All of us at PopMatters finally got around to playing Spec Ops: The Line several weeks ago and I just got around to writing about it now.
Coming to a game late with an eye towards writing criticism about it is a daunting task. There is always that knowledge that someone, somewhere must have already said anything you’d think was interesting. There is that fear that you have nothing new, insightful or otherwise useful to add to the conversation. More than usual, I mean. It doesn’t help when a person wrote a whole book devoted to the game and you helped collect the links for the accompanying Critical Compilation. And that’s nothing to say of the massive, massive amounts of conversations that happen outside our nominal spheres as I found looking for youtube videos of certain events during my research phase.
One thing I did note that got pass around as an important point about the game was how the mechanics reinforeced the themes and narrative the game was trying to tell. I never quite bought into that argument. Like the avant guarde artist without a clue, that makes a boring experience to highlight the character’s boredom or as a meditation on the nature of boredom, it struck me as spurious. However, I still feel the lackluster combat was necessary when approached from the logical opposite direction. Not ‘this is what we can accomplish, what does it mean and work from there,’ but ‘this is what we want to say, what do we need to do to say it.’ And then found making a “good” shooter made the game worse, so they had to paradoxically make the game “worse” to make it better.
This is a technique used most often in horror games, which ironically when used in that genre is thought to be done on purpose and not because the developer couldn’t do any better. Spec Ops: The Line has been called a horror game by quite a few critics, most prominently Yahtzee Crowshaw. These descriptions have focused on the feeling it leaves within the player and the imagery that evokes the genre. I don’t disagree with those sentiments, but I wonder if was even more recognizably horror like, if the opinion on why the combat mechanics were the way they were would be different.
Given that this is suppose to be horror month, (and I’m already a week late in starting), it seemed like a good angle to take. But it was also a frustratingly difficult angle to explain. At least three rewrites worth and a dozen what the hell was this “sentence” suppose to be saying moments. Still, I think it worked out in the end.