This is a game I feel has to be a part of every gamer's repertoire. It may not be your most favourite game or even a game you truly enjoy playing but I feel it is one that you would truly appreciate and find important to your gaming history, as it's well worth discussing and referencing with other gamers about the direction of gaming narrative for the future.
I was turned on to this game by recommendation of gamer's podcast Extra-Credits describing the game as "something unique" "to do something radically different that fills some other player need". The way James Portnow (and Daniel Floyd) described the game with a passion fully convinced me to buy the game immediately after the video and it is a decision I did not regret one bit and am fully thankful for.
This game may look generic from the cover-art, the set-pieces, gameplay, right down to the protagonist and his team. But let me assure you, this is nothing of the sort. The developers know that you're coming into this game with the expectations you always have for an action-shooter game and the developers don't do anything to change those perceptions when you start the game. What the developers do instead is strip everything you expected bit by bit to deal with the game's subject matter.
This game's subject matter may surprise you and it implements its gameplay mechanics in an extremely intelligent way to reinforce its ideas. You'll see some pretty generic and stereotypical mechanics such as slow time head-shots that seem to 'oddly' remove your enemies heads clean off. This is intentional. This is a game you need to have your thinking cap on and at least be paying attention to throughout or else you'll miss some important details. There are themes in the game that may not be so apparent or obvious at first but then when you think back, you'll realise what the journey was about (notice the direction you're heading in).
The game is littered with these metaphors to reinforce the narrative and to me this is a truly refreshing experience; to have gameplay not just be there for the sake of getting you from one event to another in entertaining fashion, independent of other aspects of the experience but as a way of actually telling the story (and not in the way HL2/L4D/Portal does by using the world and environment to tell the narrative). We're used to music being used as a device intertwined with a narrative to convey emotions and sway the viewers experience yet seeing this done with gameplay instead seems uncommon and a fresh experience. It is truly inspiring to see gameplay as a narrative device woven with the story in such a way.
No other game has ever done what this game did for me during my playthrough. It was a moment of pure enlightenment, an epiphany of what the developers of this game were trying to get across to me and succeeded as they smacked me right across the face with this idea. For a lot of players of Spec Ops, this might happen closer to the end when a certain line is said but for me it was far earlier. I was playing on the second hardest difficulty, "Suicide Mission", and for the most part I had been doing very well in it until a certain moment where I just hit a wall of difficulty. I was dying over and over and I was getting extremely frustrated but I kept trying because I was too full of pride to give up or lower the difficulty. At a certain moment when the pressure was too much and I was thinking of folding and giving up, the game did something unexpected on the continue screen. It's entirely possible that gamers will not experience this moment because they may not have died as many times as I did, experienced the game the way I did or seen what I had. Without spoiling the potential moment, I have never been so frustrated and angry at a game for killing me whilst feeling so thoroughly engaged and intrigued by it at the same time as to want to continue because you realise, that's the point.
There are arguable plot-holes in the game that could be seen as flaws or problematic to the narrative and whether intended or not, they do breed good hypotheses. I have seen perspectives and opinions put out there to explain them with some strong arguments to back up their ideas. I have some of my own and I think that's a great thing about the game. The fact that we can actually discuss it to death is a positive for the medium. This game requires the gamer to have the ability to think beyond the box.
Personally, "Spec Ops: The Line" is a game that must be played. It points the way to how games can actually be so much more than just an entertainment medium, it can be an artistic one; a form of expression. The game challenges the idea within the industry that games "have to be fun". It challenges developers to think about how their games can be done with a sense of maturity and intelligence as to reinforce the narrative with the mechanics of the game so that nearly every aspect of it is not just some tact on mechanic to meet some industry standard checklist but actually be put in the game to have significance and meaning. If there's anything I hope to do with this post, it is to convince you that this is a game you should try out and judge on your own experience regardless of my opinion, another and if you thought if it was for you or not.
FAIR WARNING: Where this game shines is through its single-player campaign. The multi-player is tact-on, probably publisher pushed, and not worth the experience because it's not what this game is about.