Posted on July 2, 2012 AT 08:38pm
I’d like to start this review off by saying that when I first played the demo of 2K Games’ Spec Ops: The Line, I wasn’t impressed. Keep that fact in mind going forward.
Spec Ops: The Line is set in Dubai, a place known for its wealth and beauty. What was once home of the tallest man-made structure and biggest aquarium in the world has now been completely over taken by sandstorms. The majority of residence have evacuated as water is in short supply and even the tallest skyscrapers are buried under the sand. The city has been destroyed by the one force no one can command: nature. U.S. Army Colonel John Konrad and his squad, the Damned 33rd, stayed behind to help the civilians during the crisis. The Army feared the worst for Konrad and his crew, but as luck would have it they picked up a distress signal after the storm hit Dubai.Enter our protagonist Captain Martin Walker and his Delta Force team of elite soldiers. Surely a top notch trio of U.S. Army soldiers would have no trouble completing such a straight forward task like a rescue mission. Ah, but things are never that simple. What happens when Delta Force members Walker, Lugo, and Adams get into Dubai is far from simple and far from typical. If you are launching yourself into Spec Ops: The Line expecting just another 3rd person shooter, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The opening level gives you little to no introduction. You are in a helicopter and you are shooting down other helicopters, all while opening credits are running along the sides of the screen. You should get used to this feeling of confusion and just roll with the punches as Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t let you get too comfortable in any situation. Just when you think you have everything figured out, you will be humbled to discover that you don’t. Regardless of what you may think at the start of the game, you likely will be incredibly off base with your guess on how the story will conclude. The cut scenes that follow in the beginning and during most of the game are shaky (think handheld camera during a documentary) and make you feel like you’re in the moment with the characters. The first chapters of the campaign offer up a rather seamless tutorial, teaching you the controls and commands as you need them during game play. The controls are more or less what you would expect from a shooter, analogs do what they usually do, bumper and shoulder buttons allow you to aim, shoot, and toss grenades as normal. You can melee an enemy if they get too close or dropkick them off a ledge when vaulting over a sandbag. The game has an autosave feature, saving at checkpoints during levels and at the beginning of each chapter.
Spec Ops: The Line employs a cover system that is pretty straight forward. Duck in and out of safty, vault over sand bags, or shoot blindly around corners (though your accuracy will suffer for it). Getting shot in this game is not something you easily walk off. You likely won’t live through playing hero, running out into the middle of an open field surrounded by enemies. They’ll drop you as soon as you get out of cover so don’t think that the cover system is just an added feature, it’s a necessary part of game play. Grenades are also not something to take lightly. If the grenade icon flashes red, you’re dead. If the icon is white, you probably won’t take damage but you’ll be pushed off course by the explosion. The game mechanics are simple, but there are some features that make this shooter worth your time.
One unique feature is the stun command. The stun command is triggered by holding down the right bumper and moving your analog over your target. When you target someone with the stun command Lugo and Adams, your team mates, focus their fire on that mark. This is particularly helpful when there is a soldier with heavy armament or a sniper about that is hindering your progress. Sick your boys on them to take them out, or use your men to distract your main target so you can flank the enemy yourself. You can also use the stun command to send one soldier to revive another when they are down on their knees. If you are able to get close enough, you can revive them yourself. The ability to revive your team mates is something that carries over into the multiplayer portion as well, but we’ll cover that a little later.
The artificial intelligence of your squad is surprisingly accurate and rarely will leave you blaming your computer controlled team mates for your own mistakes. Don’t lie, we’ve all done it. The AI is very reactive to the environment, that goes for both the enemies and your squad. If a grenade is tossed the enemies near it will vault themselves over a wall to escape. If Lugo shouts that he’s reloading and needs cover, Adams will cover him. This is one of the few single player campaigns I’ve ever played where I felt like I was playing with a team.
The graphics are quick to render in game but are nothing cutting edge or spectacular. One of my pet peeves in games is when the cut scene graphics are like watching a film and the game play graphics are of completely different quality. Spec Ops: The Line maintains the same level of graphics throughout which does nothing but help you to get immersed in the story as a scene will end and you are back in control, just like that. The environments are a notable accomplishment in level design. The outdoor levels were my favorites as sandstorms frequently roll through and greatly impact how you play. Sand in your eyes removes your ability to aim well and it slows your movements. But it can also be used to gain an advantage on your opponent. For as poorly as you can see them, they can’t see you too well either! Visually, the landscape of Dubai being swallowed up by sand is stunning and startling. It was more than a little unnerving to see office buildings buried under countless tons of sand. The realism is there and it should be applauded. While the sand could have just stayed a plot point, it instead becomes an interactive part of your game rather than a static theme. Some indoor levels further showcase how dire the situation in Dubai has become. Offices and cubicles have been converted into what can only be described as a tent city for those survivors that couldn’t escape the storm. While other levels offer up giant aquariums, complete with schools of squid and sharks, inside of hotels with floors covered in sand. The only grievance I had were the lighting effects for indoor settings. There were a handful of times where your characters are practically strobe lighting against the environments they are in. In almost every level or cut scene that takes place inside, the light that reflects off the soldiers makes them appear oddly shiny. While it’s not a deal breaker by any means, it was certainly a bit of a distraction. It was specifically a problem during dark levels when the characters appear to be illuminated by a light source that just doesn’t exist.
