Spec Ops: The Line starts out as a by-the-numbers third-person action game, complete with all the standard bells and whistles: two guns, plenty of chest-high walls to crouch behind, two squadmates to shout orders at and a desert-based rescue mission to sink your teeth into.
Voiceover by Nolan North, helicopter gunship on-rails opening sequence, American soldiers wearing brown and grey fatigues shooting brown and grey fatigue-wearing dudes in a largely brown and grey environment.
Generic, in other words. As generic as it's possible to be without... well, I can't think of anything. If you can think of any way the opening section of this game could be made more generic, please, get in touch.
But that doesn't matter, because it's supposed to be generic. You're supposed to be comfortable with the tropes that the game dollops onto your plate like so much overcooked mince. The fact that you're killing people - American people, mind, which pretty much every piece of Western media tells us are worth far much more than anyone else in the world - is glossed over. You can knock through a hundred enemies in the first hour of play alone.
That's fine, right? All games have that. Even ones where you fight enemies that aren't robots or zombies and instead have lives and families and emotions and fear.
Then, like a kick in the teeth, it all hits you. The enormity of what you've done comes home in a single scene - I'm not going to tell you what happens on account of spoilers, but anyone who's played the game will know exactly which scene I'm talking about.
You're no longer a soldier. You're a killer. And you've killed so many people on the way into Dubai that the easiest way out is to carry on killing rather than think about what you're doing for even a second.
Walker, the central character, is instrumental in all of this. Changing from a good-natured Captain into an armed lunatic, his uniform and insignia obscured by sand, dust and blood throughout the game, he becomes something the player is steering rather than a friendly face for them to connect to the game through.
The madness of the slaughter breaks him, and the military trappings fall away - the orders, the patriotism, the duty. All the reasons for killing are taken from him yet he keeps killing.