- Lasting Appeal
Earlier I wrote an article where I expressed my concern over shooters becoming formulaic and predictable; and upon picking up Spec Ops: The Line, my first impressions were that the game was just that. Linear third person cover shooting featuring clichéd American war vets seemed to be dragging the game into the ‘been there, done that’ category.
However, after having played the entire game, I can safely say that my deceptive first impressions were entirely wrong. Spec Ops: The Line may fall short in the gameplay department, but it does something very few games do these days: tell a story that is dark, gripping and engaging.
It’s difficult to describe just what makes Spec Ops: The Line such a memorable experience without spoiling major plot points, so bear with me as I try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. The game is set in Dubai, which prior to the opening of the game was hit with the worst series of sandstorms in history, turning the city into a wasteland where refugees live in makeshift shelters. A battalion of American soldiers is sent in to evacuate refugees, but the plan soon goes wrong and the battalion is ordered to abandon their mission. Instead, their colonel goes rogue and chooses to stay with his soldiers and aid the city. However, when a distress signal is received from the colonel regarding the hopelessness of the situation, the protagonist Captain Walker, along with two squad mates are sent in to investigate.
And from there, let’s just say things go sour for Walker and his squad. What was prepped to be a rescue mission soon turns out to be a desperate battle to survive and hunt down the dark truth behind it all. The dark nature is what sets Spec Ops apart from other shooters that trivially brush aside the fact that you’ve just killed hundreds of people in the name of glorious victory. There is no glory or honor in Spec Ops. Deranged American rogues will attack on sight forcing you to kill the very people you were sent to help. And as you go through the game, you can see the toll the violence takes on Walker as he starts to break down, both physically and mentally.
During the course of the game, Specs Ops asks them a very simple question, ‘Are you going to keep killing these people, and if so are you willing to deal with the consequences?’ There was honestly a point where the game just got to me, and I had to put the controller down for a while to compose myself. As a player, I honestly can’t remember the last time a game brought out such a strong reaction in me and I must commend Spec Ops for it.
While the story is Spec Ops’ strong suit, the gameplay is competent but unremarkable. The entire game pretty much comprises of moving from cover to cover and popping out to get headshots, a la Gears of War. While that normally wouldn’t be a bad thing, what becomes an issue is that movement is a little stiff and unresponsive. There were times when Walker simply would not run or take cover when I wanted him to. This does not happen enough to be a deal breaker, but in a world where this form of gameplay has been perfected by at least ten other games, these issues tend to stand out.
On the plus side, the fact that enemies are aggressive with their flanking, grenades and shotgunners tend to keep things interesting. There are also additional elements such as being able to command teammates to attack a particular enemy or use grenades. Sand also becomes a gameplay mechanic once in awhile. Occasionally, when a thin sheet of glass is all that separate your enemies from a cascade of sand, you can shoot the glass to bury enemies alive. Sandstorms can also blow during combat obscuring vision and affecting accuracy. However, these elements do not do much to hide the fact that much of the game is just linear cover shooting.
Multiplayer on the other hand doesn’t quite reach standards set by the likes of Gears of War and Call of Duty. There are a bunch of modes but most of them lack imagination and simply come down to two teams hiding behind cover and waiting to see whoever pops out his head first. The aforementioned stiff controls further also affect the chances of the multiplayer being enjoyable. There are decent amount of unlockable weapons and gear but without a compelling reason to use them, they aren’t much of an incentive to play through the online modes.
Visually, while the graphics doesn’t stand out too well when compared to some other recent games, the game does a great job of incorporating striking imagery to compliment the theme of the game. This new take on Dubai is a spectacle to marvel at. All too often, you’ll come across dead soldiers strewn about the battlefield, graffiti on walls done by some rebel artist and other scenes of carnage. There is also great contrast between indoor and outdoor environments which add much needed variety to the game.
Also, the voice-acting is absolutely superb. Nolan North does a fantastic job of voicing Walker and projecting the change in Walker’s character throughout the story. Your squad mates, Lugo and Adams, also have some excellent dialogue as the two slowly become more and more errant and start questioning the reasoning behind Walker’s actions. The in-game soundtrack, heavy with 90s grunge metal does a decent job of conveying the nature of the game.
Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t aim for the same things other shooters want you to. It won’t make you a hero through your actions, instead it will bring to light the meaning of all the violence. The ending (or endings to be more precise) won’t leave you triumphant, but will simply give you disturbing truth that you waited so long to get. For that reason, Spec Ops: The Line breaks free of the formulaic nature of most shooters and becomes something unique and surprising.