Also available for Xbox 360, OSX, Linux, and Windows
This game is a fucking work of art. Let's get that out first and foremost. This isn't something you play so much as something you experience, and I don't mean that it's an interactive movie or visual novel or anything. The gameplay is a straightforward third person shooter. What I mean is that this game will sit with you and really force you to reflect on what it is you just experienced. I might be a little biased since I really love any narrative that forces you to confront the ugly parts of reality, but I really do think of this as to video games what Heart of Darkness (of the inspiration is very, very clear if you've read the book) or The Killer Angels are to literature.
Parts of this will be in spoiler tags to avoid spoilers for those who have yet to play the game but want to in the future (either coincidentally or as a result of my glowing praise). The game starts off with your character and two fellow Delta Force operatives being deployed to Dubai, United Arab Emirates for reconnaissance following transmissions from a lot US Army battalion that redirected to Dubai following the end of their mission in Afghanistan to assist with evacuations. The reason that Dubai is being evacuated is because record setting historic sandstorms have destroyed the city, cutting off supplies and forcing the UAE to declare it a "No Man's Land."
The subtle point of the entire game is force you to question both how you look at war as well as how you look at war in video games. You witness unspeakable atrocities and war crimes justified as being necessary for one reason or another (self-defense, for example), but you're really forced to look at the reality of what you or a non-player entity did in the name of necessity.
BE WARNED; THERE BE
There are two examples that really stick out to me more than any other. The first is the now infamous white phosphorus attack. You come across this courtyard swarming with hostile soldiers, and your character decides that the only hope your team has of getting through the courtyard alive and proceeding with your mission is to use a nearby mortar with white phosphorus shells (WP being a chemical weapon that creates a dense white smoke cloud with incendiary properties, ensuring that pretty much anyone caught in its area of effect suffers an agonizing death by immolation). You find out that what you thought was a cluster of enemy soldiers in an encampment was really a group of nearly 50 refugees - mostly women and children - who were being sheltered by the soldiers you were attacking. You're forced to walk through the courtyard slowly and both see and hear the slow, painful deaths of the soldiers as they burn alive, and the game forces you to walk through the innocent civilians who burned to death because of your actions.
The other example is towards the end of the game when you're trying to save Lugo following the helicopter crash. You try to get to him as quickly as possible, but you arrive in a sort of makeshift refugee camp with refugees surrounding the gallows they've used to execute him, shouting what I assume are (well earned, by this point) anti-American cries. Your character shoots the rope and tries to resuscitate him, but by this point, he's already gone. Now, in fairness, the game gives you a choice here; you are able to refuse to open fire on the crowd, but the game strongly encourages you to give in to the primal urge to avenge your friend and comrade via your surviving ally's insistence that you "give the word" to authorize him to open fire on the civilians. Wanting to experience the full horror that this game tries to show players, I made the ethically unconscionable choice to mow down as many civilians as I could to avenge your friend, and it makes you suffer for it. You hear the screams of your victims as they die trying to flee from shots to the back.
OKAY, SPOILERS ARE OVER
Towards the end, the game makes damn sure you get what it's trying to tell you, too. Loading screens will have messages such as "This is all your fault" and "The US military doesn't condone the killing of unarmed combatants, but this isn't real, so why should you care?" If memory serves, one message reads "They're all dead because of you," although I may be confusing that with a line of dialogue from the game.
Of course, with that last point, I still love horribly gory video games, but I have to admit, it felt so REAL in this one that it made me uncomfortable to play this game the way I play most games. They really did to an excellent job of humanizing the civilian NPCs in subtle ways. The other questions, though, are worth asking. Speaking as an American, we've spent decades justifying unspeakable acts by saying that it was necessary to ensure either our own security or the security of the world or our allies. I'm not trying to pass judgement on that one way or another (I'm just here to review a video game), but it's worth asking if our justifications for such things are truly justified or if we're just rationalizing the unforgivable.
This is one of those games that I think everyone needs to play for the emotional and psychological impact the game has (I say similar things about The Last of Us). This isn't your standard Call of Duty romp through a Middle Eastern combat zone, though. This game sets out to make you think and feel, and at least for this player, it succeeded. Be warned - this game is not for the light of heart or emotionally fragile.
BONUS TRIVIA - This game is banned in the United Arab Emirates due to its destroyed depiction of the city of Dubai.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.