Spec Ops: The Line – Apocalypse Now
Specs Ops: The Line was one of the last generation’s single-player gems, but poor sales mean that tragically few people have ever actually experienced what might be one of the best stories in modern gaming. Following his experiences working at 2K Interactive and helping to write games such as BioShock 2 and Mafia II, Spec Ops: The Line was Walt Williams’ first gig as a full narrative lead, and boy did he nail it.
The story of Specs Ops: The Line follows Martin Walker and his squad of American Delta Force soldiers as they disobey orders in an attempt to neutralize a rogue US commander, John Konrad. Hunting the frenzied Konrad and his mutinous platoon amid the sand-covered Dubai on the brink of collapse, it quickly becomes apparent that the horrors of war have turned Konrad into a frenzied lunatic. But things aren’t quite what they seem; there’s one almighty twist at its conclusion that throws everything on its head, which we won’t spoil here.
For anybody that has played it, the parallels with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness are obvious. The rebel commander (whose name is rather blatantly a nod of the hat to Conrad), the psychological effects of war’s most gruesome realities, and erosion of the chain of command: all themes that comprise the narrative thrust of Specs Ops: The Line’s plot, and all lifted from that seminal piece of literature. Walt Williams wasn’t shy to explain the inspiration in his book, Significant Zero, as well as citing other works such as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket as helping to shape its story.
But The Line’s narrative deserves much more than being boiled down to rehashed ideas from other text. Williams absolutely achieved his intent to break new ground in video gaming; to better convey the horrors and realities of war that are so glorified in games, and without any context forces gamers to truly think about their actions. The Line does that wonderful thing that all great stories do: it makes you think about it long after rolling credits. Except for this time, unlike in film and literature, it was the consequences of your own actions and your foolhardiness that are left rattling around your head.