Reviews July 13, 2012

Spec Ops: The Line

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: PC (Also on Xbox 360, PS3)
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
Rated: M
Players: 1 (2-16 online)
Cost: $49.99
Release Date: 06/26/2012
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Yager Development

Yager Development did an awesome job creating a gritty, military narrative that’s delivered via a mostly by-the-numbers third-person shooter. Not only that, they’ve successfully made the mass killing of bad guys questionable. Not since Shadow of the Colossus has a game made me feel bad for dispatching my adversaries. If nothing at all, Yager should at least be proud of that feat!

Spec Ops: The Line takes place in Dubai, a city located in the United Arab Emirates. The city has been left in ruins due to a series of record breaking sandstorms. United States Army Colonel John Konrad, leads the 33rd Battalion into the city to help with Dubai’s relief efforts. Apparently things didn’t go so well; months went by before anyone heard from the battalion. All of a sudden, a looped radio signal from Konrad was received. Believing he was still alive, the United States decides to send in Delta Force to do some reconnaissance. Led by Captin Walker (Konrad’s old friend), the team heads to Dubai to see what has become of the 33rd Battalion.

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After entering Dubai, Walker realizes that the 33rd has gone rouge. In order to maintain order in this ruined city, the military has declared martial law. Anyone who gets out of line is punished in the most horrific of ways. Everything, including the two other members of Delta Force, is telling Walker to turn back but he insists on finding Konrad. Before long, Delta is up to their necks in sand, shell casings, and bodies! This takes its toll on the would-be heroes’ psyche. At the beginning of the campaign they are willing to follow Walker where ever he goes. Sergeant Lugo, the marksman, is all jokes while Lieutenant Adams, the aviator/heavy weapons, is somewhat peaceful (for a guy holding a large gun). Walker is a determined, level headed leader who issues out orders in total confidence. As the story progresses though, their demeanor slowly changes.

What makes things worse is that, the majority of the enemy forces is made up of ex-US soldiers. And despite multiple “stop shooting, friendly fire” warnings the 33rd continued to wage war with Delta Force. The group goes from somewhat genial, to hopeful, confused, angry, and then downright psychotic. In the grand scheme of things it makes sense. After witnessing some of Konrad’s cruel methods of keeping order, I’d stop telling jokes too!

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On top of that are the choices that you, playing as Walker, are forced to make. There are times when you have to make a tough call, which could result in the deaths of many. The fact that they didn’t just leave and are fighting a part of our military is crazy enough, but now you have to weigh what you’re doing against what’s already being done. Are you helping or hurting innocent civilians by waging war in what’s left of their city? To what length would you go to confront an enemy? These are questions that your squad mates are going to be asking as you continue on your journey.

The story really excels at showing Delta’s downward spiral; the characters start to bicker and fight amongst themselves and the dialog changes from full sentences to strings of curse words. They even sounded angry when loading their weapons! This change in character was made real with the use of talented voice acting. Without sounding like stereotypical soldiers, I really believed that my squad was starting to unravel. The situations also affected me as a player. While I wasn’t in tears, I found that I didn’t enjoy shooting enemies like I would have in other games. This feeling that I’m doing something wrong worsened as I got closer to the end. Not to give anything away, but certain revelations made late in the story made past choices seem even more brutal.

Then there are times when the soundtrack seemed to reinforce the themes; as if the developers were using psychology to immerse us in the situations being presented. Basically what I’m getting at is that Yager has given us a different look at warfare in video games. In real life it’s brutal and unforgiving. Good intentions aren’t always good enough; while we aren’t initially the bad guys in this game, we are never the heroes!

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Of course, a good story is nothing without good gameplay. Spec Ops: The Line is the best title in the series. That said, there aren’t a lot of things we haven’t seen in other cover based shooters; if you’ve played any good titles recently, then you’ve played The Line. I can’t count how many times I’ve slid in and out of cover, roadie ran, and blind-fired at enemies. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this; Yager didn’t need to reinvent the wheel in order for Spec Ops to be fun to play. They did, however, add in a few tweaks that made my experience that much more enjoyable. One thing I noticed was blind-firing from turrets. On one hand that doesn’t seem like a big deal. On the other, no other third person shooter (in recent memory) has had that feature. Other games would force you to stand behind the turret out in the open and exposed to enemy fire. This small addition made taking over turrets worth more than just a brief moment of infinite ammo.

There were also cool elements that had to do with the unique setting itself. Let’s say you threw a grenade at someone but missed your mark. Even though the exposition wouldn’t kill the enemy, the sand it kicks up would temporally blind them. Then there are the sandstorms that seemed to happen just as the fighting intensified. Normally, your AI controlled opponents are smart, hiding behind cover and occasionally trying to out-flank you. During a storm, due to the impaired vision, your enemies will dynamically change their behavior. In some instances they’ll rush your position, thinking that they’ll be able to take you down in all the confusion. In others they’ll simply run to find cover. Its little touches like this that really makes the gameplay more enjoyable then the typical shooter.

While the gameplay is good overall, I did feel like there were a couple of areas that could have been better. One area again has to do with the sand. Because of the sandstorms, the sand had piled up really high; you could step out of a window and walk on the sand over to the top of a skyscraper. At certain points in the game you’ll be prompted to bring down walls or shoot holes in windows that are holding back large amounts of sand. The results were an overwhelming display of soldiers being buried alive and a quick solution to a difficult situation. This would have been great if these moments weren’t completely scripted. Enemies will position themselves in the worse places right before the game notifies you of their blunder. You won’t feel smart using the sand to your advantage because the game sets up the perfect scenarios. It seems like a missed opportunity to really shake things up.

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The multiplayer component has the normal bells and whistles that have become staples of the genre. There are different classes with unique perks, loadout customization, unlockable weapons; you know…the usual. There are six competitive game types to choose from. That said, no one seemed to want to play anything other than DM and TDM. I even tried playing at different times, late on weekends, nothing; I have no idea how these other modes play. The brief online matches I did get to play were fun at least. There are even random sandstorms that ramps of the tension just like in the single player mode. Unfortunately, I can’t say whether or not the other competitive modes are worth much.

All and all, Spec Ops: The Line is a good game. It has one of the best military stories this generation, delivered via good voice actors and action packed gameplay. The multiplayer seems like it would be a fun diversion but there aren’t that many people playing over Steam. Plus, the ones playing don’t seem to like anything but deathmatches. Bottom line, should it be experienced by shooter fans? Yes. Is it a must buy for everyone? Maybe not over Steam!  

Gameplay: 8
The single player carries The Line. The multiplayer component is fun, even if I didn’t get to try all that it had to offer.

Graphics: 8
Visually, The Line is decent.

Sound: 9
The voice acting is good and the music selections can be awesome at times.
   
What’s New: 6
There are little things here and there that I like. Other than that, there isn’t much new being added to this genre.

Replay Value: 6
It’s a fun game. I think the multiplayer mode would add to the replay value if more people were playing.

Final Score:

7.4