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Spec Ops: The Line 1

I like blood and guts. Part of that, I have no shame in admitting, comes from my gib-tastic experiences playing Quake and Half-Life as a kid. Another part of me isn't quite as juvenile, however. It yearns for maturity in video games and to see them taken more seriously as an artistic medium, but it still wants more pixilated viscera.

For example, games like Half-Life 2 and Grand Theft Auto IV reward you with a humorous display of ragdoll physics after you shoot a baddie with a rocket launcher. The recently deceased goes flying across the terrain, but where’s the meat? A guy who’s just been hit square in the chest with a rocket launcher should have his entrails strewn all over the place, an arm here and a leg there, and a severed head in the gutter.


Call me psychotic or sick, but this has always bugged me because it’s not realistic. And yes, I know we’re talking about video games where protagonists carry entire arsenals on their back and aren’t hindered in the slightest, but that’s one of the things you accept when you play.

GTA4 antihero Niko Bellic can walk around with a rocket launcher in broad daylight and not a single person cares. Super Mario can become a giant by eating mushrooms. Leon Kennedy has to work his way through Raccoon City instead of just jumping over one of the numerous chain fences and making a break for it. You have to accept these conditions for the game to be fun.

But making the choice of not having gore in an M-rated game where you’ll tear through legions of enemies or even innocent people has a quasi-disingenuous quality. It’s a barrier that keeps us from being horrified or taking delight in the violence we’ve committed on these virtual entities. The whole thing reminds me of old action-adventure/Western movies where you'd see bloodless gunfights. Shootouts aren’t supposed to be without blood, and making that design choice, to me, cheats the gamer.

Yager Development didn’t cheat the audience with its tactical third-person shooter Spec Ops: The Line. I spent a good deal of time making my enthusiasm for Spec Ops known to my friends and fellow players. It's a dark, violent game where you take on the role of an unlikable protagonist who makes horrible decisions that get people killed in gruesome and horrifying ways. The gameplay itself is pretty macabre as well. Heads get shot off. Bodies get blown up. Torsos get hit with grisly bullet holes. You know, the works.

But I never took joy in any of it, and I think that's the point. Spec Ops spends a good deal of its time grabbing you by your neck and shoving your face down in all the atrocities you’ve committed. Even your squad mates begin to hate you, spewing profanities in your direction amidst the action, and they have a right to hate you. You, after all, turned them into murderers.

The experience is designed to make you feel bad, and I fucking loved nearly every second of it. I understand how a number of gamers would find that manipulative and too in your face, but in all honesty, it’s no more manipulative than some of the twists in current-generation classic BioShock.

Spec Ops doesn't just push the limits of what can be shown on the screen. It also tests the limits of the player. Just how much can you handle before you start feeling like complete shit, and what does that say about you as a person? To have a game like this not feature gore at all would be a fatal mistake.

That’s artsy gore used effectively. Let’s switch gears and talk briefly about gore that’s just plain fun.


It wasn’t until the second mission of Dishonored that I realized just how much I’m in love with this release. I was going through a stealthy playthrough using a combination of main-character Corvo’s super-duper chokehold and sleeping darts. I came to a street with three patrolling guards, and I managed to knock the first one out and hide him in the sewer gutter. The second guard went down with a sleeping dart, but I was too slow when I grabbed the body. The third guard returned from his patrol way too quickly, and I had to make a retreat. What’s an assassin to do but simply throw the body down into the gutter? 

As I descended into the sewer, I heard a SPLAT sound that would have been fairly humorous if it hadn’t scared the crap out of me. I walked a little farther down to find the goon I had dropped was dead, like, really dead. I laughed my ass off for a good minute or so.

Not only is Dishonored designed in such a way to account for an enemy’s fall damage, but my poor little guard had also smashed his head on the ground, resulting in a goopy, bloody splatter effect. I didn’t even bother reloading my game. I just stormed the front of the building and cut everyone to ribbons. Every now and then I’d hack off an arm or decapitate some fool who was stupid enough to bring a flintlock to a sword fight. After the first wave of fighting was done, I picked up the severed heads and used them as a distraction device to lure guards within the building into my shadowy little corner of doom.

My point is simple. Gore is immersive, just like the radio stations in Grand Theft Auto or the snow in the original Max Payne. And I don’t think anything is wrong with wanting to see more gore in titles, especially when certain offerings don't have any when they should.

Let me know what you guys think about games and gore in the comments section.