At PAX East 2012, Steven Strom and I went to see Spec Ops: The Line at the 2K booth. Steven, who admitted to only “half-listening” to the game, wondered why I was interested in the game at all. His thoughts were completely justified in that sense. When it comes down to gameplay, Spec Ops is an average to good game at best. There is little going on with the “shootin’ dudes” part that makes this game impressive, yet it is still on our top ten — why is that?
Spec Ops: The Line has the most impressive storytelling and character progression I have seen in a long time, maybe ever. Captain Martin Walker and his team move into a sandstorm-covered Dubai, searching for Colonel John Konrad and his battalion, the 33rd Infantry. Very quickly, his wisecracking squad realizes everything is not as they were told, and something dark has been covering the city.
Within a couple hours, Captain Walker and his team are showing signs of unraveling, and with good reason. The horrors of the situation around him are clearly getting into his head, as his language turns darker and more curse-filled as the game progresses. Walker is coming from a place of good intention (as players of most games do, as well). But soon, both he and I were wondering if we were doing the right thing, while simultaneously putting that aside to achieve our objective: find Konrad at any cost.
The player choice allowed me to make some decisions that I felt were right but upon looking back at my actions, they clearly were not. The situations that developer Yager put me in made me question core values of myself as a person. For several days after playing I was in a dark place; I repeatedly thought about the things I did in Spec Ops, and questioned my thought process on how I could come to those decisions. For that alone, Spec Ops: The Line deserves a spot on our list.