Once in a while a game will show up out of the blue and knock your socks off. Spec Ops: The Line is one of those games but maybe not for the reasons you might think.
Spec Ops: The Line tells the story of Captain Martin Walker, a soldier who is part of a squad sent into Dubai to investigate the failed evacuation of citizens by an army squad called ‘The 33rd.’ As things quickly unravel you find yourself under attack from all directions and hampered by the constant threat of sandstorms.
You see this isn’t present day Dubai but an alternate version in which the country has been decimated by sandstorms that have left thousands stranded and desperate behind the ‘Storm Wall’ – a huge permanent sandstorm that has disrupted communication and stopped travel in (or out) of the area.
I won’t spoil the story for you here as it is the best thing about the game – this isn’t a title you’ll come out of brimming with joy and with a smile on your face but it really is one of the best stories I’ve played through in the last few years. And while a couple of the twists were a touch obvious, for the most part I didn’t anticipate many of them.
The gameplay itself is solid but unspectacular and you’ll spend a lot of time in cover popping out to take down enemies. One thing I liked about the game was the feel of the weapons, with some of the more powerful ones genuinely delivering an appropriate sense of recoil and a real kick.
The setting is pretty stunning and the sand tech is well realised. I was personally more impressed with the way the game portrayed the intense heat of the environment, with harsh sunlight and a nice shimmer on surroundings.
Speaking of the sand, one of the game mechanics they showed off lots in pre-release media was the ability to shoot out windows/glass roofs to take out enemies. However in the final product that is all fairly scripted stuff and doesn’t factor in greatly.
A quick shout out is needed on the music front as I felt Spec Ops really delivered on that note. A great soundtrack and paced perfectly. Also the voice acting is superb. I thought it might be an issue having Nolan North (of Nathan Drake/Uncharted fame) in the lead role but after the first 20 minutes or so I completely forgot he was even voicing the character.
The game is fairly tough and isn’t afraid to throw a large number of difficult to deal with enemies at you all at once. My main gripe with the combat was the enemy grenades. They felt too overpowered and I didn’t think the game did enough to warn me when they were nearby, or maybe more accurately it didn’t warn me quickly enough. I died a lot of times unnecessarily because of that.
Spec Ops makes a comment on the shooter genre, taking several pot shots during loading screens and differentiates itself from games like Call Of Duty and Battlefield by giving you several ‘moral’ choices during the story. Unlike games such as Infamous, where the choice is simply good or bad, in Spec Ops you’re choosing between bad or bad. There is no right or wrong answer. So who do you punish? Who do you sacrifice? I would love to see more games give you this kind of choice as opposed to the more straight forward options we usually get.
Another great addition in this game is the degradation of your character and squad over the course of the game. This is something that I can’t believe hasn’t been done before in this genre. The Batman games attempted something similar in terms of Batman’s appearance changing during the game but here, as well as physical changes, you and your squad take a psychological battering as well.
Late in the game, when your character finally takes down a heavy enemy and screams an expletive he is echoing the cry of gamers across the globe when defeating a tough enemy. Even reloading calls are shouted through gritted teeth further on in the game. It just makes the game feel incredibly visceral.
I didn’t touch the multiplayer as even the developers have said it was forced upon them by the publisher and brings nothing to the table. This is a game that *definitely* didn’t need multiplayer.
Spec Ops: The Line might not be for everyone and the gameplay might not be anything special but it has a great, interesting story and makes a decent comment on today’s shooter genre.
NB. If you do play and finish the game I’d strongly recommend checking out this interview with the writer of the game (contains massive spoilers): GAMESPOT INTERVIEW