There’s a moment in Spec Ops: The Line, when you realize that the developers at Yager Development wanted to strive for something a little different from your typical third-person shooter. It doesn’t come from the few-and-far apart Dubai sand storms or uses of sand hazards that were the big selling point for this game. Nor does the key difference come from the glossy eyed, expressionless faces of the soldiers – predominantly shown in medium to wide shots to avoid close ups.
Spec Ops: The Line sidesteps the pitfalls of the traditional Real American Hero tale, which usually show why America kicks butt all over the world with perhaps the occasional mole. This soldier’s tale – about life after disaster – hones in on the singular character of Captain Martin Walker, his relationship to his teammates, and the suffering people of Dubai. There may only be a handful of choices for players to make throughout the story, but each decision creates a stronger emotional attachment between the player and Walker. Spec Ops: The Line is a game of real consequences, where the stakes are high, but not because you’re trying to save the world from terrorists. Black and white decisions don’t exist. You want to see where Walker’s grey journey goes and if he’ll be able to save Dubai working off shear will power.
Spec Ops: The Line takes place six months after a catastrophic sandstorm has destroyed the landscape of Dubai. The prominent country has now become a set of splintered refugee camps. Walker and his team have been sent into Dubai on a search and rescue mission. They’re not going in to rescue some key diplomat VIP, who has been kidnapped, but rather to access the situation in Dubai, following the sand storm and help evacuate the survivors. After his helicopter is shot down, Walker’s rescue mission turns into a search for the truth.
This third-person shooter offers a standard set of firearms. Although ammo may not be prevalent, there are always weapons to pick up from fallen enemies. Arms are drawn from typical cache of weapon categories: handgun and short-range weapons, shotguns, rifles, sniper rifles, heavy arms and grenades. Some of the weapons have a fair amount of distance on them, despite being designated for short range. When I ran out of sniper ammo, I found that I could snipe someone in the distance just as well with a strong handgun – I just needed to unload two or three more shots. The shotgun may not have the same fictitious distance, but it still had a longer range than you would find in another shooter. Players can also shoot blindly from behind cover.
When you start the game, you are introduced to sand as a major gameplay mechanic. Players may get caught in a sandstorm and have to continue to fire blind through enemies. Gamers will also have to shoot out windows so that the sand behind it empties out onto enemies. These moments are not frequent enough to be memorable. In real life, Dubai sandstorms may not happen every five minutes so when it happens in Spec Ops: The Line, it feels slightly tacked on. What is nice about the sand is how it affects the look of your team throughout the game. Walker’s men become progressively more bloodied and covered in sand to the point where it looks like the sand has been baked into their skin. It’s a great visual to see, especially set amidst the devastated landscape of post-storm Dubai.
As the sand grows into these characters’ skin, you also feel it reflected in the character voicing. The CG models may lack emotion, but the actors really added several layers of depth to these characters. Walker’s team consists of Lugo and Adams. Lugo is annoying and carefree at first, but his personality slowly and organically changes. It provides a nice juxtaposition to Adams, the more stolid soldier who is all about the mission. As the future of the refugees turns critical, the tension between this trio escalates to feature-film quality drama. Secondary characters really have a place in this world, right down to the wacky radio DJ, giving you the unwanted play by play.
The few helicopter turret scenes work well within the story. Nothing is worse than hopping into a helicopter to shoot down five-to-ten air and land targets and then hopping right out. Yager brilliantly lets gamers unleash some severe turret action in a later scene so that players can really embrace the power of the helicopter turret.
The game uses metal music as the audio bed for several scenes. The harsh sounds feel odd at first, especially if you’re thinking that this is a typical “war shooter.” It’s not, which is why the metal tracks actually augment the heart-pumping adventure as troops close in on you.
There are four levels of difficulty in Spec Ops: The Line, and the AI enemies provide consistent challenges throughout. Probably the most inconsistent AI characters are your teammates. On multiple occasions, I caught Adams and Lugo shooting at a wall. Luckily, you can assign specific targets to your team so that they actually focus their attention on living enemies. As you progress through the chapters, you’ll also find enemy soldiers wearing more hefty armor as well as a “heavy” soldier, who is walking around in a thick iron-like suit. One thing I would have liked to see more of are the kamikaze knife enemies. These characters have no use for cover and just rush at you recklessly. It would have been nice to see multiple enemies like this on more occasions as long as it didn’t become gimmicky.
The multiplayer modes have a standard array of Deathmatch and objective missions. The maps with sandstorms offer a nice variation on typical shooter maps. The storms happen more frequently within a game since the multiplayer gameplay doesn’t have to consider “realism” as much. Objective games offered the most fun with variations on king-of-the-hill, capture the flag and territories. Throughout campaign chapters, players will find themselves zip lining from one ruined building to another, but doing so in multiplayer will result in a shorter life expectancy.
Overall, Spec Ops: The Line is a fantastic shooter, with an engrossing single-player campaign. After you finish the game, you can play through each chapter individually to see how different choices play out. Purists who like to replay entire games to see multiple outcomes may not like this, but it worked for me.