Spec Ops: The Line
“It’s all your fault”
The release of Spec Ops: The Line does a hearty job of reinforcing the knowledge that war games featuring burly US Special Forces are here to stay. However after what at first seems to be yet another dreary take on what has increasingly become an oversaturated génre, soon gives way to something far more interesting. Spec Ops: The Line actually has a tale to tell.
Taking charge of US Delta Force operative Captain Martin Walker, you lead your two man squad on a search and rescue mission into the heart of Dubai (now considered a no-mans-land after the city falls fate to the unforgiving desert that surround it).
Your goal is the 33rd Battalion led by its enigmatic commander, Colonel John Konrad, who went AWOL during an attempt to evacuate civilians from the beleaguered city. A short time after your arrival it becomes apparent things aren’t as straightforward as initially thought, as what began as a simply rescue mission turns into a chaotic bloodbath filled with betrayal, deception and distrust.
As Captain Walker and his men move deeper into Dubai and the story unfolds, serious questions begin to rise. Not just as to why the 33rd have seemingly broken out into a bloody civil war, but also with regards to the actions of Captain Walker.
Walkers’ own struggle with the fear that the man who once saved his life is also responsible for the atrocities found beneath the shifting sands soon sees his brothers-in-arms shoot him distrustful sideway glances. As the bodies of American Servicemen and innocent civilians begin to mount up that distrust soon turns to anger and in time out right insubordination. It’s only Walkers stoic position of command and the unshakeable belief that what they’re doing is right that holds the now tenuous link between him and his men together. “The Colonel will have the answers” being the Captains constant mantra as the bullets fly and the bodies drop, and willingly or not, Walkers’ squad continue to follow him into the heart of darkness.
It may seem a tad clichéd and somewhat derivative, but in a génre crying out for competent story telling, developer Yager have succeeded in producing something of genuine quality; a dark and uncompromising tale that cleverly weaves its way through the grim realities of war and the notion of false heroism. It’s no Apocalypse Now, but it’s a far cry from the frankly embarrassing “No Russian”, which is a welcome relief.
Played from a 3rd person perspective, Spec Ops sits somewhere between Gears of War and Army of Two, improving in some areas while falling behind in others. You can snap into and out of cover, shoot over and around fallen debris, and smoothly shift from one area of cover to the next with a simple flick of the analogue stick. However the gameplay driving the action is no where as well realised as the story itself.
To be perfectly honest, what lays beneath the clever scripting and tight dialogue is essentially not much more than your typical cover-based shooter and it’s because of this the game never quite manages to achieve levels of greatness.
Set pieces are explosive and brutal as one might expect, and there are some truly inspiring moments of gameplay to be found, (being caught in a horrendous sandstorm during a heated fire-fight somewhere in the final third of the game is a particular stand out moment), but it’s the many niggles found throughout that ultimately tarnish the experience. For example, while the cover system is sound for the most part there are moments when Walker will randomly stand upright, exposing himself to a hail of gunfire, or become momentarily stuck to said cover just as a grenade lands right at his feet.
Combined with some rigid level design and the games habit of wrestling control from you without prior warning, these shortcomings all work together in dissolving the suspension of disbelief conjured by the games powerful story.
Thankfully AI is top-notch. Your troops will move and flank the enemy, point out key areas of weakness in damaged structures, or throw out a flashbang while encouraging you to take advantage of the situation. Your enemy is as equally as smart, utilising their surroundings to gain the upper hand as opposed to the usual nonsense of just running blindly into your gun-sights.
The action can become quite intense and as a result will constantly have you thinking on you toes as the enemy lay down a stream of suppressing fire, allowing their team mates to outflank your position or spread out more evenly across the battlefield in an attempt to find better vantage points in which to unleash a barrage of fire.
Yager may not have broken the mould of the conventional war game with Spec Ops: The Line, but by challenging the moral issues surrounding war, through a combination of smart AI, story telling and direction, they have given the génre a much needed kick up the backside. And for that alone they should be applauded.