By Shanuka Kadupitiyage Ceylon Today Features
Shooter games, be it first person shooters or third person shooters cater to a certain demographic. These games base their game mechanics on empowerment; satisfying the player's power fantasy of being the one man hero. The best example for this would be the now widely popular Call of Duty series. Call of Duty has managed to completely dominate this genre of games.
Thanks to millions of dollars backing up this product, each iterations of Call of Duty is always a step ahead, mechanics wise as well graphical wise. The huge marketing budget behind the title also gives it the extra edge. This is why a huge amount of action games continue to be drowned in this wave.
To remain standing against this force, rethinking the way we traditionally saw shooter games is necessary. By doing so, a game would be able to avoid being dubbed as a "Call of Duty clone" in the industry.
The developers at Yager Development at some point had realized these facts and had put their heads together and decided to use their comparatively small budget that wouldn't sink under Call of Duty's waves. The result was Spec Ops: The Line. This game was released in 2012 but had been under production since 2007. Throughout this time, the game was carefully fine-tuned to beat Call of Duty in the only department it could; narrative through story and narrative through mechanics.
In the game, the player plays the role of Captain Martin Walker, who is sent for a reconnaissance mission in a post catastrophic Dubai, leading a squad with him. Gameplay is actually not noteworthy at all, resulting in criticism for this aspect. The multi-player experience isn't memorable either.
The game truly shines because the gameplay mechanics are used to deliver narrative just as much as the story does. When the gameplay feels disjointed and sluggish; the player immediately notices that "something is wrong." The loading screens at first give helpful tips to the player but start to become hostile, even addressing the player directly, criticizing the actions performed during each mission.
The developers of Spec Ops knew that they couldn't beat the tide of shooter games. Instead they decided to show the player how mundane shooter games are, compared to real combat. To become a parody, a joke and thus revolutionizing what the industry had thought regarding the potential of such games. The player is given morally grey choices which will affect the mentality of the squad and yourself, enemy kills become more violent and the team becomes visually and verbally ragged over time. The team and the player character even start to have visual and auditory hallucinations.
However, two moments make this point completely evident. One is the "white phosphorous" scene where the player has to choose to detonate a white phosphorous bomb in the city, or not to. Choosing to detonate ultimately kill every enemy in the area but at the price of over 5000 civilians who are in the city. This scene itself made this game famous because you are shown the remaining bodies of the deceased. The other moment is at the end of the game where a character says, "The truth, Walker, is that you're here because you wanted to feel like something you're not; a hero."
Is this not a direct reference to the player, who plays shooter games to satisfy the power fantasy of becoming a hero? Spec Ops shines not for its graphical quality, gameplay mechanics or multi-player abilities. It shines because Spec Ops directly confronts the player and questions the player's reasons for playing shooter games. Something very few other games have accomplished. This fact alone is enough reason for anyone to play this game.
(Pix courtesy theinsatiablegamer.com, seandoesstuff.wordpress.com and ign.com)