By Bryce Wilson
I went into Spec Ops: The Line hoping for a memorable experience. The premise was there; it was marketed as a realistic and emotionally gritty tale of modern soldiering in a place where not only the sand shifted, but moral obligations did too.
The unrelenting desert heat constantly batters down on our hero, and by the end of the relatively lengthy story, every character is miles beyond what they originally were when we were introduced.
In an engine featuring impressive physics, and a unique weathering system, story is the strongest tool in Spec Ops: The Line’s arsenal. Sure, the gameplay is fun (for a little bit, but more on that soon), and you feel drawn into the decisions, but it’s the tumultuous story that resides within the game that makes it an incredible experience.
In a world where we’re constantly bombarded (pun intended) with images of war, violence, and wanton destruction, Spec Ops: The Line (Spec Ops from hereon in) shows us a different face of war. Where Call of Duty gives us cocaine shots of arcade action and then zooms away, Spec Ops leaves us with the residual effects of Captain Martin Walker and his loyal squad of soldiers actions.
Set in a now wasteland Dubai, Martin Walker is tasked with investigating the disappearance of a U.S. military contingence, and from there things only get worse. The once loyal soldiers of the U.S. Army now carry a “kill on sight” moniker, and even though your life teeters on the balance, Walker is constantly cornered by the emotional and moral impact of his actions. Your group of Delta Squad soldiers is but a single facet in a multi-faced civil war raging on the streets of Dubai.
Developers Yager Development have crafted a unique environment and then given you a set of unobtrusive skills to tear it apart. As I mentioned earlier, Dubai is now ravaged by the constant expanse of sand surrounding it. Buildings are destroyed, and the “diamond in the rough” city has been reclaimed by the environment. These environmental variables influence each firefight you get into.
Because of the tactical options this affords, the environmental damage that hampers you also helps you. Shooting out panes of glass to drown your enemies in suffocating sand is just as effective as throwing a well place grenade. Seeing a cluster of enemies goes from, “How do I kill these dudes with as little effort as possible?” to, “I can shoot him, lay down cover fire, and then destroy that supporting wall, and cover them in sand.”
The gunplay is awkward at times, and both the control and animation engine is awkward, but when it comes together it does so in a way that you’re left feeling as if this whole experience is a unique one, and it rightfully is. While the movement is quite encumbering at times, Walker’s fellow soldiers, Lugo and Adams, pull their own weight, and I found myself relying on them a number of times as I became hitched on segments of the level while vaulting, or didn’t make it into cover properly.
Sometimes the unpredictability of it is fun and interesting, but the major part of me wishes more attention was paid to movement because it ultimately detracts from what is otherwise a fluid experience.
Even with the shiny promises of dynamic gameplay, it still grows old. I mentioned in the opening of my review that Spec Ops gets boring after a while, and trust me, it does. Spec Ops would have served better as a film than a fully-fledged interactive title, because for the most part you’re left with a very “Oh, another linear gunfight?” feeling.
At the end of the story you’re both relieved that the experience is over, but also sad that it’s over. You come to see Walker, Lugo, and Adams all change dramatically, and a lot of it is due to your moral choices throughout the campaign. I completed the story twice, and each time got two different endings and I felt both offered enough closure (and more questions) to make me feel like in the end they were just people.
Spec Ops does have a multiplayer mode, but it’s almost painful enough to ignore. It feels tacked on, and features the same now repetitive RPG style of unlocking weapons, skins, and attachments, that we’ve seen countless times before.
Buried, the shining light of Spec Ops’ multiplayer is the focal point of the online component. Teams fight to sabotage an enemy HQ while defending their own. It’s fun, fast, and frantic. Alliteration aside, for a game that tried to innovate its storytelling so much, it’s a real shame that the online aspect fell so flat.
Spec Ops: The Line isn’t a bad game, not by a long shot; it’s just that it’s not a good game either. For the well done story, I can’t help but look over the clunky gameplay. For the incredible attention to character detail, I can’t help but look over the stale multiplayer. Sure, the sore thumb multiplayer shouldn't detract from the unique single player, but that same single player is let down by such a clichéd, tacked on multiplayer.
What I will say, is that it’s an experience. I went into this title expecting to be disappointed, but I wasn’t. Sure, I wasn’t wowed or left with a feeling of “I need to 10/10 this because it’s dope!”, but I was left feeling that Spec Ops: The Line is a title people owe it to themselves to pick up and experience. This is an innovative experience, and in today’s jaded relatively jaded market, Spec Ops and its challenging moral dilemma are to be commended.