'Spec Ops: The Line' - review

Tuesday, 26 June 2012 09:44 PM Written by 

“Spec Ops: The Line” may be a victim of its first impression. From the commercials, it appears to be nothing more than another generic, third-person military shooter. It’s only once you get hands-on with it that it reveals itself to be something more. This first impression would be accurate if its intriguing story and unique setting were stripped away, but these two pillars lift the game above the rest of the genre.

“Spec Ops” is set in a futuristic vision of Dubai. Devastating sandstorms ripped through the city, burying it and causing nearly everyone to evacuate. The game focuses on Martin Walker, a captain in the elite American Delta Force unit. Captain Walker and two subordinate soldiers are sent into Dubai to investigate Colonel John Konrad and the 33rd Infantry. The infantry was stationed in Dubai when the sandstorms hit and they elected to stay to help citizens who could not evacuate. An audio transmission sent by John Konrad suggests the situation has gone horribly wrong.

Again, this plot seems generic on paper, but quickly transforms into a cerebral journey that explores the weight of morality and duty. It’s refreshing to see a post-apocalyptic setting that isn’t caused by a bomb, or robots, or aliens. This vision feels far more organic than these alternatives.

“The Line” is brutal, violent, extremely vulgar, and reminiscent of a war movie. The imagery of the scenarios laid out for Captain Walker and company is not for the faint of heart. One of the main themes is that war far from glamorous, and can twist the mind of even the strongest leaders.

The script bears the weight of the overall experience. This is movie-quality dialogue led by Nolan North, one of the best voice performers in the business. North is best known for his work as Nathan Drake of “Uncharted” and The Penguin in “Arkham City.” He raises the bar once again as Captain Walker. His performance transforms as Captain Walker’s character does.

As the story progresses, you’ll be faced with difficult decisions that are often lose-lose situations. Choosing between right and wrong is a common ploy in today’s games, and it's often obvious as to which decision is “right” and which is “wrong.” The choices in “The Line” are far from obvious and even farther from easy. You’ll have to choose quickly, and your decision will stick to both your character and your personal conscience. That level of personal engagement is one of the game’s crowning achievements.

The developers at Yager Development put together a cinematic experience. In a story that promotes realism, the visuals have to excel. “The Line” is an undeniably pretty game. The sand-swept streets of Dubai look chilling, and the lighting effects of the desolate dunes are strangely beautiful. The characters go through aesthetic changes as they emerge from battles and the horrors of Dubai change them. The details help make the experience immersive.

The campaign is about five to seven hours in length, but is riveting form start to finish. The direction and script pack those hours full of intensity.

Third-person shooters are often hit-and-miss in the gameplay department. Controls can be snappy or a disgusting mess. Fortunately for “The Line,” it falls into the category of the former. Cover systems come standard in today’s third-person shooters, and somehow it’s still something that developers can’t quite nail. The cover in “The Line” is easy to attach to, but too difficult to pull away from. I was able to get my character behind a wall to block enemy fire, but I was stuck there when I needed to dodge a grenade. The majority of my deaths came from cover woes.

I usually prefer gunplay in first-person shooters when compared to third-person, but the combat here is tight and precise. There are a variety of military weapons to encounter that all have a different feel, plus a secondary fire option. You’ll attach to favorites but won’t be afraid to see what else is out there.

One of the major talking points leading up to game’s release was the “dynamic sand.” Sand can be used as a weapon if you destroy a window or barrier with sand on the other side of it. These sequences are satisfying, but can hardly be called a dynamic element of the game. They are more like giant set pieces. This does add originality, but don’t expect to use sand in any way that you wish. It’s very obvious when sand can be used and when it can’t.

“The Line’s” multiplayer is strangely addictive. It doesn’t offer anything more than the standard military shooter multiplayer, but the gameplay is a serviceable change of pace from the FPS du jour. The maps are large, open, and multi-layered, which always gave me the sense that an enemy was watching me. Outdoor levels are subject to random sandstorms, blocking vision and scrambling radar while outdoors, mixing up the typical multiplayer match.

The competitive multiplayer is progression-based, requiring you to level up to unlock gear, classes, weapons and abilities.

Don’t let the appearance or game length of “Spec Ops: The Line” discourage you from playing it. It offers a far greater experience than the standard shooter on the market. This is a first-rate, thought-provoking, gripping story that will make you want to play it again when it’s all over.

 

8.75 out of 10

 

Pros:

First-rate script and story
Compelling setting
Fun, but generic, multiplayer

 

Cons:

Finicky cover system
Generic, but fun, multiplayer

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