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Spec Ops: The Line

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Deals

You should consider getting Desktop Dungeons at half price


Also, Binding of Isaac and Spec Ops
May 13
// Jordan Devore
My original intention was to inform you that Desktop Dungeons is $7.49 this week on Steam until Friday morning, and that you should play it because it's real good. Hard as hell, but good. That was until I noticed another game...

Can Battlefield 4's narrative be relevant after Spec Ops?

Mar 28 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]249762:47806:0[/embed] Let me say that I appreciate that DICE is trying to do something with Battlefield 4. Battlefield 3 was a multiplayer game with a useless single player portion tacked on, but this new campaign seems like it has some real effort behind it. But I don't actually like what they're doing. If the team wants people to believe it is going for something emotional and believable, showcasing the protagonist sliding around a building as it collapses and then falling several stories (with a rock immediately overhead) and landing without serious injury probably isn't the right way to do that. The completely unbelievable amputation (one knife motion cuts through a hardened soldier's leg? seriously?) doesn't inspire me either, nor does the irritatingly manipulative death of that same character just a few minutes later.  As with any criticism of pre-release footage (especially in this day and age), there is a problem of context. These 17 minutes are all shown without any greater narrative significance, so I can't rightly pass judgment on the emotional impact of the scene. It's totally possible that there are all kinds of amazing character moments that give some sort of weight to what is on display beforehand. I doubt it, but it's possible. Still, this is what EA and DICE decided was a representative slice of gameplay and narrative, and they decided to show off the single player before the multiplayer. It's a pretty gutsy move, so it's unlikely that they're showing anything less than their A-game. For that reason alone, I wouldn't feel bad making judgments, but what is on display here is also symptomatic of some larger issues that are very unlikely to change with context. Let's talk about cognitive dissonance. One of the more unique (and oppressive) features of Spec Ops: The Line was its use of loading screen tips. At the beginning of the game, they just say general things about the gameplay like any other game, but as things begin to unravel, the game starts talking to the player in a rather unpleasant way. Some of them are more direct ("Do you feel like a hero yet?") and some are more general ("Cognitive Dissonance is the unsettling feeling caused by holding two conflicting beliefs simultaneously."), but they all make a point about the role of the player and of the player character. What makes them so significant, though, is that they don't just apply to Spec Ops. It is very likely that Battlefield 4 will make the player feel like a hero in the long run (although the gameplay demo does end on a sour note), but at any individual moment there is a question of what actual good is being done. This is especially true in a world ruled by DICE's Frostbite engine. Destructible environments are amazing things. Yes, I prefer Red Faction: Guerilla's real-time deformation to the model-swap that DICE prefers (especially since it doesn't lead to those awkward moments where blowing up a wall reveals an unharmed enemy immediately behind it who is firing on you while you reload your grenade launcher), but the gameplay possibilities afforded by either are really compelling. In Red Faction: Guerilla, it didn't really matter what you were destroying because you were playing a revolutionary/terrorist. You weren't a hero in the traditional sense. Now, what I'm saying applies to the last few Frostbite-run games DICE has released (and any other game with destructible environments), but it's not something I ever considered in a pre-Spec Ops world. Watch the gameplay video over again, and think about what happens at 4:49, when a grenade blows up a large section of a building. Yes, at this moment there were enemies in that building, ones who can now be more easily killed, but that is also a person's house. Then 10 seconds later the player blows up some cars, presumably owned by civilians. Why? Because it's an easier kill.  Would that make you feel like a hero? It shouldn't. It should make you feel terrible and feel like your character is terrible. The apparent lack of civilians on the street means that it's easier to forget that the satellite dishes on top of each roof represent some virtual person who just wants to watch the news at night, but believing that you are doing good while wantonly destroying civilian property is the epitome of cognitive dissonance. One of the other features that makes Spec Ops: The Line unique, and something that will likely find its way into other games as time goes on, is a progression of in-combat dialogue. At the beginning, characters shout "Tango down" after killing an enemy; by the end, it's "Got the fucker." At 7:46 in the Battlefield demo, somebody shouts, "Kill confirmed." It's a small thing, but it's significant. Rather than attempt to downplay the violence with their language, they are openly acknowledging what they are doing, and nobody has a problem with it. It brings to mind this particularly poignant Spec Ops loading screen: "To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless." We go back to the idea of a hero. This confirmed kill is heroic, because it is done for the higher purpose of winning the war. For the player, though, it's harmless, because nobody is actually dying. It's very likely at least a few people were shouting that at me a couple of paragraphs ago. It doesn't matter if digital civilians are having their homes destroyed because they aren't real. There's no reason to feel any sort of dissonance. While some of that is true, it's also irrelevant. Another loading screen: "The US Military doesn't condone attacking unarmed combatants. But this isn't real so why should you care?" In Spec Ops: The Line and in Battlefield 4, the player should care because the game wants the player to care. They don't want the player to care about the same things, but both of them want to elicit some kind of emotional reaction. Selectively reacting to parts of the game is also a brilliant example of this kind of dissonance: "Oh, I feel bad about having caused the death of this virtual man I tried to save earlier, but I don't feel bad about killing all of these other virtual people or destroying the homes of these virtual civilians because they're not real or whatever." As soon as one death or event matters, then everything else matters as well. The fact that they didn't matter at the time says something about the way people connect with the medium, but it's also not the point. The character is an extension of the player, and the player must assume all responsibility for what that character does, good and bad. That is the lesson that Spec Ops taught. It is a lesson Battlefield 4 does not seem eager to expand upon. At the end of the Battlefield 4 clip, before it goes to the montage of action sequences, it turns out that the death of the person whose death doesn't seem all that meaningful was unnecessary. In fact, the entire scene was unnecessary. I'm conflicted about the exchange that follows— "So, Staff Sergent Dunn was KIA for... something we already knew?""You have your orders, Captain." —because it could either prove or refute the point I just made. The issue is that second line and the role in plays in the greater narrative. The death of Staff Sergeant Dunn is not Captain Recker's fault (that scene could have just as easily played out with Dunn shooting the window himself); it's the fault of the people who gave those orders. So the player is absolved of blame, and now their anger (if they have any) is potentially shifted towards the people on the other end of the radio. That's interesting, but it also rings false. If the game plays with the idea of "orders" and their significance, then perhaps some of that responsibility will be shifted to the character, and then these ideas can be expanded further. That isn't to say I want every military shooter from here on out to be Spec Ops: The Line. I really don't. But a game now exists that has made generic military shooters narratively irrelevant. In 2011, Battlefield 3's narrative was useless because of a clear lack of effort. But this time effort might not be enough. This won't affect sales, and it probably won't even affect review scores, but it will affect the game's lasting significance. If Battlefield 4's campaign follows the same tropes that so many other military shooters have followed, the ones that it appears to be following despite the way they were so brilliantly deconstructed last year, then it will just be yet another campaign, distinguishable only by the number of birds that it has flying over a given map.
Battlefield 4 Relevance photo
Probably not.
In lieu of partying or whatever it is college kids are supposed to be doing, I decided that my number one priority this spring break would be to to replay Spec Ops: The Line. I joined the Spec Ops party a bit late, but t...

