As Walker's sanity erodes like a handful of sand caught in a breeze, his squad trusts him less and less. Likewise, you as the player will start to lose faith in him as well. He's no hero. And toward the end, as Delta's anger toward the city and its inhabitants boils over, the seemingly endless waves of aggressors start to seem less cognitively dissonant, and more like an intentional plot device; who's really defending against who? Who are the aggressors here? They're questions I asked myself more as the game progressed, and the characters themselves even questioned their own actions. If I'm going to give the writing any credit, I'd call it an intentional attempt to marry an intelligent story to a game in which three dudes kill hundreds, if not thousands, of trained soldiers and armed civilians in the space of not-very-long.
Admittedly, Spec Ops: The Line manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of other action games. Enemies don't taunt you as you're sending their teammates to the grave. They scream out tactical information to their allies, and, eventually, even start to express fear. "They're everywhere!" is a hackneyed phrase in gaming, but it's usually coming from the good guys, not the bad guys. Then again, the line between the two in Spec Ops is about as clear as your vision in a sandstorm.
But it's a damn shame that Spec Ops is coming out now, little more than a month after the release of another, extremely similar third-person shooter: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I can't help but compare the two, though each looks worse in the other's shadow.
Future Soldier has probably ruined me for third-person shooters for a while, at least as far as mechanics are concerned. Playing Spec Ops, I pined with alarming frequency for some of the more convenient advances that Future Soldier made. Things like an intuitive, fluid cover system, or the ability to mark multiple targets and have your allies take them all out at once. Spec Ops stumbles over these aspects of gameplay with sometimes clumsy mechanics that feel dated by at least a couple years. Often I fumbled when trying to snap into or hurdle over cover, and Lugo and Adams seemed to take my marking targets for them as more of a suggestion than an order. This is particularly frustrating during the occasional stealth segment. Even the simple ability to go prone on the ground, strangely lacking from Spec Ops, was sorely missed in both single and multiplayer.
Future Soldier, on the other hand (which I also reviewed), had the most atrocious story I've seen in a triple-A shooter in some time. But its shallow narrative was eclipsed by some joyfully futuristic gameplay. Likewise, I believe Spec Ops' stellar narrative more than makes up for its mechanical mediocrities, even if most gameplay sequences are simply an interlude between story bits.