Spec Ops: The Line reminds me of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. Besides the German connection, Spec Ops: The Line and Funny Games both pretend that they’re making you complicit in the sociopathic behavior that their creators put up on the screen, whether it’s the movie screen for Funny Games or the TV or desktop screen for Spec Ops: The Line.
I wouldn’t be too surprised if Funny Games was an influence on the making of Spec Ops: The Line. Probably more of an influence than the shameless Joseph Conrad/Apocalypse Now cribbing. The Naomi Watts remake of Funny Games was a blip on the American radar, but the original Funny Games was a much bigger movie in Germany.
Yager Studios is German and they take the Funny Games premise further. Instead of just forcing you to sit through a movie, whose antics somehow make you complicit so that the viewer is the real villain, they force the player into engaging in sociopathic actions to indict him as a sociopath.
A Youtube comment summed it up perfectly
Game: Shoot those civilians!
Player: Do I have to?
Game: SHOOT THEM GO THERE’S NO OTHER OPTION
Player: Ugh fine, whatever keeps this trainwreck of a game going
Game: You’re an asshole, look what you did, killing civilians! You’re a horrible person.
Player: Wait what?
This is cynical bullshit, whether it’s coming from Michael Haneke or Yager GMBH. When Funny Games came out, I wrote that…
Funny Games is basically Last House on the Left with the exploitation wrapped up in a spurious condemnation of the audience. The torture and murder of the family in Funny Games serves no real purpose except for an overprivileged filmmaker to film snuff and then decry the audience’s desire for it.
Spec Ops: The Line is the same thing all over again. Do some sociopathic things. Get a sarcastic lecture from the developers who created the mousetrap for doing it. Watch them pretend that the whole thing is really an exploration of the military mindset and following orders.
And there’s one more thing that Funny Games and Spec Ops:The Line have in common. They both suck. Funny Games was weak as a movie within its genre. Players have pointed out how poor the gameplay is in Spec Ops: The Line. Spec Ops: The Line and Funny Games don’t work within their genre, only as manipulative critiques of it. They’re failures as everything but commentary.
Unlike a movie, a game can create true options. But Spec Ops: The Line, like Dragon Age II, only offers the illusion of choice. Whatever happens, you’re still a mentally ill monster. Your only options are to do the Fight Club “Shoot your alter ego in the head” thing or go completely insane. And then either go home or fight it out by becoming the new Konrad. Those aren’t options, they’re the developers showing off how clever they think they are.
For a game to have true moral choice, the player has to be able to make those choices. Spec Ops: The Line, like Funny Games, doesn’t allow any meaningful choices that would alter what happens in Dubai. And so it has no credibility when assigning responsibility to the player for choices that didn’t exist.
The only real way to win at Spec Ops: The Line or Funny Games is not to participate. And that means not buying the product.