Spec Ops: The Line [Review]

By James Hawkins in Reviews
Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm
The first dead person I saw fell out of a busted up car. He wore bloody US military fatigues and landed in the middle of the road that led us from the outskirts of Dubai to the heart of the city. My team and I took turns inspecting him.

"Body looks fresh."
"Even worse, he's 33rd." He was a soldier that had gone missing.
"Who did this?"
"Probably the same people been ghostin' us."

And soon those same people arrived and began shooting their guns at the three of us standing there.

The first person I killed had been yelling at me. He was pointing at us, fierce with his native tongue, and stood beneath the vaulted wreckage of a turned-over bus. The bus was bloated with sand, and drooled like a sick child. I shot the bus and it vomited sand on him. A few more men slithered from the rubble and I shot them before they could avenge his death or maybe protect a huddled family just beyond where we volleyed bullets. No one ever bothered to tell me why they were so angry. I kept walking and shot every angry person in the head until I was alone with my squad mates and the headless forms of more dead bodies because no one bothered to tell me why I had to kill them. I just had to.

I didn't know anyone when I walked into Dubai, except for the men who were instructed to walk at my side as we searched for answers and the missing battalion. Every person I met there seemed to have forfeited all sense, and when they saw us they shot their guns at us. When their guns went off, I shot bullets into their heads, and I threw grenades and turned them into pink clouds of fat and insides that wouldn't bother me anymore. Sometimes I killed them when they noticed me, and sometimes they weren't looking and I was quiet and I killed them before they got the chance to do something. I killed them probably before they got the chance to do a lot of things.

When my boots first hit ground, the city looked like it had a lot of hurt in it. I made my way down tough streets and stumbled and clung to short walls. Everything was covered in sand from a terrible disaster, or covered in blood and body parts from a terrible disaster. When we reached the top of a blown out skyscraper, my two squad mates and I looked over the once-palatial metropolis and could see nature's nascent, insistent return to form. It had long been kept at bay by mankind's sturdiness and those who lived there during this sandy reclamation did everything they could to aid the Earth in returning it all to dust. They did so by killing each other and blowing things up. I helped them kill each other and I helped them blow things up, too. I really didn't have a reason not to, in fact I was compelled to. And I realized very quickly that the place wasn't full of hurt. It was full of death, and that death was void of hurt. It was all just plain ugliness and their deaths were cosmetic. Mine would be too if I didn't kill them first.


Some people feel bad about what they do. Some see moral choices like Rorschach pattern tests, as inconstant nebulae culling different answers from different people. I just know that I always have a simple choice. I can be immoral if I kill one man, and I retain my morals if I do right by that man. "Do right by" usually means killing another man, but what's really moral when the gun is pointing at your head?

You see, death is a mouthpiece. It can distill volumes of utter finality into short, searing words. It can tell us the last thing we ever want to hear. It isn't sad because it makes someone ugly, but because it takes away their future. And their future, too, from everyone else.

But here, death opens its dumb mouth as a simple, slurred retort to the pull of a trigger. I can look at one person and make them ugly, and when they are ugly, I will know they are dead. I can't see their ugliness taking the place of a lifetime's good health and happiness. I just see the contortions of normal looking faces and limbic systems. Here, in ransacked Dubai, the voices of death are in the hundreds, and so awash in drab that I can't make out any one of them. The voices who haven't spoken yet can still tell me nothing. And so I just make them all ugly.

This review based on an Xbox 360 copy of Spec Ops: The Line provided by 2K Games

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