I was ecstatic to learn that an old high school friend of mine, R., had recently picked up Spec Ops: The Line, and was playing it over Steam just a scant couple days after my own play-through. After leaving high school, R. went into the Marine Corps–he served two tours in Iraq before returning to California to pursue a degree, where we got to reconnect over IM.
R.’s been very open about sharing some of his war experiences with me for my research on an upcoming project, as well as lending his perspective on films and articles I’ve shared with him. (For instance, I linked him W.’s “Call of Apathy” to see whether it jived at all with his own impressions about his fellow vets, or even himself– he said that it didn’t, but he did agree that the most destructive force to reckon with during a tour like his or W.’s is the long stretches of boredom.)
On the subject of war-themed videogames, he and I have generally agreed that they’re horseshit. But having now put Spec Ops: The Line behind me, I was interested what an actual veteran thought of its depiction of war in the Middle East and some would say critical message. So naturally once I learned he’d picked it up I bugged the hell out of him about it.
What follows are a few spoilers for the game. R. isn’t a professional writer so a few of you might be a little disappointed by the brevity of his impressions, but I think he brings a unique take to things, especially since he (as of this writing) hasn’t been exposed to Spec Ops‘ source material either.
R.: All that shit I went through to save Gould, and the bastard dies anyway. This motherfucking game.
Kris: I KNOW ISN’T IT GREAT
R.: I get the impression that I will end up really loving this game, but at the moment it’s infuriating. And sometimes for the right reasons.
R.: and now I’m dropping white phosphorus on friendlies.
Kris: did you immediately give the order for that?
Kris: I tried holding out
R.: I had a choice?
Kris: technically, but the enemies infinitely respawn, and you have no means to refill ammo
R.: And now I have to walk slowly though the wreckage and wounded from my WP attack. Fanfuckingtastic.
Kris: oh wait till you get to the underpass of the bridge where you bombed that last humvee
R.: And I murdered civilians. FEEL GOOD GAME OF THE CENTURY!
Kris: I know!
In which R. discovers the bulk of Videogame Criticism:
R.: What they’ve done? WHAT THEY HAVE FUCKING DONE! I’m the one going around indiscriminately murdering before taking accurate assessments of the situation.
Kris: But you haaaaad to do it there was no other way
Kris: In the strict sense, the game doesn’t allow you to proceed unless you do
R.: I want a game where shit like this is the consequence for CHOOSING to be the murdering bastard, not getting railroaded into it.
R.: Actually I just want morality systems in games to grow the fuck up. I’m tired of binary choices that have little impact on the actual game. I want a game where, taking this scenario as an example, I could have used the WP, and then discovered the civilians. or I could have slogged through that army, and maybe saved them, maybe the army would have started killing them when they realized I was coming.
In which R. predicts, well, everything:
R.: My character keeps saying that he’s been forced into being a murderous bastard, but it doesn’t really feel that way.
R.: …there’s no one on the other end of that radio, is there? It’s all in this crazy bastards head. if there was someone there, the other two would react, instead of being confused.
R.: This guy just guesses shit and then passes it to his team as fact.
R.: I feel there’s a pun in the fact that everytime I crash somewhere, I start with just a Desert Eagle.
Kris: I thought it was just one of the few pistols most laymen recognized
R.: You start the game with an M9, but everytime you crash, it gives you a Desert Eagle. From nowhere.
Kris: Huh, they don’t start you with a Desert Eagle for your off weapon? I never noticed that.
Kris: Maybe he hides it in his trousers like Solid Snake
R.: I think it’s just one more jab by the developers.
Reaching the final chapter:
R.: No Colonel Klink, I do not feel like a hero. I think Captain Insano might think he is, but I don’t feel that way. This game has a weird disconnect between the player and the character.
R.: Claiming to be as sane as Captain insano is not a good claim to make.
R.: So I shot the ghost of Colonel klink.
Kris: ghost, huh?
R.: don’t know a better term off the top of my head.
R.: Poor Lugo. The only one who made any sense throughout all this.
Kris: he was my favorite
Kris: I mean, Adams brought plenty of “wtf is wrong with you”
Kris: but Lugo sure didn’t deserve what happened to him
R.: Adams was all about abandoning Dubai and carrying out the original mission of leaving the city. Lugo followed his commander, and tried to complete the insane objectives, but still raised his objections where he felt it was wrong.
R.: Alright…let me try to think about this game for a minute.
Kris: still on the credits? Or did you reach the epilogue?
R.: still on credits. If I beat a game I don’t skip the credits.
Kris: good man. Well, you can’t skip them and access the epilogue anyhow
R.: Walker has some serious issues. But for most of the game he thinks he’s in the right and his actions have a chance of standing up as self-defence. As the narrative progresses they move farther from justifiable, and into a massacre. Adams seems unwilling to put up with Walkers bullshit, but he’s still the one that suggested the WP mortars. Lugo is more willing to put up with Walker and follow orders, even when he has problems with them which is what I expected out of a Sergeant.
R.: So I surrendered my weapon in the epilogue.
R.: Shooting them didn’t seem like it would fit with what had happened. Walker still blames the Colonel, but he recognized that it was done.
R.: Although the fact that he’s wearing the colonel’s uniform, and the line “Who said I did” seems to imply that he’s become the colonel in his mind.?
R.: at least in my playthrough, Walker continued to blame Konrad
R.: I think at least part of Walker thinks he is konrad. And that’s the part he blames for all this.
Kris: So, overall, worth the time spent playing? You did guess the twist pretty early on
R.: Even figuring out the twist, yeah, still worth playing.
Kris: All my Twitter friends are dying to know your technical nitpicks
R.: Oh there was a bunch wrong. M16′s are not fully automatic, teams tend to be 4 people, not 3, a sniper would have a spotter, a captain would not be leading a team, and said team would not have a lieutenant in it. .50cal barrels do overheat with a sustained rate of fire, but need to be replaced afterwards. The US Military doesn’t use P90′s, or FAMAS, and the shotguns used are Berelli [Benelli] 12 gauge
Kris: I think there was a scene where Lugo served as a spotter while Walker had a sniper rifle. I found that weird seeing as, apparently, Lugo was the team sniper
Kris: I do wonder why they opted for a team of 3 rather than 4
Kris: Apart from making it easier to kill the squaddies off in a timely manner
R.: Oh also, the 33rd seems to have several thousand more people than a battalion would actually have.
Kris: and incredibly well-organized. And fashionable, with all those fedoras.
R.: And the entire premise of a Colonel leading his entire battalion rogue is just wrong.
Kris: that’s pretty much where Apocalypse Now goes as well, hah
Kris: So, I had another question, and it’s really broad and maybe not fair, so take it in whatever direction you like
Kris: but a lot of critics have read Spec Ops as antiwar. It didn’t really read that way to me–more the tale of individuals pushed past a psychological breaking point where war is the setting. That’s sort of a leitmotif in both Vietnam War and Iraq War films
R.: I didn’t see anti-war in it
Kris: do you think it had a few critical things to say about war, or how the American military operates?
Kris: Which again, like you said, the way it portrays its American servicemen is a bit fantastical to begin with.
R.: I think it was critical in dealing with the psychological stress war inflicts, both on servicemen and civilians.
R.: It also gave you some of the perspective of both those in charge and those following
R.: “Freedom is what you do with whats been done to you” Loading screen tip I just got. I like it.
ADDENDUM (12/27/2012): R. had the chance to revisit Spec Ops recently and elected to send me some more long-form impressions.