Eric Tells Liz What Happened In “Spec Ops: The Line” (Part 2)
Here we go again, into the “Heart of Darkness”! Get it, because the video game “Spec Ops: The Line” is like “Heart of Darkness” but in Iraq and super-horrific! Here’s part two of three, courtesy of Eric Miller.
Heya again Liz,
So, where were we?
Something that’s rather hard to appreciate, if you’re not a gamer, is how generic Act 1 was for video games. You’re a heroic American soldier in the Middle East, first going up against local insurgents, but then start fighting against the REAL enemy (aka other white guys) using the usual array of weapons, with a few more powerful enemies thrown in there, but mainly just shooting down nameless, faceless bad guys.
Hell, your squad includes witty comic relief and a stoic black guy, supporting the heroic WASP American Captain voiced by Nolan North. It’s a beautiful set-up for this one moment, and it’s only the start.
Walker and co. don’t stop there of course, and keep moving forward… and you find out that Konrad had to deal with a bit of dissention in the ranks himself.
Here’s where we learn a bit more about our avatar, Mr. Walker. He used to know Konrad, see, and a lot of the above men as well, and, well, he’s not taking the whole “The man that saved my life and was a huge role model for me has clearly gone completely insane” thing well. The dead civilians outside aren’t helping much either, try though he might to blame Konrad for their deaths. And this is when he finds a walkie talkie, with Konrad’s voice coming out of it.
It’s the usual sort of banter, Walker calling Konrad a monster, Konrad saying he did what he had to, and Walker’s no better, etcetera, etcetera, which lasts throughout much of the rest of the game, with Konrad acting like… well, Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now (albeit a bit more coherent and rational) and Walker pushing against any insinuation that he’s done anything wrong.
Now, Liz, something that’s important to remember here is the medium, and, among other things, how time plays into it. A book that you finish in three hours is short, while a three hour movie can be criminally long. A TV series must be a set length for every episode, and a predetermined number of episodes in a season. Web video can be any sort of length, but five minutes for fiction is usually a good number for an episode.
For video games, the time varies, but a three hour game? Very short. For the most part, 8-10 hours for single player is the minimum you get players looking for, and 25-30 (or more!) being completely acceptable if the story and game are good. A lot of that is because, well, you can only have so much story time in a game before the players start wanting control back. It’s something like 6-10 minutes of plot per hour as a sweet spot, depending on the game, making that 30 hour epic having, in the end, something like 3-4 hours of total story. (Spec Ops takes 6-8 hours to complete, depending on your skill and the difficulty you choose)
It’s just one of those consequences of the medium, and most games focused around conflict (you know, most of them) end up having to concoct reasons for combat to fill out the middle of the game, to give more time to develop the characters, build up the threat without taking away from the story (the Loyalty missions in Mass Effect 2, for example, are probably about 25 percent of the game). It’s filler that needs to be there for the story to work well… but it can still feel like filler.
Act 1 of Spec Ops actually is something like 40 percent of the game, and is largely filler that’s there to introduce you to the characters, setting and to start the progression into darkness. Similarly, in Act 2 we’ve got two sequences that eat up a long amount of gameplay. First, you hook up with another CIA guy, who wants to get rid of Konrad’s leverage over the people of Dubai. Since it’s the bloody desert, and no supplies are coming in from the outside, that is Water: Konrad’s got all of it, and Agent Riggs wants to take control of it.
After you fight your way into the super-awesome-pool area, you keep fighting through the guards and take control of a bunch of tanker trucks filled with enough water to keep everyone alive long enough for rescue!
The only trick now is to get the water to safety, so let’s just drive out and try not got get shot too–
Okay, a little lost water, still, with Riggs driving the trucks we sure can get this water somewhere–
By the time the good Captain Walker wakes up, the tankers are all crashed. Most of the water is pouring into the dirt. And, you see, for Riggs? This is Mission Accomplished!
He was so afraid of what the world would think of what happened in Dubai, that he wants everyone here to die. He’s afraid that, if word did get out about the horrors, the US would be attacked by everyone, a war the US couldn’t win. And we can’t have that, can we?
You get the choice of how to kill Riggs. He’s crushed, he’ll bleed out and fire’s coming for him anyway. Shoot him or leave him to the fire, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that all of the people here? They’ll die of thirst in less than a week if no one does anything. And you’re the hero, aren’t you?
So, what Walker decides to do is to head to the Radioman’s lair. He’s been this constant character throughout, playing music, making jokes about you, generally being even more annoying than his Apocalypse Now counterpart, Dennis Hopper.
Still, he’s the one with the most radio tech, so if anyone’s going to stage an evacuation of the city, they’ll need his tech. Unfortunately, the Damned 33rd kinda sorta hates your guts at this point, since you… kinda doomed them to a painful, dry death… and shot a lot of their buddies… and burned more of them to death with White Phosphorous… so… get your self defense on first, why not?
I haven’t spoken enough of Walker’s squad, because they really don’t get really deep characterization. Adams is the solid soldier type, hard as steel and tough as nails, so he keeps pushing forward, no matter what happens, no matter how he feels about it. It’s ugly, and he clearly hates it, but what else are you going to do?
Meanwhile, Lugo’s a generally lighthearted guy but his fun little jokes grow more barbed, more vicious as time goes on. Everything that he’s seen and done is tearing him apart on the inside. He’s not the comic relief, not anymore. He’s the dark parody of that ugly concept: the silly clown that always finds a joke in the darkest of situations. And in this situaiton, there’s no laughter, no comedy, just the ugliness of this war.
So, when you finally get to the Radioman, who’s been taunting you and leading enemies to fight you and basically being the only guy with a name? He’s pretty cordial. He’s boasting about his hardware, letting Lugo come up and talk shop about it, since Lugo is the communications guy for your squad. Really, the harshest thing he says when you finally meet him in person is a simple defense of Konrad.
“He did what he had to do. And I mean had to do!”
Sound familiar? It’s hard to say if it did to Lugo, though, because once he finds out everything he can about the comm system the Radioman had MacGuyvered up, the cheerful, charismatic, light-hearted Lugo pulls out his pistol and…
Adams is aghast, of course, but Lugo doesn’t care. He thinks they’re all already damned… but it’s somewhat academic now. They send out the message, calling for the evacuation, and then they have to run for it.
The squad hops into a helicopter and, with Walker on the Minigun, basically completely wreck the tower, killing even more of the Damned 33rd before having to run away. The game actually started here, in a sort of In Medias Res moment, with this helicopter sequence of you flying through Dubai’s ruins blowing up helicopters. It’s fun and action packed and there’s a lot of cool visuals, and this time around Walker even paints the fourth wall a bit, insisting that they’ve done this before, although you figure that he sounds kinda insane to everyone else…
Of course, since you got in a vehicle, you crash, and Walker wakes up to–
Eric Miller is a video game nerd who’s somehow managed to turn a hobby of playing video games into a professional career, the poor bastard. He also occasionally blogs at Beyond the Polygons.
Posted on October 23, 2013, in All the Spoilers, Other People Telling Liz Stuff, Video Games and tagged apocalypse now, heart of darkness, joseph conrad, oh man video games, other people telling liz, spec ops: the line. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.
More than 20 years of gaming, and this game is still one of the best I’ve ever played. Totally underrated. Only real true gamers will appreciate this game. The way this game handles ammo is masterful. Ammo is scarce enough that you have to watch your bullet count, but not scarce enough that you’re constantly running out.
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