Remember when the Spec Ops series was just a poor man’s Delta Force/Rainbow Six? Ever since its 1998 debut, it was little more than a series of fairly solid, if forgettable, budget-priced Playstation, PC, and Dreamcast tactical military shooter games. That all changed with 2012’s Spec Ops: The Line, which was the first game in the series since 2002’s Spec Ops: Airborne Commando. You would be forgiven for dismissing it as another Call of Duty-esque military blastfest, however, if you do, you’d be missing out on one of the smartest games of this past console generation. While on the surface it’s no different from other cover-based military shooters on the market, Spec Ops is a deconstruction of the military shooter genre, a commentary of violence in video games, a look at the effects of PTSD on soldiers, and even a take on American interventionist policy.

Spec Ops takes place in a Dubai that has been hit with a brutal sandstorm. A regiment of army soldiers known as the 33rd Infantry, led by John Konrad, were sent to assist with evacuation of the city. However, after contact with the unit is lost, a three-man-squad squad of Delta-Force soldiers led by Captain Martin Walker (the player), who served under Konrad in Afghanistan, is sent in to confirm their status, radio for evac, and nothing more. Then things slowly go downhill. Without spoiling anything, lets suffice it to say that things are not what they seem. You’re not fighting terrorists or Al Queida; most of your targets are U.S soldiers. Moreover, you’re not in Iraq, Afghanistan, or some other Middle East hotspot. You are in what was once one of the most economically developed places in the world, and is now a living hell for its residents. A plot twist midway through the game forces you to question everything that’s going on, and a reveal towards the end will make you think about your actions.

The gameplay is solid, as you can move, shoot, take cover, and even give orders to your squadmates at times. There are sections in the game where you can even use the environment to your advantage, such as burying enemies in the sand by shooting out a window. It’s pretty nice to have in the game even if it feels a bit pasted in. It would have been cooler if there was more environment destruction i.e Red Faction so these segments would be more natural. The enemy AI is also on point, as enemies will use various tactics against you. However, it isn’t the gameplay or AI that make this game stand out. If not for the game’s Apocalypse Now-inspired story, it would be another me-too third person shooter offering nothing special. Even the multiplayer mode seem like an afterthought. It may as well have been, since developer Yager Development revealed they didn’t want to add in multiplayer.

Spec Ops: The Line can best be described as a military shooter for people who hate military shooters. While it seems to have many of the elements you would associate with Call of Duty, what the game actually turns out to be is a piece of gaming-as-literature on video game violence, PTSD, moral choices, and the power fantasies that tend to show up in gaming. In fact, with the number of ways fans have interpreted its plot, I would say it has more in common with Silent Hill 2 than Battlefield. In fact, university professors could have their students write term papers centering around the game’s plot.

By the way, if you’re a PC gamer, you got 3 days to pick up this title (along with various other 2k Games such as Xcom, Bioshock Infinite, and The Darkness 2) for as little as 9 as part of the current humble bundle. Get some great games and donate something to charity while you’re at it!