Most Unexpected Release of the Year – Grass Pants 2012 Retrospective Day Four

While I haven’t seen it all, I’ve been gaming all my life and have seen a pretty fair bit of it; as such, I’m always hoping that something comes up and completely blindsides me, just so I have something new to write or talk about. Thankfully, the fine folks over at Yager managed to pull off what, in my opinion, is the best unexpected surprise I’ve ever seen. Ladies’n gentlemen, Spec Ops: The Line is by far the most surprising thing I’ve had the pleasure of checking out in 2012 and I highly recommend you pick it up.

This wouldn’t be much of an article without explaining why Spec Ops deserves this. It’s just another grey’n’brown military shooter with a rugged, generic protagonist and a smartass sidekick, right? Wrong. This game is all about the… unique take, let’s say, on the narrative. So past this point, expect heavy spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line. Seriously, give this thing a shot before you read any more. The experience is at its best when y’go in blind.

Whenever people talk about this game, they always talk about the infamous white phosphorous incident (link contains graphic descriptions and pictures of the effects on humans). The scene places you, the player, in charge of launching that horrible chemical at your opponents from the safety of a computer screen. All you see is a bunch of white dots and the occasional vehicle, then you see a bunch of white dots huddled together at the end. Likely enemy soldiers, right? So you blast them, too.

Then, in a moment of utter, brilliant cruelty from the developers, you get to walk past the charred bodies and screaming soldiers. You get to see what you’ve done to these people up close. They aren’t white dots anymore, they’re begging for mercy. That’s not even the cruelest part of this scene. The bunch of soldiers huddled together? Those were civilians. The same people you came to save, clutching their loved ones, melted faces frozen in horrifying screams. Words don’t do it justice. This is something you need to play for yourself, preferably after you’ve forgotten all about what happens. I’ve never had to set a game down just to get away from it before. This scene made me do that, and that’s not the worst part of the game.

Later on, far after the incident, you’re attempting to work your way to the villain’s base. You may have forgotten it by now, even. A mortar is launched at you. The screen flashes. Everything is on fire. Burning figures, screaming just like the soldiers you shot with the stuff, are coming at you. And then it’s all over. You’re back in reality with the realization that Walker – and perhaps to a far, far lesser extent, the player – just got hit with an episode of shell-shock. Speaking as a person who has seen video of similar things (Station Nightclub fire; again, not something for the easily disturbed out there), that scared the hell out of me. Only now did I get how well-planned it was. The developers knew that, by this point, your accidental murders of dozens of civilians had probably faded from your memory. That hallucination brought it back, for you and for Walker. That, and a ton of other things that other people have said better than me, is why Spec Ops: The Line is the most unexpected release of 2012.

Anyway, that’s me done for now. Again, I cannot stress enough how much you guys should give this thing a shot; do yourself a favor, forget about what I wrote, and go in blind. It’s all about the experience. Anyway, I’ll be back tomorrow with my pick for best anime of the year. As always, thanks for readin’ and have a good’un.

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2 Responses to Most Unexpected Release of the Year – Grass Pants 2012 Retrospective Day Four

  1. John Sato says:

    That white phosphorous part actually annoyed the hell out of me. I saw the civilian thing coming as soon as I saw the massive group of people in the trench *not moving*. I was like, “Okay game, I see what you’re doing here. I’ve played enough of you to know this is the kind of thing you do.” My problem, though is that there was no clear way (if any way at all – the game itself tells you it’s the only option) to get out of it. If you open fire on the enemy *without* using the mortar, not only is it really hard already, but the game makes it *impossible* by having the enemy infinitely respawn. And if you *do* use the mortar, the game forces you to hit the trench, because if you wait too long the game *will* kill you, and you aren’t allowed to stop using it until you’ve hit the last target (the styker above the trench).

    Why couldn’t you *partially* use the mortar? Why couldn’t you just advance after taking out the soldiers in the immediate vicinity who were pinning you down? For the players that saw the civilian thing coming, they still have no choice but to hit the trench because the game makes them. That’s why this part was more irksome than anything else. All the emotional impact of what was happening had been sucked out by the game forcing me to do something a particular way, and it forced me to create an outcome I knew was coming and I would have preferred to have not happen. It was frustrating, especially after the game had given you an actual choice for a *much* less important thing (Gould). It actively refuted alternatives, forced me to see something through to grim completion when I knew the result, and expected me to retain my emotional attachment. You can have me do the first two, fine. Just don’t expect me to still do the third.

    All right, I’ll stop ranting. Anyway, I’ll keep playing and come back to read the second part of this when I’ve gotten further.

  2. One could argue something about WP:

    It was something along the lines of, even with best intentions, you don’t get through a war without doing something horrific.

    or it could have just been the fact that the developers wanted the less-aware people to be like ‘oh shit what have i done’ just to get them on that mindset for the second half of the game

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