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Unreal Engine 4

Spec Ops developer licenses Unreal Engine 4 for next game


Next-gen game to be unveiled 'in the coming months'
Mar 14
// Keith Swiader
Spec Ops: The Line developer Yager today announced their licensing of Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4, making them the first independent studio to do so in Europe. Yager will utilize the new engine on their next project, "a ...
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PS Plus

Spec Ops, Joe Danger 2, & more now free to PS Plus users


Plus The Cave, Tekken 6, and Disgaea 3
Mar 04
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
PlayStation Plus subscribers just got a buttload of games thrown at them with this weeks months additions to the service. Spec Ops: The Line, Joe Danger 2: The Movie, and The Cave are all now free to play on the PlayStation 3...

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Yager adds free co-op mode to Spec Ops: The Line


Aug 21
// Jordan Devore
It was always the narrative of Spec Ops: The Line that seemed most intriguing, though admittedly even that wasn't convincing enough for me -- not at $59.99, anyway. Even still, it's admirable of developer Yager to put out a c...
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Spec Ops dev laments poor sales, moves on to new project


Aug 13
// Allistair Pinsof
"To be honest, it doesn't look too great." After a post-mortem presentation at GDC Europe, Spec Ops: The Line design lead Jorg Friedrich spoke to Joystiq about the underwhelming sales of Yager's debut and the developer's futu...
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Amazon PC game sale discounts Max Payne 3, Spec Ops, more


Jul 02
// Jordan Devore
Ahead of the impending Steam summer sale, Amazon has gone ahead with a digital PC game sale of its own. The discounts will be happening throughout the rest of this month, so pace yourself. Highlights for the time being include Max Payne 3 ($29.99), Spec Ops: The Line ($24.99), Syndicate ($14.99), The Darkness II ($12.49), Crusader Kings II ($9.99), and a bunch more. I fear for my bank account.
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The DTOID Show: Dawnguard, TF2, and Spec Ops: The Line!


Jun 27
// Tara Long
Greetings, dear readers! My better half Max is back in the studio with me today, and we've got plenty of news to cover! I get so scared when he's gone. Don't tell him I said that. On today's show, we've got a list of pre-ord...

