I've actually been looking forward to writing this column. 'Cos sometimes I like to plunge myself all deep and warm into story analysis (pant pant) but I don't want to get too spoiler-y in Zero Punctuation because I talk fast and viewers might not have time to fling their breakfast cereal aside and hit the mute button. But now I can take the safeties off. So just to confirm, this column is only for people who've already played the Spec Ops: The Line story because it's spoilers ahoy. If you haven't played it, stop reading before it's too late. I don't care if you don't see yourself playing it anytime soon and want to read this anyway, stop reading now. You never know when you might win sixty bucks down at the dog track and suddenly are able to pick it up and then you'll hate the fact that it got spoiled for you. Last chance. Non-having played Spec Ops: The Line readers, you get to leave now. Go watch Unskippable or Moviebob or something.
Okay, now that they're gone, blimey, how about that Spec Ops: The Line story campaign, right? I mentioned in the aftermath of Shooter Season 2011 that after Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 it now seems to be somehow de rigeur to have the token 'shocking moment' in a realistic modern shooter, and Modern Warfare 3's childsplosion needs to take a good, long look at Spec Ops: The Line, because that is how you fucking do a shocking moment.
In many ways it was an inversion of the established shocking moment trope. Modern Warfare got into the habit of making a shocking moment that illustrated the ruthlessness of the enemy and the resources at their disposal. It's supposed to make you hate and fear them and get you fully pumped to ruthlessly cockslap countless numbers of them for the rest of the game. The Spec Ops shocking moment, contrarily, is designed to make you hate yourself, and fear the things that you are capable of.
But what makes it so effective is that you, the player, are accessory to it, and the game takes the sense of fun you might have had from doing it and shoves it down your slackened gob. It's a great illustration of how interactivity can enhance the feelings created by a story. Alright, here come those spoilers. As I'm sure you're aware because you'll have played through the Spec Ops story campaign by now or you wouldn't be reading this, the main characters need to get past a heavily populated enemy base, and, despite the protestations of one of their number, make use of a convenient white phosphorous mortar that burns all the enemy horribly to death.
While using the mortar, it cuts to the token modern shooter sequence in which you fire from above with a computerized targeting system that highlights all the enemies as white blobs. And funnily enough I remember saying about the Modern Warfare games that this sequence really illustrates the unpleasantness of it all, reducing thinking human beings to blips on a computer screen that you shoot at until they disappear. It seems Spec Ops agreed. At the end of the sequence you see a whole cluster of white blobs in one place, and think to yourself "Oh, that must be where the main bulk of the enemy forces are entrenched. Hideous flesh burning substances away!"
And then, as we all of course know, it turns out that that cluster of white blobs was a group of sheltering civilians. And then your NPCs yell at you and the most prominent victim is the hideously burned corpse of a mother clutching her young child.