Spec Ops is even slightly meta at points. A snarky radio DJ asks Walker whether he's played too many video games, and when the story catches up to the flash-forward opening sequence, Walker remarks that he's done this before, to the confusion of his squadmates. And as Walker's sanity became ever more questionable, the events of at least one scene even changed from one death to the next. Walker is phyiscally mutilated by the end—a minor detail, except that most game protagonists don't even sweat. And without giving away any spoilers, the final scenes are no bombastic boss battle or balls-out action set piece. They're conversations between people, of all things.

Oh, and the colors. Never before have I seen such exquisite use of color in a video game. From the luminous blues and oranges of the skyline to the deep, hellish red of later sequences, Spec Ops possesses a visual flair rarely seen in this genre of washed-out and undersaturated lookalikes. The soundtrack is equally competent, with the Radio Man spinning classic rock tunes with a Full Metal Jacket sense of timing. At other times, ambient tracks always fit the mood and enhance the experience.

Where Spec Ops likely won't hold up is in its multiplayer, which I admittedly only got to play for an hour or so. It's got all the tropes of a modern competitive shooter: multiple classes, custom load-outs, weapon and perk unlocks, challenges, and so on. And despite my complaints, if the gunplay is solid enough to carry the entire campaign (and it is), it can surely hold up in multiplayer. There's even a two-player co-op mode that's coming soon in the form of free DLC. It's just that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier does it so much better.

But for gamers looking for a thoughtful yet action-packed single player experience, Spec Ops is undoubtedly the 2012 summer blockbuster of gaming. Despite early similarities to Apocalypse Now et al., the narrative follows its own, unpredictable path. Much like Dubai under all that sand, Delta Squad and especially Walker are forced to their breaking points by the weight of all their deeds, both intentional and unintentional. It's dark and gritty, and none of the whopping six endings I experienced could be described as happy. But as Colonel John Konrad puts it, there's a line that men like him and Walker have to cross. No one said it would be pretty.

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