Spec Ops: The Line review

Spec Ops: The Line is a third person tactical shooter based in Dubai, six months after it was wiped from the map by a sandstorm of biblical proportions. Your job is to search for survivors and radio for Evac. It’s a simple premise for a shooter and an excuse for some spectacularly shiny buildings to get maltreated in rather cinematic fashion, with yours truly as special guest in the opening credits – a nice touch.

Yager drops you into the thick of it from the word (censored)storm to give you a taste of the journey ahead  before reigning back to let you find your way and figure out what is going on in the once great city. It doesn’t take long before you realise that something is very wrong with Dubai, apart from the obvious fact of it being buried under millions of tonnes of sand. Rotten corpses fester in the shadows or hang from lamp-posts, swinging lazily in the breeze, while graffiti colours stone and glass alike with messages of revolution. It’s an eerie journey with a definite “Apocalypse Now” feel.

Not that you have to do it alone of course; you have two companions under your wing. A heavy gunner by the name of Adams and a marksman called Lugo. From the onset the conversation between the three drifts from funny to horrified as they change as human beings, scarred by the insanity of war. The voice acting (and script) is top of the line with Nolan North of Uncharted fame being on fine form as usual, even if it is disconcerting to hear him swear so much. Musically there are some great tunes thrown in with the incredible amount of noise created during a gun fight to help immerse the player in the frenetic action.

This is my rifle. This is my gun.

The modern day staples of third person shooters are all present and correct too. Running and sliding into cover to take pot shots at the insanely aggressive enemies, or just blind firing your gun over the top before scuttling away as grenade or heavy weapons fire obliterates it is always satisfying in the heat of battle. Add this to the fact that you can order your team mates to suppress and/or terminate a foe along with using the numerous opportunities to exploit the abundance of sand pressing in from all sides to take out your aggressors and you are onto a winner.

Your opposite number won’t stand about waiting for you to turn them into another roadside decoration though. They are highly motivated and aggressive fighters, some of which have very suicidal tendencies and can lead to some brutally intense and difficult sections. No AI is perfect though and the odd idiotic situation does arise leading to the death of a seemingly blind combatant or your death due to the ineptitude of your team. These are minor niggles though and don’t detract from the game as a whole and the inclusion of sandstorms that hamper both view and aim, along with making it impossible to give your squad orders until they blow themselves out add a nice change of pace to the feverish battles.

Your battles are fought on multiple levels as enemy forces use zip lines or rappel down the face of a shattered hotel to rain death from every angle. Using the environment to kill by blowing out a plate glass window that was holding out the desert and give an escape route at the same time, or destroying a glass roof hiding a sniper certainly add to the feel that it was once a living, breathing city; one that still has flashes of stunning beauty that show off the well used Unreal engine that treat us to stylish interiors full of grandeur and a taste of the opulent lives of the super-rich, but can just as easily turn its hand to the sickening reality of the present day plight of the remaining people of Dubai.

The horror…The horror…

No shooter, third person or otherwise, would be complete without multiplayer and this game is no exception. The usual Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch modes appear alongside variations on protecting or attacking a marked area/target. Characters level up as you gather XP from kills, assists and various other point accumulating tasks. It all seems well balanced and with the addition of the environmental kills/incapacitations via sand piles it can be a real blast, though the loading times between matches (and between levels in the single player campaign) does get a little tiresome.

Overall, the battles in both campaign and multiplayer are set across some well designed areas, with opportunities for changing tactics and therefore the outcome of an encounter. Multiplayer can be particularly adrenalin inducing in the extreme depending on the style of players you are facing. In single player campaign mode the fighting is brutal, with execution moves accompanied by disturbingly realistic sounds and at times the visuals can be harrowing, especially when you’re shown a consequence of your actions. It makes for a very sobering experience.

You will feel uncomfortable with some of the decisions you have to make in Spec Ops: The Line but then, that’s the point. War is a no-win scenario to those that wage it or get caught up in the conflict and Yager forces you to see through the eyes of a soldier in a way I haven’t seen in a game before. The whole package feels polished and innovative enough to rise above the glut of third person shooters, but the sometimes twitchy controls and punishing difficulty spikes may put the impatient off.

Game details

Game title: Spec Ops: The Line
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Available for: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Yager
Strengths: Tight script and voice acting. Great visuals and solid gameplay across the board.
Weaknesses: Twitchy controls. Long loading times.
Score: 8 out of 10

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