Highly-regarded third-person military shooter Spec Ops: The Line has been removed from sale on Steam and other digital storefronts, and nobody seems to know why—not even the game’s designer and director.
Spec Ops: The Line came out in 2012. It didn’t sell especially well—it was a decent third-person military shooter dropped in among games like Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 2, and that’s a tough spot for any game—but we still talk about it today because of the story. It’s a Heart of Darkness-style road to hell that dives headlong into the horrors of war and the trauma it inflicts on soldiers and civilians, with moments (one in particular) that make Modern Warfare 2’s infamous No Russian level look almost quaint.
It’s not entirely successful in its ambitions, because the linear nature of the narrative takes some vital moments of choice out of the players’ hands (we dug into that aspect of the game a couple years after it came out, although note that there are some major spoilers), but it is undeniably an important videogame—after all, as I said, we’re still talking about it.
Anyway, the bottom line is that it’s good and you should play it if you’re into military shooters—but that’s going to be tricky right now because it’s no longer available on Steam. The delisting was noticed last night by Wario64, and it’s subsequently been removed from other storefronts including Fanatical and Gamesplanet—although, somewhat oddly, it’s still available for purchase (for the moment, at least) on GOG and Humble, and for Xbox consoles.
At this point publisher 2K Games hasn’t said why Spec Ops: The Line has been removed from sale, but speculation is that the soundtrack is the culprit. There’s quite a bit of licensed music in the game from artists including Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Martha and the Vandellas, and Björk; Hendrix’s famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner plays in the background of Spec Ops: The Line’s menu:
It’s not all that uncommon for games to be removed from sale when content licenses expire. Music is probably the most common cause, but any sort of licensed content—cars, archival footage, the grim darkness of the far future—can lead to sales being halted after a certain amount of time has passed. When that happens, publishers have a choice: Renew the license, remove the offending content, or just drop the whole thing altogether. In the case of a game like Spec Ops—12 years old, not exactly a huge seller—the likelihood of a renewal might be remote.
There’s also a smattering of hope that the removal could signal an incoming Spec Ops remaster. That would be very cool, and it doesn’t seem entirely out of the question: Rockstar, which is also owned by 2K Games parent company Take-Two Interactive, recently did a deal with Remedy to remake the similarly-iconic-but-underselling Max Payne games.
But if that is in the works, Spec Ops designer and director Cory David doesn’t seem to know about it.
“Makes no sense—especially because the themes portrayed in SpecOpsTheLine are more relevant now than ever,” Davis tweeted. “Why has this happened?”
That is the big question of the moment—I’ve reached out to 2K to ask and will update if I receive a reply.