A complete surprise on nearly every front, Spec Ops: The Line manages to keep the entertainment factor high while delivering a game with a surprisingly deep message. Perfectly balanced in the gameplay department with battles that require thought, strategy, and actual aiming skills, gamers looking for a competent action game will find just that plus more in the game as the pacing is perfect and the battles are ever intense. Spec Ops: The Line is a game that is impactful and is simply effective in showing that war can be a hellish experience that can break even the most skilled soldiers.
+ Story is beyond good in how it makes players think about their actions and ultimately what the casualty of war is.
+ Combat is handled in a smart way with enemy encounters that are challenging and consistently intense.
+ The lighting adds a tremendous amount of mood to the game and presents some breathtaking visuals.
+ We may have yet another game starring Nolan North, but the voice acting is excellent as the main cast delivers stunning performances, especially that of Bruce Boxleitner as Konrad.
+ Dubai looks beautiful and doesn’t feel too gamey in how it was adapted for a video game.
- Multiplayer is just kind of there and doesn’t feel like it’ll have a long-term community.
- Visuals look less than optimized in a few areas as there’s a lot of Unreal Engine 3 texture loading and pop-up.
Despite being glamorized for years in film, TV, and even literature, war is ultimately a hellish experience that is devoid of any true glory or things that can make someone feel proud. Now that’s not to take away from the valor that soldiers have who are fighting overseas, but I think there’s a slight disconnect when people imagine what war truly is. Up until now we haven’t seen too many games depict war for the hellish experience that it is but Spec Ops: The Line does a wonderful job at balancing the reality of the situation while giving gamers something to sink their teeth into.
As easy as it would be to imagine that Spec Ops: The Line is simply a merry adventure of American soldiers blowing stuff up in Dubai the game actually isn’t that simple. The plot of the game is certainly straight forward in the sense that it has three American Delta squad soldiers sent to Dubai to check a mysterious message that was left by an esteemed Colonel whose mission was to evacuate the now doomed city. But beyond that simple launching pad, Spec Ops: The Line delves into how war can change a man and in the process actually makes gamers think and reflect on their actions instead of aimlessly shooting stuff for eight hours in a carefree way.
To put it in a straightforward way, Spec Ops: The Line basically achieves everything Call of Duty has been trying to do for the last seven years. I don’t know if saying such a thing is akin to making the spark to light a massive fire, but it’s the honest truth. Being yet another modern warfare based shooter of the 3rd person variety; Spec Ops was something that could’ve easily been by the numbers in every possible way. There could’ve been a typical foreign villain, a few secondary characters that fulfill the dramatic and comedic archetypes, and there could’ve been the standard battles with swarms of enemies whose very existence it seems is to simply run out of small closets and to soak up as many bullets as they can before red stuff leaks out of them.
Where Spec Ops: The Line succeeds and CoD fails in in how it draws emotion of war and how it shows that war isn’t as glamorized as we may all like it to be. Now such a statement may make it sound like Spec Ops is a game that takes itself too seriously and sets out to say a message that may be heavy handed, but the way the game presents the drama and in a way made me reflect upon what I was doing is simply brilliant. Spec Ops may start off in a rather cliché way with a gun turret sequence aboard a helicopter, but the game quickly takes a turn in which battles have a rather serious and sometimes desperate tone to them, and the actual actions that are being committed come under scrutiny by the characters in the game as opposed to being celebrated with a congratulatory high-five after killing 25 people in a row.
As a game, Spec Ops: The Line presented me with a rather traditional gameplay offering that in some ways isn’t the most polished thing out there. The controls feel fine and are responsive but the cover mechanics feel clunky in a few ways when it comes to switching cover and in general the game has a slight warm-up period in which everything just needs to settle in. With that said, Spec Ops: The Line goes beyond the regular pattern of wave after wave of enemy battles as there’s instead real thought put into each of the encounters, not just in how each scenario is played out in a particular environment but the actual tactical that were used both by me and my enemies. Being able to issue simple attack orders to my comrades by holding the R2 button was integral since the enemies in Spec Ops just don’t linger in a spot like complete dummies waiting to be popped in the head. Enemies will actually flank during battle, advance aggressively and in some cases just run up buck wild if they’re a heavy or knife class enemy.
Dealing with crazed soldiers wielding knives wasn’t too much of a hassle since the guns in the game and their corresponding controls are some of the tightest I’ve experienced in a 3rd person action game. There’s nothing special about the gun selection in the game as it ranges the gamut from shotguns, automatic rifles and things of that nature, but each weapon in the game feels special in how it’s unique and doesn’t feel like it’s simply dishing out +2 damage and has a louder sound effect. From the rate of fire to small things like the reload animations and actual reload time, Spec Ops: The Line has a certain realism to it makes the game grounded as opposed to merely having accurately modeled guns be the sole source of realism.
