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Spec Ops: The Line Thoughts
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Synonamess Botch
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April 25, 2013 - 1:31 am
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I recently finished Spec Ops: The Line, which is one of the titles you can download for free with a Playstation Plus subscription.  The opinions vary widely on this one.  It's a third-person cover-based shooter, but more than just that of course.  The story, at least from appearances, is inspired by Heart of Darkness (or Apocalypse Now if you prefer).

The gameplay is perfectly fine, although a bit clumsy at times.  But more importantly, I quite liked the story.  Well, "like" is perhaps not the right word.  I found it genuinely interesting, and the final denouement surprising (and effectively foreshadowed in hindsight).

Some complain that although the game offers choices throughout, it's all just an illusion and the only real choice is to stop playing.  That's true I suppose, but it also misses the point.  That the game increasingly clouds the moral clarity of your actions is not some sort of dare to see when you'll put down the controller.  Rather it's meant to inspire reflection.  At least that's how I interpret things.  Any other interpretation would seem to suggest that the developers hold their audience in contempt.  I don't think it completely succeeds, but it does an admirable job nonetheless.

 

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Steerpike
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April 25, 2013 - 9:27 am
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Another one on my long list of To Be Played As Soon As Possible. I've heard many raves about the moral issues in the game, and the illusion of choice portrayed. I also applaud any game that's willing to show a political view (whether it's my own politics or not), because great literature should be able to discuss those things, and games still struggle to be accepted as that. Botch, I know at least a few of our regular Tap folk have played Spec Ops so you should get some interesting thoughts here. I'll report back as soon as I plow through some other titles!

Life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

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geggis
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April 25, 2013 - 1:03 pm
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I haven't played it yet but hope to at some point. Though I'm not tying this to Spec Ops, I've never been a fan of 'the only way to win is to stop playing' because by that logic the only way of saving Hicks, Newt and, I suppose Bishop, is to not watch Alien 3. Or to stop Romeo and Juliet's relationship ending in tragedy is to stop reading/watching. It's a fallacy I tell you!

Steerpike
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April 25, 2013 - 1:26 pm
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It's the Shadow of the Colossus effect - the only way to not do what you're doing is not to play, which exists outside the game's realm of choice. I've got a friend who argues against any game where there isn't an actual choice.

He's weird, though, he also finds it unforgivable when a game includes a feature but doesn't allow you to "win" with it; an ideology spawned from his playing Oblivion as a Khajiit only to discover that it was essentially impossible to beat the game as a pure 100% hand-to-hand combatant since you need magical weapons against some foes. Ever since then I have called this the Kitty Boxer Argument. It's a fallacy as well, but don't try telling him that.

Sometimes there is no choice!

Or spoon.

Life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

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Synonamess Botch
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April 25, 2013 - 1:34 pm
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Gregg I completely agree.  It's a cop out (unless you're the computer in WarGames.  Then it's totally OK).  I think I remember seeing this accusation leveled at Bioshock.  If that was the developer's intent, then they deserve whatever scorn they've received.  I saw several development houses in the credits (pro tip: watch them until the end) but I believe Yager is the primary.  They appear German, which is odd since no German would spell "jager" that way.  Obviously I know nothing about them.

 

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xtal
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April 25, 2013 - 6:04 pm
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Right - I was just going to say this is exactly what some people say about SotC: you could stop playing. No you can't! Who can stop playing one of the best games ever made?!

I have The Line queued up to go on Steam and PS3, so I'm sure I'll get to it at some point this year; I really wanted to last year when there was more talk about it but...games. Certainly want to join in the discussion because I've heard nothing but good about the story. Sloppy gameplay? Meh, I survived 3 fucking Bethesda games on PS3. THREE, I TELL YOU!

If being wrong's a crime I'm serving forever

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Dix
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April 29, 2013 - 2:48 pm
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I played The Line a couple months ago and was reasonably compelled by what it was doing.  I agree the gameplay is pretty middle of the road by cover shooter standards, but it's certainly not unplayable.

"Home is not a place.  It is wherever your passion takes you."

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xtal
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May 23, 2013 - 12:29 pm
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Okay, so I finished The Line yesterday.

