Part 7: Adams - "Basilisk"Part 6: Basilisk
A while back, you may recall I posed a question: did the game peak with the WP incident. Not an unreasonable one to ask, considering the unfortunate tendency these days for games to blow their load with a major set-piece or story beat before the two-thirds mark of the game. With Lugo's death scene, I'm going to revisit that question: was the WP strike the major emotional moment of the game, or does Lugo's death have as much of an impact?
I'll be up-front here, there's actually a few things to... well, maybe not admire (saying you like a scene like this always feels weird), but there was some interesting foreshadowing leading up to this moment. Look at the scene again: Walker and Adams burst in on Lugo being strung up from some power cables. They shoot the rope and Walker tries to resuscitate him to no avail. We're then given the option to shoot the people or scare them off before moving on.
The image of soldiers hanging on a rope has cropped up several times throughout the game, most prominently with Konrad's test back in chapter 9. For me, the main one was the 'forest' of lynched soldiers back in chapter 7. You see the odd figure hanging from a lamppost throughout the game, but the sheer number of bodies here gives the impression that it's stopped being a spur-of-the-moment act of vengeance and started being business as usual.
Going back to Konrad's test, we have, once again, the image of a soldier hanging from the rafters. One of the options we have here, which isn't entirely obvious at first, is that we can shoot the ropes holding him and the civilian. Of course, that goes about as well as you'd expect - Konrad really doesn't play well with others - and the snipers just shoot both the soldier and the civvie anyway as they try to escape. I actually wonder if the rope thing is an Easter egg of sorts for the player to discover after seeing this scene. An Easter egg filled with a veritable abundance of C4, razor wire and warfarin, but an Easter egg all the same.
Back again to chapter 7, and we have Gould's death scene. Gould stops breathing after taking a hit during the fight with the 33rd, so a panicked Lugo tries desperately to resuscitate him. To begin with, I thought this was a subtle hint as to the fate of Walker's mission - that no matter what the team does, they will never be able to save anyone - and that interpretation does work nicely. With the events of this video, however, it's worth speculating if it wasn't intended to set up Lugo's death later on.
I think most of us were anticipating Lugo's death at some point or another. His promise to cover us during the escape from Radioman's tower had 'noble sacrifice' written all over it, so it was actually a surprise when he made it to the chopper relatively unscathed. Admit it, you were totally expecting him to catch a bullet on the helipad, weren't you. But no, he actually survives, so good for him! And when we see the next chapter is called simply 'Adams', well, it's fair to assume that someone's not making it out of this one alive. But then the writers pull a slight-of-hand on us and Adams somehow lives. I'm still not sure exactly why they would name this chapter after Adams, except to set up and subvert the expectation that he's the one who dies this time around. If anyone has any better theories, I'd love to hear them, simply because it's the one point I'm drawing a blank at.
And so we return to our original question: did the game peak early? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say no. This is the third of the major beats before the ending, the other two being the WP strike and the water convoy. The WP scene is brutal and is the moment that defines the game, of that, I have no doubt. I think the water heist isn't as effective because we've already been faced with the direct consequence of our actions in nightmarish detail. Thematically, it's great, and as a gameplay sequence, its definitely solid, but it falls into the trap of 'show, don't tell'. Granted, it's hard to directly show us everyone dying of thirst in a reasonable timeframe, and the Radioman's halting assurances go some way to helping, but, come on, it's like having Staind headline for Aerosmith - it's hard to follow up that kind of showmanship. Of course, you can always look at it the other way - they set you up with one of the most brutal scenes in gaming history, let you (comparatively) relax with the convoy, then beat you in the ribs with Lugo's death. Killing faceless masses is one thing, but hearing someone we've known and liked the entire game begging for their life, is a different kind of horror. Its the personal horror we've all felt but don't like to acknowledge: the fear that we can't protect our friends and loved ones no matter what we do.
Either way, it's hard not to be affected by Lugo's death, as cruel as it is. Adams has had his moments, but more than anyone, Lugo has been the moral centre of the group. Is it coincidence that, immediately following his death, we're given the choice to shoot or spare civilians? Possibly, but I think it shows that we're being given one last chance to show what kind of a man we are, if we're even a man after all. The voice of reason has been silenced, and there's really nothing to stop us putting a bullet in the head of every man, woman and child still breathing in this shithole. And if you buy into the 'Lugo as the player surrogate' theory, well, the game's just stared you dead in the eyes and unblinkingly told you in no uncertain terms that you'd be as dead as anyone if you were here.
Good intentions count for shit when you're bleeding out on the sand, after all.