Military shooters are beyond a dime-a-dozen these days. Even outside of your AAA titles like Gears of War and Ghost Recon, you’ll see third person cover systems thrown into games like Mass Effect as well. Clearly, there wasn’t a lot of breathing room for Spec Ops: The Line, a game that’s been in development and delay cycles for years. While it’s in the Spec Ops series, it introduces its own storyline, opting to follow the story of Captain Martin Walker and his mission to evacuate the sandstorm-ravaged city of Dubai. With an enhanced perspective of tactics and strategy in taking down your targets, does Spec Ops hold a candle to the third-person greats like Gears of War?
The story in Spec Ops is a convoluted tale that has many twists and turns, and this is the game’s strongpoint – the game features key decisions where you’ll feel like a terrible person no matter what the choice is, and that’s where this game prevails. At the start, you are Captain Martin Walker, looking for a well-respected Colonel John Konrad in the midst of the natural disaster of massive sandstorms surrounding the ravaged city of Dubai, but things won’t unfold as you would think. Instead of a “rah, rah, America” kind of vibe you might have come to expect, this game will definitely make you rethink your sense of morality, humanity, and wondering if all of your effort is worth it. Without going into a lot of details, you won’t feel that many happy moments in this game, and it’s not like the enemy is a monstrous, faceless force; they are human beings. Shooting them really doesn’t give you the sense of satisfaction you would get from Covenant forces in Halo. Even now there are more than a handful of scenes that are incredibly disturbing, leading you to question what the hell is actually going on.
The environments are breathtaking, and there were more than a couple scenes where I just had to stare in awe. Spec Ops takes place in Dubai after a cataclysmic sandstorm occurred (and is still occurring). The storms have made the urban skyscrapers look like a lost civilization. Obviously, these kinds of incidents are prone to more crime starting up, and while Dubai was said to be deserted, you’ll soon find out that it’s far from it. Traversing the environments aren’t easy, since the fastest way to travel is by ziplines. The sand is a constant theme, as it will shift environments, both physically and in your ability to see, and you can use sand to stun or crush enemies. Many modern shooters are full of browns and greys, and even with all of the sand, the environments are colorful, some even gruesomely so when you see especially gory scenes.
The sounds also resonate particularly well under these circumstances, muffled under the sandstorm or otherwise. It’s a small touch – but noticeable, as you won’t be able to hear commands as clearly when it’s storming, and you’ll have a hard time seeing your target, as well. Speaking of sound, Nolan North, one of gaming’s most prolific voice actors, really seems to give it his all this time around. Compared to Assassin’s Creed or Shadow Complex, he has a lot more passion and emotion in this character than in most of his roles.
The actual gameplay mechanics aren’t particularly amazing. It’s very clear they’re cutting from Gears of War cloth, but it honestly felt a bit more awkward. Running up to and hopping over cover are assigned to different buttons, making it difficult to haul ass under pressure. Dodging is also strange – there’s no roll dodging like Gears of War or Mass Effect 3. It makes sense – you’re not a superhuman, you’re a normal human, but it makes switching between covers difficult. However, there are a lot more strategy elements in how you fight waves of enemies. You can control your squad to take out key enemies in the wave with the press of a button, either to break up enemy squads with grenades, or to take out specific targets with snipers.
In terms of weaponry, you’re working with your standard modern military arsenal – you’ve got your AK47s, M4A1s, UMP45s, even RPGs. Each weapon has a unique attachment – ACOG scopes that zoom in, three-round burst fire so you don’t waste ammo, silencers when you want to keep it stealthy. However, the attachments, more often than not, do not stack. The crucial point is – you’re constantly low on ammo due to the disaster that had occurred in the sandstorm and constantly shifting weapons to keep pushing forward. And you’ve got to be careful, as you die much faster than in many other games; again, you’re not some kind of amped-up power-armored super-soldier, you’re a normal human being. You can’t just shake of grenade blasts like they are nothing, they’ll affect you well after the explosion.
Outside of the campaign, there’s a competitive multiplayer mode that isn’t spectacular, but isn’t terrible, either. It’s a nice blend of Call of Duty and Ghost Recon in that you’ll see things like perks and classes, even a prestige mode called “re-enlistment”. You have a load-out similar to what you’ll see in most multiplayer games (primary and secondary weapons, grenade types, etc.), and similar modes as well. You’ve got your standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, even some objective gametypes, but the mode I caught onto was “Buried”. In “Buried”, you destroy enemy “vital points” on the map to find the high value target, and your goal is to destroy that to win the match.
Even with a sort of run of the mill multiplayer mode, Spec Ops: The Line truly differentiates itself from other shooters out there with its thought-provoking story that you really shouldn’t miss out on and unique setting that hasn’t been seen in many games thus far. While basic gameplay elements in gunfights and movement leave something to be desired, it’s still a great experience in a world full of very generic shooters. Don’t let Spec Ops: The Line pass you by, it’s guaranteed to be certainly one of the biggest surprises of the summer.