Worth a note, for those who are interested and have it, it'll be free on PSN plus next month. Also this post will try to avoid major spoilers and won't give more away than what was in the OP's non-spoiler tagged parts.
Now I have to admit this is one of those games which I admire but think it does too much wrong to be truly a classic. I'll warn you now you did word your post very nicely but don't expect the same level of eloquence from me
.. Or correct spellings.
Anywho, for me the combat was very 'meh' and really needed to be less frequent as it was jarring with the message and atmosphere of the game as well as defied logic (namely how there's some many guys in a supposedly deserted area). Also it's trying to make you feel bad for 'choices' you have no control over and so it just feels forced and provides no emotional punch. Don't get me wrong, it has its moments (O fortuna for example and parts where you and your gang get progressively worse) the gameplay is too out of sync with what could be a rather well told version of 'Heart of Darkness' although not on par with Apocolypse Now
Let's go back to the positives though for now, I agree that it was fairly good at getting across the tragic atmosphere of the story, and it's deconstruction of the mindless shooter genre is nice but it doesn't stop what it's doing from being rather mind-numbing. I think it would have worked much better as a survival game ala I Am Alive or MGS3 instead of having an army of mindless enemies, running down a tight space only to be replaced by more enemies from back rooms.
Going to some of your points though, I beg to differ and say that is is an anti-war game to some extent as it's showing the sheer loss of life it causes as well as the psychological damage caused to the perpetrators of violence. As for the 'infamous' scene... Have you ever seen the film 'Funny Games'? My experience of that film was something like this:
Film: Why are you enjoying this sick filth that i'm showing you? You are bad and you should feel bad.
Me: Well i'm not enjoying it... Sooo... *switches off*
For me Spec Ops does something along the lines of this, although instead of 'enjoy' it's 'doing'. It feels very emotionally manipulative and it uses cheap guilt tactics against your assumed
intentions, the same way Funny Games bangs on against you for your assumed
reaction towards the film. The game does constantly hammer the message of choice home to you (possibly too much really) but you, as a player, don't have one. You can't force your character to do his job and follows orders, you have to follow the game through. In other words the game is more akin to someone grabbing your arm and forcing you to press the button.
Having women and children dotted around also is just a very cheap ploy to make you feel bad and any emotional reaction you have is soon gone as there's yet another wave of enemies to kill.
I admit you can easily make the argument that the game is commentating on how gamers will justify any action in game so long as they are given silly binary choices that say
they are good for doing it (see Mass Effect) despite the effect, or how you can just turn the game off and that is 'the ending'. Personally though I don't find this argument convincing, I paid for this game, switching the game off before that moment
is an unsatisfactory ending and as such I won't feel guilted just for playing what I paid for in the way the developers intend and only allow. I think in a weird way this game does need binary choice (although it would need to be done really well with some ambiguity thrown in) as it's hard to feel the emotional impact of what you do if you couldn't have stopped it in anyway.
Soooo.... yeah, I really hope this doesn't come across as a 'how dare you like this' post, I do really get why people like it and am happy you do (certainly beats CoD and all that), but hopefully I presented an argument that made sense
Anyway thanks for this thread, it was fun to respond to.