Spec Ops: The Line is the tale of Captain Martin Walker and his team, an elite Delta Force team ordered to infiltrate the treacherous region of a now decimated Dubai and bring home U.S. Army Colonel John Konrad and his missing battalion, The Damned 33rd. What was supposed to be a simple search and rescue turns into something the likes of which men agree to never speak of.
As the game opens, players are in the middle of an intense helicopter battle that is only a small taste of the chaos that is to follow. From the outset, Walker and the two soldiers under his command, Lugo and Adams, are sucked into a conflict that they barely understand and without enough time to sort things out are forced to shoot first and ask questions later. At first the game feels very much like your standard third person cover based shooter, it’s split into chapters that each have multiple objectives that need to be completed. On the battlefield you have quite a few different types of weapons at your disposal, everything from your standard handgun to grenade launchers and high-powered sniper rifles.
In terms of gameplay, I was very impressed with the overall fluidity and pace of the game, not a lot of wasted anything to be honest. Players have an effective if simple melee ability along with the ability to “execute” enemies that are down but not quite out. You can identify targets for your team to focus on and boy will they. A nice thing to see was that when you give the order to attack a specific target, your team won’t just shoot at it, if they have grenades they will use those too. Speaking of your team, I was also very impressed with the effectiveness of the computer A.I. for them, they are very effective but not overpowered. Too often in games when you have computer controlled teammates, they are either too overpowered or completely worthless leaving you to do all the work and keep them alive at the same time. Both Lugo and Adams can handle their own, allowing you to feel like you are a part of a highly trained military unit instead of feeling like you are carrying it. If I had one issue with this feature is that I wish it was more robust, there was a major opportunity to allow the player some serious tactical control and they just didn’t do it.
The enemy A.I. is no slouch either and will use standard military techniques such as suppression and flanking to try to get the best of you. There are standard soldiers, snipers, advanced weapon’s specialist (basically crazy dudes who run at you with a knife, they look funny but do NOT let one get close to you), heavy armor and Elites. Of all these, the heavy armor are the most dangerous, though the Elites seem to be the most aggressive at pushing up on your position. When a Heavy enters the battlefield, you should focus all your attention and your team’s attention on dropping him because if not he can turn into a one-man wrecking crew. Usually a few well placed grenades, rockets or any other high explosive in tandem with a ton of bullets does the trick. To give you a mental picture of Heavies, think Juggernauts from Call Of Duty but supported by tons of well-trained soldiers. The game also has points throughout the game where you can use the unique features of the Dubai environment (tons of sand) to your advantage but be careful because the sand has no friends once it gets going.
The overall word on core gameplay is that it is as solid as any third person shooter I’ve played in recent years. The thing that takes Spec Ops: The Line over the top though is the story. The events that unfold as Captain Walker and his team learn the truth about the fate of Colonel Konrad and The Damned 33rd are nothing short of terrifying. Spec Ops isn’t a new IP but its been away so long that 2K Games could afford to treat it like one. The subject matter that is addressed in this game (PTSD, true horror of war) is on a level that I just don’t think can be done in Call Of Duty or Battlefield. Call Of Duty did something close in MW2 with the airport mission “No Russian”, but even that fails to compare to some of the events in Spec Ops: The Line. The thing that makes it all work is that it never feels like it’s over the top or being done for the shock factor, instead you feel like you are getting a glimpse into the type of situations that happen in the fog of war.
At several points throughout the game, the players will be faced with choices and they usually are between bad and worse. Sometimes the choices are clear and sometimes in a fit of rage you make the decision without even knowing it. There is a portion of the game about mid-way through the game that sets up the rest of the game and is absolutely horrifying. I had gotten so caught up in the moment that before I realized what I had done it was too late. It was terrible because before the consequences of my actions had made their impact, I took a really hard look at the screen and knew that something had gone terribly wrong. When we went into to view the results of our actions, my worst nightmare was confirmed and while I know its only a video game it was truly a haunting experience.
Spec Ops: The Line evokes the kind of emotional response from players that games like Homefront tried to do but just couldn’t manage. As you battle your way through the now war-torn Dubai, the weight of your choices start to add up. You learn that in some situations, there is another choice besides the obvious, though you have to be willing to fight a little bit harder to go that route. All I’ll say about that is that in Spec Ops: The Line, don’t always accept the choices that are presented to you, think outside the box and you might be surprised at what’s possible.
As for things I didn’t like, I thought the default aiming sensitivity was way too high, you want a lot of control when trying to aim and take down enemies, I ended up having to bring that down to the lowest setting possible and even then it was a little loose. As I mentioned before, I would have liked to see a much more command and control capability, as it stands it just feels incomplete. Throughout the game, you will see what looks like a proficiency bar when you complete certain activities but there doesn’t appear to be any real benefit to them. It would have been nice to see them actually give you some kind of benefit or perk in battle. And then there’s the endings.
The endings to Specs Ops: The Line can only be described as interesting. I actually played through every ending because I was wondering if any gives me more clarity than the others. Ultimately I found that they don’t, though I the one I am calling the “He’s Lost It” ending is my favorite. When I really think about it though, perhaps the endings fit perfectly into the insanity that is Spec Ops: The Line.
Note: At the time of this review, we were not able to get any online games started to assess the game’s online multiplayer functionality (PS3). Once the game is released, we will update this review with impressions on that aspect of the game.