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Spec Ops: The Line Review

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If Developer YAGER wanted Spec Ops: The Line players to feel dirty, disgusted, and demoralized, as they played the game, then they’ve succeeded. Not only did I feel like I needed a shower, there were countless times where I second-guessed myself about pulling the trigger. Other shooter games glorify war by making killing an emotionless task, but Spec Ops: The Line makes you feel the repercussions of each bullet fired, each execution, and each dreadful choice you have to make.

Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person shooter that takes players into darkest places of the human psyche rarely ever explored in war games. If reading Heart of Darkness or watching Apocalypse Now showed you the horrible actions men can do during war, then Spec Ops: The Line will make you experience it first hand. Read our full review after the break.

spec-ops-the-line-gameplay

Gameplay is servicable, it works. But the enjoyment will come from the story.

In Spec Ops: The Line, you take control of Captain Martin Walker, a Delta Force operative leading a team into Dubai to  search for survivors after a catastrohpic sand storm destroys the once grand city. In addition to that, your team is tasked to find the lost US Army Colonel John Konrad and his 33rd Infantry. What starts out as a simple rescue mission spirals into a fight for survival and a descent into madness for Walker’s Delta squad. By the end of the game, you’ll feel dirty, disgusted and demoralized from all the horrific situations and images you’ll see and the morally questionable choices you’ll have to make throughout the adventure.

The game plays like pretty much like your standard third-person shooter with limited squad controls and the occasional vehicle on-rails section. If anything, Spec Ops: The Line plays it really safe in the gameplay department. The game didn’t bring anything new or groundbreaking to the shooter formula. For example, Walker and his squad can take cover and shoot from behind objects a la Gears of War. The  “A” button (X for PS3) is context sensitive and is used to get Walker to hide behind cover, to sprint, and take control of turrets. However, because of the amount of context-sensitive actions mapped to the button, it gets annoying when you’re trying to take control of a stationary machine gun but your character either sticks to the wall or sprints away from the MG. If you’re feeling violent enough, you can choose to execute downed opponents by looking down at them and pressing “B” (circle on PS3) for a brutal kill.

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Lugo and Adams are quite the formidable fighters and helpful teammates.

On the other hand, Spec Ops’ basic fireteam controls actually works for the game. Walker’s team is quite AI is quite smart so it’s easy to give them orders. For example, you just aim at the enemy, hold the right bumper and release to order your team to provide suppressing fire, throw grenades, or to flash and clear a room. It does help that Lugo and Adams are smart enough to pick their own targets and are formidable fighters when left without orders.

Battles are overwhelming and can be difficult at times due to scarcity of ammunition. It did feel like each firefight was struggle for survival. And just when you get into the groove of combat, developers throw in a sandstorm just to make it harder. Not only does it add to the game’s atmosphere, it adds a sense of urgency and suspense to each engagement.

Speaking of sand, the developers made a big deal about how Sand plays a big part of combat in Spec Ops: The Line, however using sand as a combat advantage (i.e. shooting glass to let sand slide in and cover the bad guys) isn’t as freeform as once thought; the use of sand is mostly situational and Walker’s squad tells him when and where to use it.

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Sandstorms add to the urgency and suspense of Spec Ops’ combat.

Same in tone with Guerilla Games’ Shellshock ‘Nam 67, Spec Ops: The Line shows the brutality and horrors one may experience during times of war. Only Spec Ops ups the ante by putting you in situations where the choices you make mean life or death (in often grisly ways). It’s quite depressing listening in on your enemies’ conversations about their families back home and finally finding peace before you stick your knife in their throat “because they’re the enemy.” Unlike other games in the genre, there are no morality systems or scales here, what you have is a game that pushes a story where it’s either yes or no, kill or be killed, and lesser of two evils is the norm.

Oh and let’s not forget the multiplayer mode which again screams “standard” because it’s gameplay that you’ve seen and played through in other titles. The competitive modes consist of deathmatch, team, and capture/defend game modes. Though i thought Buried mode was pretty cool and has you and your team defending your base while trying to destroy your enemy’s base at the same time. You can also unlock new classes, weapons, and attachments as you progress online, though again, it’s nothing you haven’t experienced before.

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You’ll experience the horrors of war in Spec Ops: The Line

TECHNICAL PRESENTATION

AUDIO – Spec Ops: The Line sports great sound design; the voice acting is top-notch including everyone’s favourite Nolan North as Walker. What’s interesting is the amount of detail that you’ll notice between the characters’ conversations the deeper they go in their adventure. Dynamics change and you can feel how each character is affected by their situation. Orders go from professional to angry and hurried, tones go from friendly to hostile. It’s details like this that makes the characters more interesting, and believable.

GRAPHICS – The developers hold nothing back and hits players with haunting images that will stick with them even after the game ends. What’s crazy is all the violent imagery is a striking contrast to the game’s gorgeous visuals, the way the sun hits the sand, the lighting from each candle at night, and the contrast between the washed out colours indoors and the bright, almost grand colours outdoors. Walker and his team look great too, and you’ll see them get bloodied, scratched, scraped, and more as they go through horror after horror, battle after battle. Again, it’s the details that help players get immersed in the story.

PROS

+ Smart enemy and team AI makes each engagement unpredictable
+ Smart pacing, great writing, and overall presentation
+ All choices you make throughout the game have no clear good/bad attachments
+ Story that deconstructs the shooter genre and  makes you feel for the characters and the choices they make.
+ Multiple endings that leave A LOT of room for personal interpretation

CONS

– Standard “been there, done that” gameplay that we’ve all experienced way too much
– Context-sensitive button is more trouble than it’s worth
– Uninteresting multiplayer game modes

FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite having a standard “been there, done that” gameplay, Spec Ops successfully manages to make the player think twice about the act of killing and question himself about the choices he’s made and the actions he’s made so far. A successful deconstruction of the over-populated shooter genre and a powerful commentary. Spec Ops: The Line is highly recommended less for it’s core gameplay, but for its intense story and how it turns the shooter genre on its head.

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About janhutchings

Canadian Game Industry Blogger / Contributor for @Sonyrumors & @ShogunGamer / Communications and PR Professional. Voice of Canadian and Indie Gaming. http://jtmgames.com/

Posted on January 25, 2013, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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