Game: Spec Ops: The Line
Developer: Yager Development/Darkside Game Studios
Publisher: 2K Games
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
2K Game’s latest third person shooter may sport one of the most uninspired names in recent memory, but Spec Ops: The Line has its sights set on standing out from the crowd. With separate developers for its singleplayer and multiplayer components, The Line looks to deliver that rarest of things in a modern military shooter, a compelling story. In fact most of the talk leading up to the game’s release has centred around the campaign, but the talk is over. Can Spec Ops cross the line and stamp its name alongside the greats of the genre?
STORY: Spec Ops: The Line takes place entirely in Dubai, the area has suffered devastating sandstorms burying the city and causing a mass evacuation. You take the role of Cpt. Walker who, along with his two squad mates Lugo and Adams, has been sent into the city to help any remaining civilians. Six months prior Colonel John Konrad led the 33rd Infantry into Dubai to help with the evacuation, thought dead, things change when a distress signal is picked up. Walker talks about how Konrad saved his life on a previous mission, and sets about trying to return the favour.
From that point onwards Spec Ops: The Line’s story can best be described as an interesting mess. You get the impression the writers were caught in two minds, did they want Spec Ops to be a serious look at one soldier’s struggle to live with the decisions he’s forced to make? Or a more a bro-rated romp through a warzone filled with slightly odd characters with plans more in service of the next cool action scene than any attempt at weaving a gripping narrative.
By the end of the game the plot has more holes in it than any of the soldiers you gun down along the way. The drama ends up being more melodramatic than it probably intended but maybe that’s a symptom of trying to create a serious personal story in a genre that forces the main protagonist to mow down fifty people every fifteen minutes. With all that being said I still found myself wanting to see how it all played out; which is rare thing.
GRAPHICS: Visual quality varies quite dramatically, with gorgeous panoramic views of the city being a stark contrast to the ugly textures that fill the environment. Speaking of which Unreal Engine’s penchant for slow texture pop-in is present throughout the game, even extending to the game’s main menu screen. In cutscenes Walker holds the gun he started with rather than the gun you picked up whilst playing, it’s small issues like this that keep Spec Ops from feeling like a polished product. Lighting is definitely a strong point with the clear bright skies atop a skyscraper lifting the mood, after trudging through the orange haze that fills the sand covered streets.
SOUND: Audio, much like the visuals, can be a little hit and miss. Weapons lack any real impact and explosions also fall a little flat. The voice acting is passable with Nolan North turning in a decent performance as Cpt. Walker, while Lugo’s chatter annoys almost instantly. There’s nothing too jarring that’ll completely take you out of the experience but that really is the best that can be said.
GAMEPLAY: The core mechanics are sound with aiming feeling tight and the cover system competent enough to ensure you aren’t fumbling around in the middle of a gun fight. Enemies run the gamut of rifle, sniper, and shotgun toting soldiers, as well as juggernaut style “heavys” and knife wielding maniacs. The A.I. however is pretty lacklustre and rarely challenges the player to think outside the box, although the game does provide the occasional flanking route for getting the upper-hand during combat.
Squad controls are limited to marking one enemy at a time for dispatch, when left to their own devices Lugo and Adams do their fair share and rarely go down. When they are incapacitated you have a certain amount of time to reach and revive them, you’re not afforded the same luxury though, so expect to head straight to the loading screen if caught in the line of fire yourself.
Rather than jumping from location to location in a chopper or Humvee like most military shooters, Spec Ops has a much more organic progression. You start in the sand dunes outside the city and as various events unfold you’re drawn ever deeper in, despite the setting there’s still plenty of variety in terms of the locales you’ll visit, including luxury hotels, refugee camps, and even an aquarium. Throughout the campaign you’ll be given a chance to determine how certain situations play out, decisions are far from black and white but the consequences fail to have any real impact on how the plot progresses. You are given some pay-off at the end of the game and it’s still a welcome addition even if it could have been taken a little further.
A lot was promised when it came to the dynamic nature of the sand. Sadly it ends up boiling down to shooting out windows in order to crush a few handily placed enemies, or making your way through the odd sandstorm. As a result you never feel like you did anything the designers hadn’t carefully planned out in advance.
MULITPLAYER: The game’s online component is severely lacking content, offering just a handful of modes and only six maps on which to play them. You can choose to play as either an Exile or Damned soldier, with both offering small bonuses such as 10% damage bonus with all pistols. Beyond that though the loadout customisation is devoid of any originality, offering classes such as gunner and medic, each with three perk slots and kit unlocks. There is even a half-baked title/badge system that is almost identical to that found in the Modern Warfare series.
All six maps are relatively small but it keeps the action up, verticality plays a big role with zip lines helping players traverse floors quickly and with a satisfying degree of style. The use of sand is limited to brief sandstorms that limit visibility and vents that can be shot open killing enemies below them. The minute-to-minute action isn’t bad but is a little bland, and as with a lot of newcomers to the genre, I doubt the game will have a strong online community six months after release.
LONGEVITY: The campaign clocks in at around 5 hours for a standard playthrough, although higher difficulties, collectibles and different plot choices could see this double if you feel so inclined. The bare bones online mode will fail to keep most people entertained for more than a weekend, with a low map count and few unique ideas.
VERDICT: Spec Ops: The Line offers a unique campaign that ultimately feels unfocused and all too brief, that being said it’s still worth checking out for shooter fans tired of the norm. Online the game offers almost nothing of note and will struggle to keep you hooked. If you have the chance to rent this game or pick it up in a few months time, then go for it, but overall Spec Ops: The Line comes across as somewhat of a missed opportunity.