After years of development, Spec Ops: The Line finally storms to shelves, providing a cover-based, third-person shooter experience that aims to separate itself from the over-saturated pack. Published by 2K Games and developed by Yager, did the development time payoff for a unique experience or is this a game you shouldn’t put your money on the line for?
Taking control of Martin Walker, a limited vocabulary, F-bomb Captain (voiced by
Nathan Drake Nolan North), you receive a distress call for a rescue mission in Dubai. With Walker are his two squad mates, Adams and Lugo, whom have their own thoughts on the mission but still respect their captain. As you arrive in Dubai, you notice that the city is desolate and barren. Pressing on, armed locals aren’t too thrilled that you guys are there and begin to open fire. Sounds pretty much like a typical military shooter, right? Well, the game intentionally makes it seem like that but you’ll soon learn a few chapters in, that things aren’t as they seem. You’ll be listening in on broadcasts nearby that someone is watching you and has a very deranged mind on the situation at hand. The story pans off as predictable within the first few chapters but every time you think you know what’s coming, plot twists keep getting thrown at you.
You’ll soon notice that Spec Ops goes from standard fare to a psychological experience. There’s no denying it, war is ugly. Soldiers have witnessed some pretty unfathomable things out there and Spec Ops actually uses that to its advantage, making you question if what you’re seeing is reality or insanity. It is here, where Spec Ops excels from every other military-based game on the market. Given decisions to make later in the game, you will have to choose how to react in certain situations that can affect your experience. Spec Ops: The Line’s story isn’t one where it’s about being a hero and blasting “America, F*** YEAH!” while carrying out your mission. Instead, this story conveys the nature of how war is about one thing and one thing only, survival.
Spec Ops: The Line is a straight up third-person, cover-based shooter that also lightly incorporates some squad-based mechanics. While carrying out your mission to rescue and evacuate civilians, you’ll be running, shooting and taking cover as you keep advancing forward with your squad. However, Spec Ops tries to change it up throughout the 15 chapter campaign by having you thrown into intense rail-shooting sequences or being caught up in more cinematic-style moments.
If there’s one thing that stands out more than anything in Spec Ops, it’s the environment. Similar to how Rapture played a massive role in BioShock, Dubai plays an enormous role in Spec Ops. Essentially, Dubai is a character in itself. As you traverse the dead city, you’ll notice that ammo is a thing of luxury, leaving you more calm and collective about planning your shots as opposed to spraying bullets all around.
Pretty much, if you’ve played any third-person shooter, you have a general idea as to what to expect from Spec Ops: The Line. However, if you’re expecting to go in, running-and-gunning your way through, then you’ll likely see the “You Died!” screen popping up quite often. Spec Ops is a cover-based shooter, and it isn’t joking around about that. For a game that begs for you to get to cover as much as possible, the cover system isn’t as smooth as it should be though. You’re forced to face in the exact direction of an object for the context-sensitive action to appear and during the middle of the most intense firefights, this can lead to some unnecessary cheap deaths. Oddly, when switching cover-to-cover, the camera has to be perfectly positioned as well, which a slight annoyance.
Thankfully, shooting is fine tuned and responsive with some solid hit-detection in place. Rewardingly, popping enemies in the head will result in a quick slow motion effect to confirm you nailed someone in the cranium. What’s even more satisfying is using the shotgun and seeing their head explode in slow motion. While we’ve seen this in many games before, it’s great to see Yager added a detail such as this to help convey the reality that war is brutal. You have a melee attack at your disposal as well, which is simply knocking someone down with your elbow. Using this to your advantage, you can approach the enemy on the floor and execute him with a variety of different finishers depending on the weapon equipped at that moment. There’s even a variety of soldiers to help keep gunfights fresh. You’ve got your typical grunts and snipers but you’ll also have to worry about CQC (Close-Quarter Combat) specialists and heavily armored soldiers that literally just absorb a ton of ammunition to go down.
There are times when playing squad-based game where you have to deal with incompetent AI unfortunately. Spec Ops: The Line actually dodges that bullet and provides AI squad mates that actually kill enemies on their own, don’t stand around idly and face walls or anything of the sort. You can give them an attack command where you can highlight the enemy in the distance and task them with taking them out. This becomes especially handy when enemies are surrounding around the area and you’re trying to regenerate your health while in cover.
As stated earlier, Spec Ops becomes a bit of a psychological experience, in which things begin to not seem so black and white. Without getting into any details, there are particular moments in the game where this comes into effect and when it does, you’ll have a hard time putting the controller down. It’s these sequences where you get really engrossed in the experience. Again though, I won’t even begin to explain a single one of these as any of the moments mentioned would be a spoiler to both the story and gameplay.
Upon completion, you can go back and tackle harder difficulties and/or replay specific chapters to make different decisions from the ones you made on your first playthrough. There’s hidden intel scattered throughout the campaign and each piece helps flesh out the experience just a bit more. Multiplayer fans can also dig into the game’s online mode, which offers your standard fare of modes along with a few extra twists. There’s a good amount of customization and loadouts to be had here so if you’re looking for a multiplayer game to keep your attention for some time, this may fit the bill.
Yager has done an impressive job with their art direction of Spec Ops: The Line. Unlike most military-based games that are dreary and drab, Dubai is full of life, rich in color and has beautiful lighting effects to accompany it. Character models are very well detailed, both the main characters in your squad, as well as the NPCs. Over the course of the campaign, you’ll see Walker and his squad mates much more battle damaged and war-torn…and it stays that way, or gets worse, until the very end. The sand detail is also stunning, especially when you see it pouring into buildings through windows or encounter sandstorms that dramatically affect the environment. However, textures tend to load a good amount while advancing forward and make objects go from incredibly bland to rich detail, pulling you away from the immersion. The game does run smoothly with no framerate drops but there’s some screen-tearing that occurs throughout the experience.
Bring Nolan North on board and we can make any character more engaging, right? Not exactly. While Nolan North is an excellent voice actor, he just doesn’t really fit the part of Walker at all. Add in the fact that everyone is swearing to no end and it just feels incredibly forced. Regardless, voice acting is pretty solid across the board. Sound effects are gripping, making you feel like you’re actually out in the battlefield in Dubai with the guns packing a punch. All the ambient effects sound crisp and powerful, especially during the Sandstorm sequence. The soundtrack on the other hand, is entirely lackluster. The music that kicks in during action is decent but very generic, rarely heightening the intensity that the game conveys.
Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10
Spec Ops: The Line provides a surprisingly unique experience that no other military-based game has conveyed. It showcases the reality of how awful war can be while ironically being placed in an environment full of life and detail. Thanks to strong visuals, an incredibly engaging storyline and solid mechanics, Spec Ops: The Line is one of those titles that needs to be experienced. Even if military shooters aren’t your thing, Spec Ops clearly does something unique in an over-saturated genre and would be great to see more of this series in the near future.
+ Excellent environment
+ Strong visuals
+ Superb, unique storyline
+ Solid gameplay mechanics
– Cover system needs some fine tuning
– Soundtrack is very generic and forgettable
– Nolan North doesn’t fit the role of Walker
– Excessive swearing to the point where it’s obnoxious
A special thank you to 2K Games and Access Communications for providing us a review copy of Spec Ops: The Line!