Spec Ops: The Line isn't a criticism of mediocre shooters, but of the romanticism that has so often gone hand-in-hand with the modern shooter genre.
Since its release, quite a few people have described Spec Ops: The Line as a horror game. It’s easy to see why one would describe it that way after playing it. The hallucinations, the harsh treatment of the player, and the symbolic imagery of hell would be enough for a player to come to that conclusion regardless of anything else that the game might be doing. If one was to call Spec Ops: The Line a horror game, it wouldn’t be monster horror or gothic horror, but the strange twisted nightmare of psychological horror. The kind of horror that makes one look inward at an obstacle course of torture of one’s own making.
I can see the argument for it, and yet, I don’t know if I could fully subscribe to it. Instead I want to focus on a design technique. Spec Ops: The Line seemingly borrows from horror games, particularly early survival horror games like Resident Evil. The early Resident Evil games managed to cultivate a terrifying game with static camera angles and difficult to maneuver tank controls and other design choices that weren’t optimal in the traditional sense. These design choices were born of technical limitations, but as we saw over the years as the developers added better player control that the games lost what made them effective horror games. Spec Ops: The Line isn’t quite this extreme, as much of it still functions like a traditional third-person shooter, and instead operates under the same ethos but with a more subtle approach to sub-optimal design.