Spec Ops: The Line / June 26th 2012 / Version Played: PC
Yagor Development / 2K Games / PS3-360-PC / RRP $35(EB Games)
As a first review I decided to tackle a personal favorite of mine from 2012, Spec Ops: The Line. In case you haven’t played it yet or read anything about this game, there will be mild spoilers in this review, in particular a scene roughly halfway through the game. Consider this a warning.
Spec Ops: The Line is really nothing at first glance. Any passerby would glance at this online and assume it to be a pseudo rip-off of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and subsequently Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, complete with a generic third person shooter element and cover system.
And thus the game has already tricked you, the first of many narrative and visual tricks The Line will pull. Maybe as a gamer you don’t want to be tricked. You want to be entertained or praised. But there is none of that here. So why play this game? Because quite simply, love it or hate it, there is simply nothing quite like this.
Spec Ops: The Line opens generically enough. Nolan North voicing the gruff captain Martin Walker, leading a Delta team consisting of Lieutenant Adams and Staff Sergeant Lugo, ordered by the US Army to do recon and bring in John Konrad (one of many nods to Hearts of Darkness), commander of the 33rd Battalion, lost in Dubai after sandstorms destroyed the city. As Walker and his team traverse the desert, it soon becomes clear that not all is clear, and the lines of good and evil are blurred to a point where you, the player, will be questioning whether you’re doing the right thing.
It’s clear that the dark narrative mixed with sensational sound and voice acting meant that Yager Development (the developers) took an extra step in ensuring that the player was giving a harrowing and memorable experience that would leave you talking about it for years to come. Special props must be given to head writer Walt Williams, who provides a sensational story with huge mature undertones. If anything, The Line must be experienced for the story alone.
In terms of graphics, the sand-covered Dubai is quite a stunning vista. The towering skyscrapers all half buried in sand, the gorgeous backdrop that makes you feel like a tiny ant in a huge (linear) world and the graphic depictions of violence all lend a hand to the amount of immersion you would feel. In terms of violence, the game goes all in and really makes you question how much fun you’re really having, as you sickeningly pop another head in a cloud of red.
For a graphics comparison, the PC version remains the slight winner, with sharper graphics all around, along with the standard freedom of tweaking for your personal rig. But the differences are honestly quite small and on any platform of your choice you’ll end up with the same experience.
In terms of gameplay, The Line remains painfully average, though this, like everything in the game, is for a reason. It’s an unremarkable third person shooter that you would have played in dozens of past games (Gears of War comes to mind immediately), complete with wonky cover system. The game gives you different weapons from rifles and pistols to shotguns and launchers to dispatch your foes in appropriately gruesome ways, as you slowly make your way through the corpses of the Damned 33rd.
There is a ‘sand’ mechanic that honestly feels a little like a missed opportunity, where the sand of Dubai plays a big part in firefights. This comes in the form of sandstorms and sinkholes that change the dynamic of the battlefield, but these happen very rarely and in a strictly linear and scripted sense. It would’ve been nice to see a bit more random events thrown in.
There are also random ‘moral’ choice events that come up every now and then that throw up an interesting thought. For fear of spoiling, they aren’t as black and white as you’d assume in normal games (Mass Effect or Bioshock comes to mind), but really just shades of dark and death, and they are never what they same. It’s a relief to see that acknowledgements were made to the gamer for thinking outside of the box, as there is always a ‘hidden’ option to choose, if you did not want to choose between two face options.
The soundtrack lends a huge hand in The Line’s final presentation. The orchestral score blaring in the background as you conduct firefights is spectacular and the choices of classic rock songs gives off a sense of atmosphere and feeling that you are in a war. The music that accompanies the final few minutes in particular will send shivers up your spine and result in an ending that you will never forget.
Spec Ops: The Line is really an unremarkable game on the surface, but below the surface is one of the best narratives you could ever experience. The Line is one of the most exciting things to happen to a ‘modern military shooter’ game in a very, very long time, and it is something that should be experienced, whether or not you’ll end up liking it. The Line is one of the best games of 2012, from a year of winners, and deserves to be played, even once.