Spec Ops: The Line – Review
When a game turns up with the word Ops in the title, you can be pretty sure that at some point you’ll be looking down the sights of a P90, picking off angry groups of pixels from a distance while your screen is increasingly covered with your own virtual blood. Spec Ops: The Line is no exception and if, like me, you’re bored to horrible tears of the whole modern shooter genre, then at this point you’re wondering why you even clicked on this link. Maybe it was because I asked really nicely. Maybe it’s because it’s your only option if you ever want to see your family again. Either way, stick with it because Spec Ops: The Line is a bit smarter than the average bear. Er… game.
Spec Ops: The Line is the latest in a surprisingly long line of modern shooters that you’ve been ignoring for over a decade now but this one, from Berlin-based Yager Developments, might just take your breath away (you bet your arse that pun was intended… anyone… is this thing on?) given that it’s been getting some television advertising spots and posters, which is a first for the series but, initially at least, the game may seem like more of the same.
After a little exposition, you assume the role of Captain Martin Walker (as voiced by omnipresent voice actor Nolan North), a Delta Force member, who has been sent out to the Middle East as part of a three-man recon squad to investigate the disappearance of the 33rd Battalion, a division of the army under the leadership of Colonel Konrad, who were sent before you on a rescue mission. Now, here’s where it starts to get interesting. Instead of fuckingwhereverstan, you are sent to Dubai. Instead of the usual terrorism/counter-terrorism/insurgency bullshit, the situation in Dubai has been caused by devastating sandstorms that have effectively destroyed the entire infrastructure of the city.
The story in Spec Ops: The Line is definitely a cut above the usual jingoistic Ross Kemp bullshit and I’m not about to spoil it for any of you, but suffice to say that the titular ‘Line’ isn’t some sort of frontline or territorial marker, it’s very much the line between right and wrong, good and bad, doing your duty and doing what’s right and that line is blurred and crossed throughout the game. Thankfully, the game doesn’t ask you to make too many choices (although there are a couple of moral choices to be made) but, rather, carries you along, mirroring the fact that Captain Walker isn’t always in full possession of the facts. At times the story can definitely make you stop and think about what you are seeing and for that you have to applaud Yager for crafting such an engaging story.
In terms of gameplay, things never stray too far from what you expect from this type of shooter. It’s a third-person affair, albeit one that is less clunky than the usual Gears of War clones, and the hardware at your disposal is straight out of the CoD handbook, with none of the near-future trappings of a Ghost Recon. Much emphasis is placed on the use of cover and issuing squad orders, although that aspect could maybe be fleshed out a little. The occasional turret section and helicopter battle further enforce the opinion that Spec Ops: The Line is a little less adventurous with its gameplay than it is with the story.
That said, the solid feel of the action and the slightly more salubrious-than-usual surroundings do recall Freedom Fighters, which at a decade old is still the best thing IO Interactive have ever done, and the tough-but-fair difficulty (which is on a smooth curve, save for a couple of chokepoints) makes for a satisfying romp through the ever-encroaching desert. Mixing that desert setting with the high-rises and landmarks of Dubai definitely works too and gives the game a darker edge as you see luxurious locations stripped clean by looters and sandstorms, and the crisp, clear graphics (thankfully clear of too many HUD functions taking up screen real-estate) are nicely presented, especially for a game with this much sand in it.
Occasionally the game lets itself down with unnecessarily intrusive music selections and some not-that-believable characters that spoil the otherwise delicate balance of right and wrong by having some understandable convictions of their own, while acting like complete dickheads the rest of the time, but to see the game’s characters evolve from mean soldiers to mentally-scarred emotional wrecks helps you forget Spec Ops: The Line’s minor shortcomings.
An unnecessary, but competent, multiplayer component completes what is quite a lean package with not too much replayability on offer, so you may want to weigh up your options if you are looking for value for money, but the horrors of Dubai aren’t something you’ll be looking to revisit any time soon. Spec Ops: The Line somehow manages to be memorable while often being entirely ordinary but should be a hit with gamers looking for something a little more thoughtful than the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield efforts.Pros
- A dark tale that examines the cost of war far closer than the usual modern shooter
- The billionaire's playground that is Dubai makes for a great location
- Probably the closest thing you'll get to another Freedom Fighters now that IO Interactive have become shitter than piss
- Away from the excellent story, this is just another modern shooter with the usual weapons and turret sequences. Albeit a solid one
- Expect the multiplayer component to be dead before the summer is out
A tough, gritty shooter that has far more emotional depth than you'd expect from this type of game without resorting to the usual shock tactics of Activision's more famous series. The gameplay isn't going to change your life but it does offer a tight, solid challenge and although a few more decent set-pieces and more of an emphasis on tactics could have elevated Spec Ops: The Line beyond the mire of this glut of modern shooters, the story should keep you interested to the end.
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