But I'm getting ahead of myself. How about some basic set-up? Spec Ops: The Line is set in the present-day, in a world in which a sandstorm of Biblical proportions has turned Dubai into a playground for the crazy and violent. Captain Walker and his two lackeys, Lugo and Adams (collectively Delta Squad), are sent to Dubai six months after the catastrophe to rescue one Colonel Konrad (a nod to Heart of Darkness author Joseph Conrad). Konrad and his missing battalion, the Damned 33rd, were reportedly stranded there during an earlier evacuation attempt, though Walker and co. aren't really expecting to find any survivors.
To their surprise, though, they do find survivors, and they're engaged in a large-scale guerilla war. The natives, armed by the CIA, and the 33rd, now clearly very much a rogue entity, are battling for control of civilian survivors and resources (most importantly water). And for some reason, everyone, including Konrad and a darkly humored radio DJ, is out to put Delta Squad's heads up on spikes. It's a little bit Lord of the Flies, and even more so, Apocalypse Now (and, of course, the aforementioned Heart of Darkness, on which Apocalypse was based).
Dubai itself takes center stage, and the effects it has on its inhabitants are matched only by the effects its inhabitants have had on it. What was clearly once a thoroughly modern metropolis has become a scene of martial law and mass graves, though its beauty still shines through as you crouch on the edge of teetering skyscrapers and peer down into a world of sand and sin. The set design is phenomenal, and all that sand even comes into play; fairly often, a menacing group of opponents can be buried under an avalanche of sand with a few well-placed bullets. The cracks that appear in the windows of half buried buildings aren't just for aesthetic purposes.
One of the game's most touted narrative features leading up to its release has been the tension and dissension that arises between Walker, Lugo and Adams, and how the chaos of the kicked anthill of Dubai causes them to lose faith in one another. There are points at which you're asked to make choices, though it's literally never clear which is good and which is bad. There's no prompt to press "A" for this or "B" for that. These crossroads consistently add to the friction among Walker and his underlings.
But even more prevalent is the question of who's really in control. Who's pulling the strings? Is it the Radio Man? Konrad? The CIA? What about Walker himself? Delta Squad is, over and over, forced to do things that no righteous person should or would ever do. The atrocities of war, and all that. But where Modern Warfare 2's controversial "No Russian" (Google it if you have to) seemed like a poorly conceived publicity stunt, many of the dark events in Spec Ops are almost too plausible.