And...The fuck?

By "the fuck?" I mean: the fuck is with all the middle-of-the-road reviews?

I get it: the cover mechanics are not Gears of War solid. Nor is it Call of Duty polished. But so what? Is our reality now that we have maybe five or six triple-A franchises subject to the 7-9 scale, a bunch of adorable indies, and then everything else is shit?

Seriously. 76 Metacritic. Fail.

The Call of Duty franchise Metacritic scores, from COD 2 to 9 respectively (Xbox 360 era): 89, 82, 94, 84, 94, 87, 88, 83.

I know it's just the Metacritic aggregate, but this stuff is huge, it's untrue to say otherwise. The universally agreed-upon low point of the series, Call of Duty 3, holds an 82 Metacritic score. The admitted absolute worst, the weakest link, pure rubbish (I played it; it is) of what has been an annual, largely repetitive series since 2005 still has a generally great score of 82.

If The Line was utter shit to play and you just had to grin and bear it throughout to get a story then that would justify the low scores (and let's be honest, the 7-9 scale reserved for AA and AAA titles is all too real - so anything from 70-79 constitutes a AA or AAA "failure"), but it's not. Well, I don't think it is. If anything I would cite Killzone and say that The Line too has its own unique feel to it. After finishing the first few chapters I couldn't find any faults with the combat. To the contrary, I thought it was superior to your average game. It felt realistic in a very good way: any hit on an enemy would stagger them, dust and sand being blown around caused confusion amongst the AI, and most importantly head shots were fatal, so the game encouraged you to play as calmly as possible to maximize efficiency to save ammunition (which dwindles easily). At times it felt like a call back to the great Clancy title Ghost Recon.

The difficulty curve was also well done: the first half of the game, while containing many frantic moments, is not too punishing; whereas the last 5 chapters are brutal and require precise use of your squadmates' and your own arsenal. And on squadmates, this is one of the only military shooters I've played where it actually feels like squad commands matter, and the best part is its pure simplicity: there are basically only 2 orders you can give: target an enemy or stun a group, but using both of these abilities is absolutely necessary.

Not only is The Line a completely above average shooter (an excellent one, I think), I'm genuinely perplexed as to what so many reviewers considered poor mechanics. The cover mechanics were not amazing but they were perfectly adequate. So in summary, not only was this a consistently provocative modern war game, it was consistently enjoyable to play in my opinion.

I'd give it a perfect score, for what it's worth. It's at least as good as the best Call of Duty games (1 & 4) and arguably better.

If being wrong's a crime I'm serving forever

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geggis
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May 23, 2013 - 3:45 pm
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Now take your thoughts on The Line and its critical reception (or aggregate of that reception), mix them with your thoughts on Bioshock Infinite and its critical reception and you'll see how totally fucked up game 'criticism' is. It's so horrible and skewed. Grotesque even.

I've heard few (reliable) people say anything ostensibly bad about The Line and you're the latest in a long line of people to uh, fall in line. (That's a lot of lines there). I shall be checking it out, thanks for the heads up!

Steerpike
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May 24, 2013 - 10:28 am
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This one is next on my list - I've had it for a while, played for 20 minutes and then got distracted despite really liking the opening helicopter battle, and like Gregg I've heard way too much positive from way too many people whose opinions I trust to let it be missed any longer.

Great reactions, xtal. You're the latest in a long line!

...And sad but true about the problems with ratings and criticism. Everyone praises The Line for depth and wisdom and theme and then gives it an "eh" rating. We've seen again and again that even bad games, which it sounds like The Line isn't, can be forgiven for a lot when they bring other things worth considering. Yet here we have what sounds like a very solid game whose only crime is not feeling like a $100M title. I can live with "not Gears of War solid" and "not Call of Duty polished" in exchange for what sounds like a tour de force of message, and further proof that games can make powerful statements.

Life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

Nick Collins
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May 24, 2013 - 10:15 pm
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I unfortunately did not get to finish this game while I had free with PS+ (subscription expired and I choose not to renew sigh)

 

FORTUNATELY I found it on Amazon (for Steam) for 9 bucks packaged with Bioshock 1 and 2 (steal of a deal). So I will be playing through this as soon as I am done with Bioshock Infinite.

