2K Explains Why Spec Ops: The Line Was Delisted
And it likely won’t come back.
As video games age and console generations fade into history, it becomes harder and harder to play the experiences that have defined the medium. The latest victim is Spec Ops: The Line, which as of Tuesday has been delisted on Steam, with other PC platforms like Fanatical now following suit. It’s another case highlighting the importance of video game preservation, but this one hurts especially because of the impact of Spec Ops as a piece of interactive art, made even more important by how the game’s heavy themes feel more relevant in 2024 than ever.
Inverse reached out to 2K and received the following response from a 2K spokesperson.
"Spec Ops: The Line will no longer be available on online storefronts, as several partnership licenses related to the game are expiring.Players who have purchased the game can still download and play the game uninterrupted. 2K would like to thank our community of players who have supported the game, and we look forward to bringing you more offerings from our label throughout this year and beyond."
From 2K’s response, it seems like the licensed music is the root of the game being delisted, as Spec Ops utilized songs by Jimi Hendrix, Alice in Chains, and more. Perhaps someday we could see some sort of remaster of Spec Ops, but even that defeats the intent of the original game.
Originally released in 2012, Spec Ops: The Line on PS3 and Xbox 360 looks like a bog-standard third-person shooter at first glance. What’s brilliant, however, is that the game is deliberately designed to feel like your average shooter, with all the brown and grey aesthetics the genre was known for at the time.
You play as military man Captain Martin Walker, part of a three-man United States task force sent into Dubai in the wake of an environmental catastrophe. Walker’s team is on a mission to find U.S. forces that have vanished, but step-by-step through the story, the layers get peeled away.
Spec Ops takes heavy inspiration from films like Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, applying those themes in a more interactive setting. As you make your way through the story, Walker’s sanity starts to slip, as he’s confronted with the horrors of military conflict and the knock-down effect it has on innocent people caught up in the conflict. Then, of course, there’s the game’s infamous White Phosphorous scene, where the player themselves inadvertently uses a chemical weapon on a group of civilians. It’s an utterly bone-chilling scene that really drives home Spec Op’s narrative themes.
I could spend the whole day going into the intricacies of Spec Op’s story, and there have been countless articles over the years that have done just that. But in the heat of popularity for shooter like Call of Duty, Spec Ops came out and asked heavy questions about the nature of conflict, how the medium revels in gore, and what it means for us to consume those ideas as “entertainment.”
Back in 2012, it was unprecedented to see a military shooter seriously tackle these kinds of narrative themes, and it’s even still rare to this day. In a post on X, creative director of Spec Ops: The Line Cory Davis said the delisting made “no sense.” In that post, Davis says the game’s themes are more relevant than ever today. That’s entirely true in the face of ongoing conflicts across the world, on top of how games like Call of Duty and Battlefield are more popular than they’ve ever been.
Preserving games like Spec Ops: The Line is crucial for the gaming industry, both as a cultural touchstone and inspiration for future developers.ccccc
So much of Spec Op’s identity and theming is wrapped up in feeling like a generic shooter, complete with muddy visuals and clunky controls. It’s the definition of being a product of its times, and while the world has massively changed since 2012, being able to go back and experience the context that Spec Ops provided is vital.
No matter how you slice it, Spec Ops no longer being available for purchase is a bad thing. It’s one of the medium’s essential pieces of “required reading,” right up there with the likes of Shadow of the Colossus and Metal Gear Solid. It’s a vital piece to understanding how video games grapple with the morality of shooters based on real-world events, and the fact it can vanish just like that highlights the ongoing preservation problem video games face.
Spec Ops: The Line can still be purchased on the Xbox Store and is backward compatible.
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