All-American Hero, Or A Heart of Darkness?
XBox 360, PS3, PC
We like surprises here at Click and, despite all the talk about how great Spec Ops: The Line was going to be ahead of its release, we didn’t really think it would amount to much more than a run of the mill third person shooter with a hefty online component that’d fill a bit of a gap for gamers during the quiet summer season. Everything had pointed at that being the case, from the series’ chequered history through to the fact that Yager Developments and Darkside Game Studios didn’t exactly come with a world class list of titles behind them. In fact, we thought our expectations may have turned out to be a little high. We were wrong, so horribly wrong, and it’s never felt so good.
From looking at screenshots and pre-release videos of Spec Ops: The Line, you’d be excused for thinking it’s just another third person shooter with a generic cover system and lots of bad guys acting as cannon fodder, and while that does have an element of truth to it, it’s not wholly accurate when it comes to the bigger picture. You see, for the single player campaign at least, Spec Ops: The Line does what just about every other shooter before it has tried and failed in that it delivers a truly well written, twist filled narrative stuffed to the back teeth with emotion, feeling, big questions and even some moments that will really test your morality. No, we’re being serious.
Set in Dubai, the game follows your character, Captain Walker, and his two squad mates Lugo and Adams, as they embark on a rescue mission to save the missing Damned 33rd squadron who haven’t been heard from since the army issued orders to pull out of the region. Here Dubai is a city in ruins, torn apart by a series of storms and rendered almost uninhabitable. Walker has previously served with 33rd leader Colonel John Konrad (named as an homage to Joseph Conrad, the author of Heart of Darkness, from which the game draws much influence), and has an increasingly personal stake in the mission.
Voiced by videogame A-lister Nolan North, Walker’s character quickly begins turning from all-American army hero to a man obsessed, and that is ultimately the game’s strongest suit. The way the story shifts gradually, with players witnessing a gradual descent towards survival and success of the mission at any cost is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in a game before. While most other shooters are content simply to offer players solid in-game gunplay mechanics, a decent cover system and some semblance of a story to make an excuse for all the carnage, Spec Ops: The Line genuinely strives for a much more movie-like experience in terms of narrative, and it’s something that you simply need to experience for yourself to get a full understanding of.
While other games have tried such an approach, but fallen short overall due to poor gameplay, Spec Ops: The Line has no such issues. Everything here screams triple A for us, from the bleak visuals during sandstorms to the hugely satisfying gunplay to the level design. Even if things do occasionally feel a little too linear in their progression at times, particularly when you get caught up in the “clear an area, move to next area” sections that come thick and fast, it never gets to the stage where you get fed up, thanks mainly to a desire to see how the story pans out.
If one was to take issue with anything in particular, however, it would probably be the fact that the game’s cover system can occasionally be a little loose when it comes to ducking in and out of cover on the move. It works well most of the time, but there are moments where you’ll come a cropper due to the game wrongly interpreting your intentions, which can result in minor frustrations, particularly when playing in multiplayer.
Speaking of which, those of you who prefer to get your kicks online rather than in a single player campaign will find yourselves well catered for with The Line. All the usual suspects are here in terms of game modes, and the now standard load outs and perks are here in abundance to ensure that players can tailor the experience to suit their needs.
Even without the story and the spectacular subtlety and restraint shown (most of the time) by developers Yager in delivering it, Spec Ops: The Line would have been a damn fine game with. With it, it’s something that all shooter fans need to experience as a potential watershed moment for narrative within the genre.