Spec Ops: The Line brings Apocalypse Now to Dubai
Two terrified men dangle in the air. They've been bound, gagged, and left to hang from a metal overpass. On either side of the valley, at a distance, there's a pair of snipers, aiming at the prisoners with their high-calibre rifles.
The hanging man on the right was caught stealing water; the hanging man on the left was ordered to punish the water thief, and responded by executing his family. Now one of the two must die. And you? It's your job to choose who gets the bullet.
It's clear at moments like these that Spec Ops: The Line is aiming for maturity. It's a third-person shooter, and as such it's got all the gung-ho hijinks you'd expect from the genre: Roadie runs into cover, terse firefights, and skull-popping headshots. But when it's not asking you to deal with waves of gun-toting hostiles. The Line has a braver demand to make: it wants you to think.
"A lot of our inspiration comes from Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness, in terms of narrative, and also things like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon," says Denby Grace, executive producer at 2K. "You can draw comparisons with what those films did to war movies back in the '70s and '80s. They changed the stories that were telling about war movies. War movies before that were quite simplistic; they were still great - Kelly's Heroes, John Wayne war movies, stuff like that. But what these films did is they started telling personal stories about the soldiers in combat, and about how war can actually afflict someone, change someone, and really fuck with someone."
Apocalypse Now took the core plot from Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad's seminal critique of Western colonialism, and re-imagined the whole thing as a nightmare from the Vietnam War. Now Spec Ops transplants the story for a second time, unfolding in the ruins of near-future Dubai. After Roland Emmerich-level sandstorms hit the city, the US military launches an evacuation programme under the leadership of Colonel John Konrad. As the situation worsens Konrad refuses to leave, remaining behind as Dubai disappears in a whirlwind of sand. Several months later a trio of Delta Force ops are sent in to investigate, with the player assuming the role of team leader Martin Walker - voiced by Nolan North.
It's not spoiling much to say that Walker and his men soon find themselves confronted by a lot of angry men with guns. Spec Ops: The Line may be channelling Apocalypse Now, but in immediate terms it feels much closer to David O Russell's Three Kings – a film that successfully blended biting satire with action movie heroics. Yager Development's game has far less emphasis on black comedy, but there's certainly a similar juxtaposition of bombastic gunplay and (comparatively) sober reflection on the traumas of war.