Part 6: Chapters 11 & 12: Alone/The Rooftops - "Things To Do In Dubai When You're..."Part 5: Things To Do In Dubai When You're...
So, by this point, we're into the final act of the game, and things are slowly starting to come together, shuffling toward its inexorable end. I don't think there's doubt in anyone's mind anymore that Walker has only a passing acquaintance with sanity by this point, and the few vestiges he has are likely an act he's putting on - whether it's for himself or his men is an exercise for the player to indulge in. Instead, the question becomes a matter of 'when': at what point did the wheels come off his wagon? The smart money's on the WP incident, the most obvious point when his demeanour shifted and he started being fuelled by hate and vengeance, rather than justice and heroism. But what about before then?
Let's look at what we know about Walker before Dubai: John Konrad saved his life once in Kabul. As a result, he idolizes Konrad, calls him the greatest man he ever knew. It's suggested Walker doesn't like talking about the events surrounding that, but clearly, Konrad influenced him to become a better soldier, to the point where Walker has a pretty clear hero complex starting the game. So, something bad happened to him that necessitated someone else dragging his ass out a hot zone, but what? It's never stated in-game, but here's a scenario. It's purely extrapolated from what we've seen, so take it as you will, just hear me out on this.
Walker's on routine patrol with his men. Investigating a building suspected of being an ammo dump, they encounter a weapons cache. A big one. Only problem is, it's boobytrapped. Walker puts a call in to base and a demolition team is dispatched. Considering the size of the cache, Konrad comes along to oversee the situation. The bomb disposal guys head in, The situation is tense. One wrong move and the entire area goes up like kindling. Eventually, the call goes out: mission accomplished! One of the EOD guys comes out, waving triumphantly, carrying some of the recovered equipment in his hands. And that's when everything goes to hell.
The building suddenly explodes, vaporising the men inside. The cry goes out: there's an insurgent on the roof with an RPG! The world turns to flames as explosions and gunfire shatter the world. Walker's hit and blacks out immediately, the last thing he sees being the bomb disposal trooper cradled by arms of fire and napalm.
When he next awakens, it's on Konrad's back. By luck or circumstance, they're the only survivors. Everyone else is dead. Walker's evac'd back home to a military hospital where he assures everyone he's fine. He's a little shaken up by what he's seen - hell, who wouldn't be - but he keeps giving the right answers to the shrinks and assures everyone he just wants to be back out doing his duty. He doesn't see Konrad again, but he knows that this man is a hero. This is the man he wants to be.
Sounds like fanfiction, right? An attempt to explain away Walker's fractured psyche from a couple of lines near the start of the game, yeah? Okay, you got me. I'm making all this shit up. Just, do me a favour? Go back and watch the video for chapter 6/7. Pay attention to the scene with the first white phosphorus strike. Notice the bizarre, dream-like quality to the scene? See the Heavy, slowly striding out of the fire? See how he's a good two or three feet taller than everyone else and takes forever to put down? That sequence is arguably the first overtly strange moment in the game, the first that really stands out as creepy and surreal. There's toxic chemicals in the air, which can't be doing a body that much good and there's people suffering horrific burns left and right, but the way it's set up suggests to me that Walker had a traumatic experience in the past with an EOD crew. That's not the be-all/end-all of his psychosis, of course, but I think everything there was the perfect set-up to remind him of Kabul in ways he didn't expect. It wasn't enough to break him, but it set him up perfectly for the following events, and the assault on the Gate sealed it perfectly. The scene with the teleporting Heavy in this video is another example: what is it about Heavies that makes Walker freak out like this? Bullshit? Truth? You tell me, but it's something to think about.
(as an aside, compare that scene with this scene from Jacob's Ladder a.k.a. 'that film that Silent Hill ripped off repeatedly'. Doesn't the guy with the beard kinda remind you of Riggs? Funnily enough, it starts off in the Vietnam war and has a strong anti-war theme to it. What are the odds?)
