100th Review Special, Part 3: Thrashing the Threes

Whether it was through Schoolhouse Rock, De La Soul’s debut album, or the Planescape setting of Dungeons & Dragons, we were taught that three is the magic number. That is sort of the case here on Extra Life as well. Specifically, 3/10 is that highest score a game can get without me being able to recommend it. The main difference between this grade and the two that preceded it is that I can imagine people liking the following games in a non-ironic fashion. I would suggest several alternatives, but I can see why they would garner a fanbase, as there’s enough to like about them.

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Spec Ops: The Line

spec-ops-the-line

Introduction

In 1994, an independent video game development company named Zombie Studios was founded in Seattle, Washington. Around this time, one genre in particular was rapidly gaining popularity: the first-person shooter. However, the developers at Zombie Studios sought to go in a slightly different direction by introducing a tactical, third-person element to their games. Rather than blazing through as a one-person army, the protagonist would have squadmates to whom the player could issue commands. The game which resulted from this line of thinking was Spec Ops: Rangers Lead the Way. Debuting in 1998, the Spec Ops franchise later saw several releases on platforms such as the PC, Dreamcast, and PlayStation before coming to an abrupt end in the early 2000s before it could truly find its audience.

Many years later, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released, paving the way for a new subgenre of first-person shooters: the modern military shooter. These games differed from their predecessors in that they usually depicted entirely fictional conflicts between real nations. Due to a combination of superb marketing and critical acclaim from the press, the modern military shooter achieved a level of success and inspired several imitators much like 2D platformers did throughout the eighties and nineties. Many of the concepts introduced in Spec Ops were tailor-made for the modern military shooter such as the idea of working in a unit as opposed to being a lone wolf protagonist, but few predicted that the franchise would ever see a new installment nearly a decade after Airborne Division was cancelled. In 2012, another independent gaming company based in Berlin, Germany known as Yager Development rose to the challenge by releasing Spec Ops: The Line. By this point in history, modern military shooters reached a saturation point, with competing franchises featuring largely interchangeable gameplay despite having entirely different teams working on them. Despite the odds, Yager Development managed to stand out from the crowd, and achieve critical acclaim from various publications for its expertly written scenario. In a highly competitive market, being able to make your work distinct from that of your competition is no mean feat. How did Spec Ops: The Line manage to accomplish this?

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