Guns offered are an assortment of assault rifles, small machine guns, hand guns, sniper rifles, heavy weapons, and shotguns. There’s a bit of something for everyone and while ammo is scarce throughout the game, guns can be picked up off of enemies frequently. There are also ammo boxes scattered about each level so keep your eyes peeled, they are not always in the most obvious places. You can unlock trophies from getting X amount of kills with each gun so it doesn’t hurt to vary your load out. There are weapon attachments included with most weapons when you pick them up and you can easily toggle scopes or burst ammo on and off with the click of a button. Aside from your typical weapons, you can also control turrets, shoot RPGs, and shoot a mounted gun on a helicopter. Also included are stun, sticky, and frag grenades. Like I said, something for everyone.
The multiplayer portion of Spec Ops: The Line is worth playing, but you more than likely won’t buy this game just for the multiplayer. If you do, you may be disappointed. The multiplayer allows up to 8 players per game leaving you with matches of 4v4. This is much smaller than what most gamers are used to after playing games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, but the small teams aren’t necessarily a bad thing. This is the kind of game where playing solo just isn’t all that fun if your team isn’t up for chatting. However, if you can get a party of friends together you can have a good time organizing strategies that will leave your enemies in the dust. One thing worth noting is that the mics come through crystal clear! You will have no trouble making out what your team mates are shouting during a match which makes playing with a team all the more enjoyable. The map landscapes are varied from multiple buildings connected by scaffolding to one building with multiple floors and sand randomly spilling through the windows. Once again, sand plays a factor as storms kick up suddenly in some levels, while it breaks through windows and blocks off paths in others.
The soundtrack is excellent. The title theme song is a heavy rock track with a haunting melody that perfectly fits the tone and themes of the game. The distorted guitar rhythm is strong and daunting, much like the act of walking into a desperate and hopeless situation. While the cleanly picked notes of the melody are more in-tune with the voices of reason that wage their own war while Walker is forced to make the tough choices that come with his occupation. Early on in the game Deep Purple’s “Hush” is blaring across Dubai while Walker and Delta Force are caught up in a gun fight. Later in the game Martha Reeves and the Vandella’s hit track plays at a rather timely point… Oh what’s that? You have no idea who that is? I was going to just make you Google it, but I guess I’ll throw you a bone. Their song is “Nowhere to Run”. While you certainly can turn the music off, it’s a lot more fun to keep it on as the characters call attention to the songs that are playing.
Which leads me to my absolute favorite part of this game: the voiceovers! The dialogue in this game not only clearly defines the personalities of your protagonist and his team, it’s hilarious! The exchanges don’t sound stiff or scripted, they sound like a bunch of guys giving each other hell. Walker, Lugos, and Adams are a solid unit that look out for one another and it’s only through the exceptional voice over work that the player finds themselves wanting to know more about these characters and their fate. There’s a whole lot of cursing, which shouldn’t be a shock as the game is rated M for mature. The voiceovers done by the antagonists are also better than you would expect and those characters are equally amusing. Whoever wrote the script should give themselves a pat on the back because not only is the plot great, the dialogue does an excellent job at quickly moving the story forward.
I’m doing this review slightly out of order from what most are used to. I am intentionally talking about the story last because it is by far the strongest thing that Spec Ops: The Line has to offer. This is completely spoiler free and it’s hard to impress upon you how brilliant the story line truly is without telling you anything about it, but I am going to try.
When I first heard about Spec Ops: The Line, I foolishly assumed that this was just another war game. In a genre that has been done to death, how many variables could there really be from games that are already out? The Line portion of the title clearly represented ‘enemy lines’ when I heard it and I didn’t think much of it. But that is far from what The Line actually is. When does morality over ride the mission? When does the mission over ride your morals? That’s the line that this game focuses on. The player is forced to choose for Walker what matters more, his duties or his honor? And The Line between those two gets blurred far more frequently than I expected. What I was left with after completing the game is what I believed to be a very real portrayal of what soldiers go through on the battlefield. Stay or go, live or die, sacrifice the needs of one for the needs of the many. Spec Ops: The Line is more than just another shooter, it has a message that it demands you hear.
In closing, yes, you should in fact play this game. The story is different from anything you’re expecting and at several points plays out more like a movie than a video game. It’s got all the action and the drama of a blockbuster summer hit. If this was a movie, you would probably go see it. But it’s not a movie, it’s a video game and you should probably go buy it. The multiplayer is good, but should not be your main reason for purchasing as it’s best suited to be played with a team of friends. The game mechanics are typical of the genre, with a couple of interesting features. Replay value is high with online multiplayer and the multiple achievements you can unlock for beating the game on different difficulties or for choosing different paths during the game. Another thing that adds to the replay value is collecting intel which is scattered about each level but is not needed to advance game play. The intel gives Walker a bit more back story into what exactly happened to Colonel John Konrad and the Damned 33rd and gets you an extra couple of achievements should you feel the need to pursue them all.
The copy of Spec Ops: The Line used for this review was for Xbox 360, the game is also available for PC and PlayStation 3. The game is rated M for mature and is available in stores now.
- The Good: Unpredictable story, voiceovers, soundtrack, character development, level designs.
- The Bad: Game mechanics feel generic, 8 people maximum for online play.
- The Ugly: Lighting effects.
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