Spec Ops: The Line (360/PS3/PC)
Publisher: 2K Games
Release date: June 26, 2012
There's been some discussion this year about "dumb" games, including the notion that coating a "dumb" game in a smart story doesn't make the game itself any less dumb. From the first time I played Spec Ops: The Line, it was clear that this game has an extremely smart story, something that was underlined in my earlier conversation with the game's lead writer, Walt Williams. But what about the game itself?
Spec Ops: The Line is undoubtedly a third-person shooter, and a fairly standard one, at that. Despite a mostly stellar script, whatever thoughtfulness is expressed by its characters in between firefights and during cut scenes sort of goes out the window when they're literally making people's heads explode with boots and bullets.
But make no mistake: unlike in most games, Spec Ops' protagonist, Captain Walker, and his two squadmates are certainly affected by the carnage. They're not Uncharted's Nathan Drake. They don't walk away from these encounters unscathed, either physically or mentally. But it's the mere fact that by themselves, these three individuals are able to defeat swarms of armed and presumably equally-skilled enemies that makes the entire experience somewhat dissonant. It's one thing for Batman to take on crowds of thugs in Arkham City, but just once I'd like to play a shooter in which the main character doesn't feel like a superhero, regardless of whether he or she actually is one.
Perhaps purposely, perhaps not, the game itself once quite forthrightly explained the concept of "cognitive dissonance" on a loading screen like a super-relevant, sentient dictionary. It read, basically, "cognitive dissonance: the state of simultaneously holding two conflicting beliefs". The concept has plenty of bearing on the plot, for reasons I won't give away, but it also described my mental state while playing.