartment during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and in my Border House essay I wrote at length about the strangeness and guilt of playing a game about a virtual disaster while an actual disaster raged outside my door. I think the situation played a lot into how powerfully the game affected me, especially in regards to these tragic notions of helping and guilt–Walker and his squad go to Dubai to help and basically end up killing everyone. They can’t not kill everyone; it’s a game, after all, and the main actions you have at your disposal are “shoot,” “pick up new thing to shoot,” “lob things that are basically variations on shoot,” and “cower behind a wall while you think of new ways to employ shooting.” I usually don’t mind these actions, especially when I’m looking to a game for some mindless fun, but in the narrative and emotional context of Spec Ops and my frame of mind when I first played it, I had never wanted to shoot less. I hated shooting. I relished the moments when my character would auto reload so I had an excuse to not be able to shoot. My initial experience with the game became a breathless, miserable slog, where every new arena had me whimpering “no no no” as I heard the AI gear up for another battle.
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