Back to the here-and-now, the section we covered in the last video is probably my favourite part in the game. Yeah, large parts of it are a glorified turret sequence, but it's not entirely mowing down endless waves of foes, it's got a good, natural progression as you clear the way for Lugo and Adams to make their escape. It's exciting, it's thrilling and it's just plain fun! You actually feel like you're achieving something, and in a turret section, that's almost unheard of! Of course, this is Spec Ops, and we can't be letting you feel cool for too long, can we? So it's no surprise that we get the chopper sequence hot on its heels. In any other game, this would be our moment of triumph, the moment where we stop taking shit and start kicking ass! We've got infinite ammo, a gun that makes the bad guys fucking melt and we're just crazy enough to use it! Except no, we actually are crazy. And we're destroying probably the only lifeline Dubai has left. And it feels like we're ripping the wings off a butterfly, rather than making the bad guys pay. Trust Spec Ops to take your expectations, subvert them and twist them into something horrible!
And then there's Lugo. Poor, sweet Lugo. He started off making jokes and right from the first few minutes of the game, you could see his entire character arc stretching out before him: he's the funny guy, the smart techy guy who just happens to be deadly with a sniper rifle. You could see him learning a few lessons, growing up a little and, by the end, saving everyone's life at the very last second with a crack shot from the top of a skyscraper with a cheery wave and a cheeky wink. And then he executed a man in cold blood. So much for that theory. Look at that scene again: he cozies up to Radioman, who has all the demeanour of an armchair general - the kind of guy who talks about 'honour' and 'sacrifice' safe and sound several thousand miles from the front lines. He starts acting like his old self again and you think, hey, maybe we've got a shot at getting people out after all. Then he puts three rounds in the guy, but pay attention here, because he does something almost no one else in the game does.
He accepts complete responsibility for what he does.
Walker's spent near the entire game shifting the blame for what he's done. It was the 33rd, it was Konrad, it was the situation. Lugo doesn't. Whether he was right or wrong is another argument entirely, but he doesn't shy away from what he did. Hell, he looks like he's willing to trade blows with Adams over it. Does he have more of a spine, more strength of character than his comrades? Or has he finally become as corrupt and irredeemable as Walker has?
The last thing I want to talk about is a theme that was mentioned a few times in the thread. The game opened up with the helicopter sequence we finally see during this segment. It plays out more or less the same, except, at the start, Walker says "Wait, this isn't right, I've done this part before." Any other game, I'd write it off as Fight Club-style 'flashback humour', but, in case you've forgotten over the last six seconds, this is Spec Ops, and it's not that simple. The thread immediately jumped on this and the following scenes and suggested that, obviously, Walker is in Hell and this entire thing is an endlessly repeating punishment for him as he's doomed to fail again and again. Funny story, the devs have explicitly stated that this is one valid interpretation of the story. To quote Walt Williams:
Walt Williams posted:
"When you get to it the second time, Walker directly calls out that you've done this before," Williams said. "It's specifically designed so you would maybe read it as the prologue is the only part of the game where you're really alive, and you die in that chopper crash, and everything after that is Walker kind of working through his guilt and forcing him to go through with what he has done and face up to it. This is his own personal hell he is creating for himself."
Soon after, Walker has - and let's not beat around the bush here - an explicit vision of Hell, being confronted by soldiers he's killed, Riggs, the man who killed a city and, at the end, Lugo. But no sign of Adams. Is Adams the only one of the team, if not the entire goddamn city, who can be considered redeemable? Did Lugo's murder of the Radioman damn him once and for all? As he meets these shades, Walker only offers more excuses, but seeing Lugo pulled under is the only thing that he shows actual regret for, falling to his knees and reaching out for him. That's part of the tragedy of Martin Walker. There's still just enough of him in there to hate himself for what he's brought upon his men, but not enough to have recognised what would happen to begin with.
That said, that's only one interpretation of the story: it's not the ultimate answer to the game, if only for the fact that the game doesn't immediately rewind back to the start, seeing as how Walker's failed to learn anything so far. So whether you buy that idea or not, there's still more to look forward to.
For a given value of 'look forward to'.
Note: if this is too much of a wall of text for people, let me know, I'll break it in half.