Spec Ops: The Line isn’t your run-of-the-mill shooter. Through a complex storyline, it challenges the modern conflicts America is involved in and their effects on our soldiers. That’s quite a lot to take on in a medium more interested in headshots than geopolitics. That’s an even bigger task to take on in a genre filled with jingoistic tripe that’s supposed to sell millions of copies. The development team behind this game, Yager, might not pitch a perfect game with their subject matter; however, they do take enough risks to make this a game worth playing.
The game starts out with a crew of soldiers sent off to investigate the aftermath of a massive sandstorm that hits the city of Dubai. These special ops soldiers are sent in after an Army Colonel has gone missing. Apparently, the story borrows heavily from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and fans of Apocalypse Now will absolutely see parallels. The influence of this famous novel isn’t subtle but fits perfectly in a video game world.
Like in Apocalypse Now, this game highlights the internal struggle US soldiers face in the middle of a war zone with no distinct enemy. It makes for a riveting story that challenges the modern gamer to look beyond the simplicity of games like Call of Duty. Furthermore, it shows that not all heroes make the right decisions and some “kills” are murders, not just collateral damage. This is an important distinction to bring to light and open-minded gamers willing to question their gaming motives will have something to think about.
Spec Ops: The Line is very cinematic in its approach and revealing some of the bigger moments in the story would be out-and-out spoilers for those of you interested in playing. Where the game really succeeds is presenting a complex atmosphere that delivers minor scares, intensely realistic wartime gore, and a wide array of inner turmoil for the main characters. There’s one scene in particular involving white phosphorus that had me questioning what I was seeing on-screen. It was startling to say the least. The developers of Spec Ops: The Line pull no punches and the game benefits from such a balls-out approach.
Aside from the story, the gameplay and the level design are not as good as they could be. This game uses the Unreal Engine 3 and the similarities to Gears of War are obvious. Spec Ops: The Line plays from a third-person perspective and the main character is often accompanied by one or two teammates. Active cover is a core element of the gameplay and the developers included destructive environments for good measure.
For the most part, active cover works but lacks the snappiness found in better games. An actively running player doesn’t slide or snap into cover as smoothly as they should. Players will frequently pay the price for this deficiency with death, or at the very least, heavily damaged health. The destructive environments provide some interesting visuals from time-to-time, but fail to have the impact on gameplay that other games (like Red Faction: Guerrilla) have shown in the past.
The level design looks nice on the surface with plenty of skyscrapers and scale. Unfortunately, most of the scale presented is just meant to be background. Most of the levels have straightforward paths to follow and invisible barriers to keep players from exploring outside. Throughout much of the game, levels seemed designed more for multiplayer battles than for unique single player stand-offs.
This game also emphasizes the player’s ability to coordinate attacks with his teammates. Having just played Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Spec Ops: The Line is not as good as its competition. While this game does allow the player to mark enemies, your teammates do a very poor job of taking down their marks. They will often rush into a big firefight to attack one enemy, getting themselves slaughtered in the process. The poor A.I. was frustrating enough to force me to play more like a one-man army than a member of a squad.
The graphics of Spec Ops are some of the better currently on the market and the cutscenes are especially well rendered. They connect well with the strong voice-acting and the complex storytelling. Overall, players will be satisfied with the time spent bringing this story to life.
At the end of the day, Spec Ops: The Line tells a challenging story that won’t be loved by every shooter fan out there. It’s a modern spin on “Heart of Darkness” that deserves to be played despite its failings with cover and linear level design. Spec Ops: The Line won’t be an end of the year award winner, but gamers looking for a story that challenges should seek it out.
Full Disclosure: CraveOnline received one copy of Spec Ops: The Line for the Xbox 360. Before starting our review, we played 100% of the main storyline on normal difficulty. We did not play any of the multiplayer component for this review.