Review: Spec Ops: The Line

Jun 26 // Allistair Pinsof
Spec Ops: The Line (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed], PC)Developer: Yager Publisher: 2K GamesReleased: June 26, 2012MSRP: $59.99 A soldier is nothing without orders and the orders are simple: Infiltrate Dubai to provide recon on missing Colonel John Konrad and his outfit, The Damned 33rd. By the time Captain Martin Walker and his two soldiers, Lugo and Adams, arrive, these orders mean little. The modern paradise of Dubai has been ravaged by sandstorms, spurring chaos on the streets below. At this point, Walker decides this is a rescue mission, not a reconnaissance mission. It’s not the last order he’ll give his team, but it’s certainly the most innocuous. Inspired by Heart of Darkness, Spec Ops is a harrowing, unassuming look at modern warfare. It neither glorifies it nor condemns the player and Walker, as tough decisions are made. Do you kill the thief or the soldier that murdered his family in response? Do you rescue the civilians or the opposing agent that may provide you with the information you need? Though Spec Ops' decisions are binary -- and mostly predetermined -- at least the moral views binding behind them aren't. In Spec Ops, you can only choose the least terrible decision and hope it eventually leads to a positive outcome. Converse to the lofty narrative direction of the game, Spec Ops plays it safe as far as mechanics are concerned. One in medias res helicopter turret sequence later and you are thrown into cover-based shooter 101: swap cover, roadie run to avoid fire, blindfire when enemies are close, etc. Though Spec Ops covers the basics, it covers them well, offering some of the most enjoyable cover-based battles since Gears of War popularized the concept. Guns are weighty and difficult to aim, making a tricky headshot feel all the more rewarding. Areas are wide and pregnant with tactical possibilities both horizontally and vertically. While taking cover feels good, maneuvering around it is a different story. In a misguided attempt to appear realistic, Spec Ops does away with Gears of War dodge-rolls and makes it dumbfoundingly difficult to avoid a grenade. You can’t throw it back, you can’t roll out of the way, and turning and running is more difficult than it should be (you need to double-rap the run button and press in a given direction, only for the game to frequently misread your command.) Once you get to the final chapters of the game, these problems with the game’s combat become hard to ignore. This applies tenfold to the rather lifeless multiplayer, where elevation and good cover will win a firefight nine times out of ten. Every time an enemy/player tosses a grenade near you, forcing you to awkwardly detach from cover and run, you'll want to throw down the controller. One thing that puts Spec Ops ahead of the pact is its squad dynamic. For the majority of the game, you’ll have Lugo and Adams to bark orders at. Though you can’t dictate their positioning as you can in the underrated Rainbow Six: Vegas or Mass Effect series, you are able to direct their fire onto a specific enemy. This becomes increasingly helpful since they frequently snipe and lob grenades at targets. Additionally, there are a handful of stealth sequences where you can exploit their snipe command, making these encounters a cakewalk (don’t fret: You can always break stealth.) I love this mechanic because it gives you something to do, while recovering health behind cover. The momentum of battle doesn't feel like a constant stop-start affair, like Gears of War and Uncharted. There are occasions where the AI doesn’t act as it should. I encountered a couple instances where a teammate would throw a grenade at an enemy directly in front of me and him, instead of melee him like any rational soldier would. The enemy AI isn’t so hot, either. The big heavy enemies will slowly walk toward your cover and then stand in front of it, as if an invisible barrier blocks their path to your obliteration. This made me succeed in some tough encounters later in the game, but I didn’t feel like I survived by my skill and wits, as a result. The AI is far from broken, but it’s one of the many things that plays directly against the grim reality that Spec Ops’ narrative tries so hard to build. While Spec Ops often reminded me of Apocalypse Now, there were also many moments where it brought to mind The Rock. Some characters feel cartoonish in their aspirations (a radio DJ barking nonsense throughout the game, for instance), many helicopter chases are had, and the game loves to make things explode: grenades, barrels, buildings, you name it! The much talked about sand tech and environmental destructibility are nice gimmicks but they don’t drastically change the flow of combat. It’s cathartic to wipe out a turret nest by flooding it with sand, flowing out of a nearby window, but I didn’t feel particularly crafty in shooting the marked objects in question. The scripted sandstorms that block your vision are just plain annoying. Spec Ops is a mixed bag in its visuals. The game spent a long time in development hell and it shows, particularly in the player models and dull texture work. While the exterior cityscapes are lavish and broad, the interiors rarely capture the luxury and glamor of Dubai. The setting is full of potential, so it’s very disappointing to see the developer rarely make use of it. Instead, we are given a decrepit ghost land full of charred bodies and civilians that feel mythical in their rare appearance, despite the story revolving around their presence. The game isn't without technical hiccups either, the most criminal of which are the prerecorded cutscenes that are terribly compressed, looking like 360p YouTube videos at times. Nuance in Spec Ops is restricted to the game’s storytelling which is dense and compelling. I can’t think of another game where I replayed chapters, after beating it, for the sole purpose of fully understanding the gravity of key story moments. While Spec Ops could have delivered some plot details more clearly, there is an appeal to how vague of a web it weaves; at times, leaving some major information to collectible intel items scattered around levels. Sitting through the credits of a game while you piece together its complex story in your head is a rarity in videogames. There are better cover-based shooters, better multiplayer shooters, and games that deal with moral choice in a more open manner, but Spec Ops isn’t about any of those things even though it includes all of them. At the end of the day, this is a game that drives the player forth by proposing questions; some relating to the plot -- you’ll ask “why?” as often as Walker and company -- others relating to your own ethics, but all of which are much more compelling devices than anything offered by Spec Ops’ competitors. In an odd way, it almost comes as a relief that the multiplayer isn’t worth sticking around for. At worst, it’d be an entertaining distraction for a week. At best, it’d be an ignorable distraction that doesn't sully a thoughtful, complex narrative about there being no heroes in war. Only killers. We don’t need to come to terms with killing people, because it’s all fun and games for us. Not so for Captain Walker, who must find reason and purpose in his rampage. Walking that long sandy, bloody road through Dubai is one of the most captivating gaming experiences of 2012 because of it.
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After all the door kicking, screaming, blindfire, grenade tossing, and turret handling, a soldier always walks away from battle alive with a strong moral compass intact. This last detail is the most disparate departure fro...

