Archive | September, 2012

Gamefly #3

23 Sep

Today, I’m reviewing two games, Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops, is a game that has two flaws: One, is that it’s only an okay game, and the other is that it’s trying to be Narrative Art, not Game Art.

Spec Ops is based on the short story, Heart of Darkness, the same story that Apocalypse Now was based. I say based on Heart of Darkness and not Apocalypse Now, because both derivatives attempt the same thing with different media. Apocalypse Now satirizes Vietnam movies and Spec Ops attempts to satirizes shooter games. In Spec Ops the main Character’s idea is the same one in every game. Go find the main bad guy by shooting through everybody else in his army, kill the bad guy after listening to his rant about how he’s only doing what had to be done and everything will be fine.

The setup is that Dubai is ravaged by a series of sandstorms so fierce that the outside world writes off the inhabitants, including the 33rd Battalion, an American unit under the command of Konrad. After several weeks a grim message is broadcasted on a loop, suggesting that, while things are bad, there might be a few survivors left. A small expedition is sent in under the command of the main character, who worked with Konrad.

You take over at this point. Heart of Darkness is about humans slowly losing their humanity under the stress and mental trauma of a horrible situation. In, Dubai, it’s a violent conflict that erupts because of your actions. As it turns out, several thousand people are still alive and an uneasy truce has settled in between the 33rd, now called the Damned and local insurgents backed by the CIA. You accidentally break the truce by firing on some locals and that touches off the struggle again. The insurgents are quickly destroyed but because of the CIA, the Damned think you’re with the insurgents and start attacking you. The main character wants to reach Konrad and believe the 33rd to have gone completely mad, setting up the classic shooter plot.

But unlike the normal plot, these people aren’t servants of the evil empire, they’re just Americans who tried to heroically save civilians, did some horrible things but did save many of them and then made the “mistake” of attacking you. Quickly, the main character’s actions surpass the brutality of the Damned until after dooming the entire city, setting innocent women and children on fire with white phosphorous and murdering countless 33rd soldiers, he, the last survivor climbs the tower to find that Konrad died when the original message was set out. There was no villain for him to destroy and in doing so redeem him from the violence he committed. The story ends there, except for a stupid, tacked-on ending scene where there was some other people were sent in and meets the main character and then he either goes with them, kills them all or dies trying.

The problem with the game is that the player is just a passive observer to the actions of the main character. In a tragedy, the idea is the tragic hero damns himself by his own choices and flaws, he could walk away or any number of actions, but pride or anger compel him  to keep going onward. While again, a game is not narrative art, the basic principle remains. The player should be the one who makes the mistakes and ruins everything. Take the infamous White Phosphorous attack. You stumble over a mortar loaded with WP rounds and only WP rounds right next to a big cluster of enemies to blow up. You do so but then afterwards you have to walk through the destruction you caused, including many civilians. You don’t get a  choice, the characters know they’re using it, comment on it and the game never gives you the option to refuse. The only thing you can do is turn the game off and walk away. It’s extremely poorly handled, as you don’t even really know why you can’t just take them all head on, like you’ve done before.

 

What needs to happen is that things need to be put in your hands. You need to be the one that makes the choice to kill the civilians or avoid killing them. You need freedom, to damn yourself or succeed in somehow fixing everything and magically save the day.

But it didn’t, and as it stands it’s just an average TPS with some interesting mechanics. The one that’s most interesting in terms of the game’s themes is the execution mechanic. When you knock an enemy down, by either shooting them non fatally or melee attacks, you have the options of finishing them off with a short cutscene. The methods used get increasing sadistic as the game goes on and your character suffers more and more. I think it’s clever and a great way of having game play build on story.

 

 

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