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Synonamess Botch
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May 25, 2013 - 10:48 am
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Sweet deal Cross.

Xtal, the only real problem I had with the mechanics was that sometimes moving in and out of cover didn't work very well.  That's pretty much it.  To be fair, it took me much longer to get used to the controls in Gears of War (the mother of all cover shooters).  I also kept forgetting that the run button was a toggle, but that's not really the game's fault.

I think The Line's biggest problem is that it committed the sin of not trying to do what everyone else is doing in one sense, and (worse) sort of trying to do what everyone else is doing in another sense.  It tried to tell a compelling story in a world where third-person cover shooter means tacked-on story and a focus on multi-player.  It should have committed to all or nothing instead of straddling the line (sorry).  And for that it drew the ire of the herd.  Unfortunately, there was probably no way in hell that the developer would have been allowed to craft a single-player only game.

 

Rule #2: Double-tap

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xtal
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May 27, 2013 - 12:02 pm
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From what I know the devs didn't want multiplayer tacked on. And it's supposedly crap, but I don't know, nor do I care to find out.

My problem is that I think the game is so much better than it was portrayed as in the majority of reviews. Getting into cover was sometimes finicky, but I found it light years ahead of the cover system in, say, Mass Effect 2, a game that is one of the highest rated ever on Metacritic, largely so because of vast improvements in combat compared to its predecessor. Yet dozens of times I accidentally jumped out of cover and got myself killed. That happened no more than once in The Line.

Also, I think we have reached a point in the history of video games where a good amount of different generations have grown up, and grown in general, with video games and feel that their "mechanics" or technical aspects are becoming less and less important to the final verdict of a game. Even IGN have given up their long outdated "Presentation / Graphics / Sound / Gameplay" review model. Fallout 3 and New Vegas, certainly two of the buggiest and technically flawed games in recent memory, are also two of my favourites (several thousand people would probably agree). These minor, niggling characteristics are-- unless they seriously ruin experiences-- just another part of the game.

If being wrong's a crime I'm serving forever

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Synonamess Botch
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January 9, 2014 - 10:57 am
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I still occasionally run across negative reactions to this game, in which people deride it for speaking out against war and killing, all while rewarding the player for lots of both.  Again, I humbly submit that these people are missing the point.  I don't see the story as anti-war as such, or as trying to force the player to look at himself and see what a filthy, degenerate human being he is for enjoying some shooty-shooty.  This is a personal story of one man who lost his way (and more).  One of how easy it can be to delude oneself of the righteousness of one's cause.  Taken as anything more than that it would appear a failure.

And again, I reject the whole meta-game conceit of choosing to stop playing.  That whole idea is antithetical to art itself.

 

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xtal
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January 9, 2014 - 1:46 pm
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I agree with you wholeheartedly, Botch. The Line certainly doesn't have to be taken as a sweeping anti-war statement. Those undertones exist but that's unavoidable. I took it more as a story of the personal hell of this trio of soldiers, and specifically their captain (or whatever rank the player character was) as a response to their awful situation (war, which is obviously awful for all involved).

If being wrong's a crime I'm serving forever

Steerpike
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January 11, 2014 - 10:23 pm
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Those who trot out "the only way to win is not to play" arguments in conjunction with discussions on choice in narrative gaming have always struck me as a little naive. One of the points The Line makes is that the existence of choice isn't an assurance of parity. Sometimes all the choices are bad. Lack of choice (or all bad choices) can be part of the point, so people who squawk about Shadow of the Colossus have some other reason for not wanting to play. Same is true for The Line, which I agree, is not anti-war; it's anti-what-war-does. Everyone is anti-that. Except... like... Cheney.

Who knows, maybe the remarkable thing is that there haven't been more Heart of Darkness types of situations in the real world. After all, special operations by nature are "in the shit" way ahead of everyone else, and they often deal with the stuff nobody else wants to hear about. The Line challenged the bro-shooter, but the disturbing thing about it was how well it established that most of us are probably not qualified to do that job, despite what our Call of Duty scores suggest.

Life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

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