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Talking narrative with Spec Ops: The Line's lead writer


Jun 25
// Tara Long
When Destructoid's Steven Hansen previewed Spec Ops: The Line back in February, he notably enjoyed its emphasis on narrative and atmosphere, adding that it looked to be "the necessary antithesis to the chest b...
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Live show: Spec Ops: The Line early play on Mash Tactics


Jun 20
// Bill Zoeker
Spec Ops: The Line intends to show you some of the hellish choices a soldier makes on the battlefield, but not until June 26th. If you can't wait to get a taste of the war, Mash Tactics has got you covered! King Foom is getti...
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E3: Spec-Ops: The Line to get downloadable co-op


Jun 04
// Maxwell Roahrig
Because it's 2012, and every action game ever needs co-op, Spec-Ops: The Line will receive downloadable cooperative missions. No word if the entire campaign will be co-opified (a word that is totally not made u...
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Here's a Spec Ops: The Line multiplayer trailer for you


Apr 20
// Jim Sterling
Spec Ops: The Line boasts four-player class-based competitive multiplayer action for your enjoyment. A new trailer shows off the online features in which two factions -- The Damned and The Exiles -- will fight each other. Th...
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PAX: Hands-on & chat with Spec Ops: The Line Lead Writer


Apr 07
// Tara Long
At PAX East this week, Max Scoville stepped into an abandoned bus near the 2K booth to chat with Walt Williams, the Lead Writer of Spec Ops: The Line, which is set for release this June. Watch to learn more about the game's storyline, its cinematic influences, and how you can use sand to your advantage!
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Borderlands 2 will be playable at PAX East!


Mar 28
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Borderlands 2 will be playable at the 2K booth next week! You'll be able to mess around with the Gunzerker and Siren character classes in Caustic Caverns.  Additionally, Spec Ops: The Line will be playable and 2K will ...
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Spec Ops: The Line now set for release in late June


Feb 21
// Jordan Devore
Spec Ops: The Line is gearing up for release on June 26, 2012 in North America and June 29 for international audiences. As much as I'm still down for third-person shooters, it's mostly the setting and narrative tone -- the st...
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Guitars and gunfire fill this Spec Ops: The Line trailer


Dec 22
// Jim Sterling
I think I last saw this game at E3 two years ago, and heard very little about it since. Those worried that Spec Ops: The Line might be dead, however, can rest easy for Christmas with a brand new trailer.  There's plenty...
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Take-Two announces further delays to XCOM, Spec Ops


Nov 08
// Alasdair Duncan
Publisher Take-Two Interactive has announced that the forthcoming XCOM will be delayed into "fiscal year 2013" along with first-person shooter Spec Ops: The Line. This follows a positive financial report for the second quarte...
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Blood and sand: New Spec Ops: The Line images have both


Jan 09
// Brad Nicholson
The official word on Spec Ops: The Line fascinates me. Promises of a deep, fulfilling narrative and compelling moral choice are all too common, but something about that eerie reveal trailer continues to make me believe that Y...

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