Today, Spec Ops: The Line celebrates its tenth anniversary. If you do not know this game, you may be tempted to tell yourself that it is yet another uninteresting war TPS. This is what the players said to each other when the title was released… Unfortunate failure, Spec Ops: The Line has gradually regained its acclaim. Ten years later, it is one of the major titles in the history of video games. Back to the bitter failure that hides behind one of the legends of video games.
- The Spec Ops Series: Take-Two Failure
- Redemption Spec Ops: The Line
- From failure to legend
The Spec Ops Series: Take-Two Failure
In case you forgot it, Spec Ops: The Line is above all the reboot of a series that began in 1998 with Spec Ops: Ranger Assault. Developed by Zombie Studios, this TPS was intended to offer a shooter more focused on simulation, allowing you to immerse yourself with more realism in the daily life of the Army Rangers. For the time and the means of the studio, the work done to achieve this is quite impressive. In-depth research, motion capture with a special forces instructor, observation of real shooting training… And it pays off!
The feedback is positive and that’s good because the developers, confident, have already decided to continue their momentum. So that only a few months after the release of the game, an extension was released in the United States. But Spec Ops: Ranger Team Bravo does not really meet the expected success. However, the DLC introduces an expected multiplayer mode. But in a world where Rainbow Six and Delta Force exist, Spec Ops no longer compares. The servers are quickly deserted and the series enters an inexorable spiral of failures of all kinds.
Mike Suarez, executive producer of the series, got it wrong. He who saw the genre of military simulation as particularly fertile and virtuous ground obviously failed to find the right seed. And it’s not for lack of having given everything yet. Spec Ops will be entitled to no less than six games. In 2003, we even learned that Take-Two, then owning the license rights, entrusted Rockstar Games with a Spec Ops project, probably an ambitious reboot of the saga. It was even Josh Homme, the main founding guitarist and singer of the group Queens of the Stone Age, who had to take care of the music, just that. But now, the project is canceled in 2004 and definitively buries this series… finally that was without counting Yager Development.
Redemption Spec Ops: The Line
It all started in 2005 in a small Berlin studio that stood out in particular in 2002 with the aerial combat game Yager. But despite the relative success of the latter, it’s dead calm. To continue the adventure, they must reach an agreement with a publisher. And to do this, they rely on their little baby: Stealth Ranger. In this sci-fi shooter, the player finds himself at the head of a military squad on a mission in the heart of a devastated Dubai, half engulfed in sand. This project, the developers of Yager Development believe in it and decide to sell it to 2K, a subsidiary of Take-Two, in 2006.
The answer is immediate: it’s the game. The publisher, which then had Prey and Bioshock in the kitchen, was eager for shooting games with original scenarios. Suffice to say that with this experience taking place in the shadow of a Burj Khalifa under construction, 2K is under the spell. The contract is signed immediately, but on one condition: Stealth Ranger must enroll in the Spec Ops license. Deal accepted from Yager, who is starting to work on new gameplay for what will become Spec Ops: The Line.
After a few months, little Stealth Ranger has changed a lot. With an emphasis on discretion and wide levels, the Yager Development project is progressing rapidly and is gradually changing its face to become a real innovative triple A. To live up to its great ambitions, the Berlin studio must expand. From a few dozen, Yager Development has grown to a hundred employees, all focused on this major project which is progressing well. One point still remains unresolved, however: the scenario. Following the recent release of Bioshock which particularly marked the spirits at this level, 2K intends to give depth to this title in progress.
Walt Williams, who notably worked on Bioshock and Civilization IV, is sent to Germany to take care of the writing of Spec Ops: The Line. The idea was first to fully exploit the futuristic side of the title. But now, over the months, this prism becomes less and less original. Call of Duty-style FPS games are beginning to abandon old historical conflicts in favor of a more modern, even futuristic take on warfare. For Walt Williams, it’s clear, you have to find your “own niche” to stand out. That of Spec Ops: The Line will be the representation of the harsh reality of war.
Violence is not an empty and useless act. She leaves a mark on everyone, and that’s what we wanted to show
Walt Williams at GlobalESportNews
Inspired by Joseph Konrad’s book, heart of darkness but also the movie Jacob’s Ladder, Spec Ops: The Line is gradually becoming an experience that plunges the player into hell. In the shoes of Martin Walker, captain of the Delta Force team, the latter gradually discovers the atrocities committed by his comrades, but also by himself. Spec Ops: The Line is a war game that takes a step back and forces us to reflect on the violence unfolding before our eyes. Anyone who has tried it will probably forever remember the image of the desolation caused by the terrible white phosphorus. The developers’ strategy thus paid off. This representation, as original as it is powerful, profoundly marked the entire video game industry and erected Spec Ops: The Line at the gates of the Pantheon. But as often with great works, this recognition was only made posthumously.
From failure to legend
After seven years of development, the game finally saw the light of day in June 2012. The developers are deeply proud, but above all relieved. It must be said that these seven years have not been easy. To reproduce the harsh reality at play, the developers have chained images and other traumatic testimonies. The dark theme of the game influences the morale of the teams, their daily life, their nights, their family life… In addition, the scale of the title considerably lengthens the working time. The famous crunch particularly rife at Yager Development. And as if that weren’t enough, the developers are working with a Damocles sword hanging over their heads. Development dragging on and the project becoming more and more expensive for 2K, they fear that it will end up canceled without any other form of trial. This explains the relief of the teams at the release of the title and the categorical refusal to work on a sequel.
Because the development of the game was brutal and painful, and because everyone who worked on it would rather eat crushed glass than make another one. Moreover, it did not sell.
Walt Williams on his Twitter regarding the refusal to develop a sequel
As Walt Williams then evokes, Spec Ops: The Line is not a success. Despite its somewhat particular approach, the shape does not hold up to comparison. The gameplay is aging and the choice system less extensive than most narrative games. Despite good ratings (a Metacritic at 76), the title fails to speak to the general public. A year after its release, the title has not reached one million sales (770,000 copies sold only). In the midst of the multitude of shooters that exist, the TPS of Yager and 2K is struggling to stand out and this is partly due to timid marketing.
And the latter makes sense. Some before 2K tried to sell games highlighting the harsh reality of war. This was particularly the case of Shellshock’Nam 67, a shooting game in the middle of the Vietnam War. But too much to shock, whether in game or via its communication, the title turns out to be very bland once released and quickly falls into oblivion. But the most convincing example is of course Six Days in Fallujah. Konami’s shooter, wishing to portray the atrocities of the Second Battle of Fallujah, had caused considerable controversy at the time. It then seemed impossible for public opinion to produce such a game, so much so that as early as 2009, it had been cancelled. Suffice to say that, a few years later, 2K had every interest in not getting engulfed in the same type of controversy through too explicit communication. Note, however, that the Six Days in Fallujah project was revived recently and the title is also scheduled for the end of the year. In a way, we can say that it was Spec Ops: The Line that paved the way for him, making a point of view acceptable that was not before: call into question the validity of the military actions of the United States and elsewhere.
It is the message of Spec Ops: The Line and this constant questioning that it offers us that allowed the title of Yager and 2K to afford this posthumous reputation. Like an auteur film that can be understood with hindsight and time, the TPS, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary today, has finally won its place among the greatest. In our time, most players are familiar with this game, which however did not exceed one million in sales. And if this is not your case, we can only advise you to get lost there and thus discover this monument that no game has yet succeeded in dethroning on its land. Prepare your best fatigues because your adventure promises to be at least as tumultuous as the history of this memorable title.