There’s definitely a visceral energy in the battles as occasionally the game would suddenly enter slow-motion for five seconds to highlight a headshot in a way that made me think that the boom headshot gif should pop up in the lower right hand corner MK toasty style. Spec Ops certainly doesn’t hold back in the violence department but the battles never feel like they’re playing up the violence angle too much in the way that it’s something akin to action porn. I definitely had fun in the game shooting enemies and using the environment to my advantage by shooting windows to make sand fall in or enemies fall to their death, but in the end the true star of Spec Ops: The Line is the story and how things are presented.
Instead of offering a rather complacent story in which nothing is ever questioned, Spec Ops: The Line goes for a mature tale that’s brutal in a lot of way and never once portrays the main characters as complete heroes, even in the ending which is a shock of monumental proportions. Following the characters of the game (Walker, Adams, and Lugo) I was able to see the base personalities which thankfully weren’t too rooted in existing archetypes we’ve seen in dozens of games already.
Seeing the personalities of the characters is interesting since over the course of the game each of the men change in various ways due to the effects their mission has on them. While there isn’t a RPG style system in place which allows for different paths to take the characters on, it was nonetheless interesting to see the men de-evolve in a sense due to the horrors and psychological trauma war causes. Even with the fact that Nolan North voices Walker, the game doesn’t fall into a pattern in which it’s another dudebro game but instead turns into a thinking person’s shooter in which not everything is as it seems and the true face of war is actually shown.
Doing things like battling a group of soldiers has an intense feel in the game since at one point it’s unsure who the enemy is or whether or not there should be a battle going on in the first place. With my comrades yelling at me and gun fire going off, Spec Ops creates an unsure mood that’s really hasn’t been found in other war games as the action is usually glorified and it’s obvious that we should be shooting at enemy X. The game doesn’t play the shades of grey element too much as it instead lays out a rather direct plot and narrative reveals that are subsequently shocking and more gut punching as the game continues. But as the game continued I was met with moments in which I had to decide whether or not civilians would die or I had to face the hard reality of the situation by seeing how my actions affected a whole squadron of soldiers and the ultimate casualties of such a thing.
The feeling of certain parts of Spec Ops: The Line are definitely heavy but the game never felt like it was doing such a thing to illicit a shock or to merely be different. I think it’s for the best to say that certain elements of the game can be unsettling, but in a lot of respects the game is actually showing what war is like and in turn isn’t providing a disconnect for players as I first hand saw what the result of doing a particular action yielded and it certainly wasn’t pretty or glorious by any stretch of the imagination. Actually seeing the results of actions such as using a mortar reign down fire upon the enemy was an interesting element since it made me feel unsure of what I was doing, just like the characters were feeling in the game. So instead of feeling all heroic and like I was once again being a video game badass, I felt a bit sad and unsure of what the hell was going on – at least in a good way as the developers at Yager achieved what they set out to do; make war feel as hellish as it truly is.
A huge component in the successful tone Spec Ops: The Line achieves is through the very stylized yet tone appropriate visual representation the game goes for. I wouldn’t say the game hits a level of graphical fidelity similar to Uncharted as there are actually a few rough spots here and there such as the all too familiar Unreal Engine 3 problem of textures loading en masse for five seconds. But with that said, Spec Ops: The Line came across to me as a well-directed movie in a sense through the blocking of certain cutscenes/gameplay moments and how the game actually takes some creative chances – not just from a narrative standpoint but by representing certain things in a hyper-stylized or flat out gritty kind of way.
The lighting in the game plays a huge part in establishing the mood and creating that cinematic feel since some areas are washed out while others are almost basked in darkness save for a ray of light poking through to perfectly silhouette a nearby statue. It really came across to me as if Yager spent a tremendous amount of time crafting each level’s color palette to fit a certain mood as it did seem to mirror the downward spiral the characters go through and the steady descent into madness and violent actions that the narrative goes on. So as shocking as it may sound, Spec Ops: The Line is a game that doesn’t follow the normal path of going the brown route and instead injects a huge amount of personality and style into every key area and battle encounter the game provides.
The extravagant and excessively decadent nature of Dubai is on display in the game through hotels with grand staircases, walls adorned with elaborate wallpaper and grand towers that reach towards the heavens which also have the added bonus of having a Sea World style aquatic display in the main lobby. Spec Ops: The Line may not offer a representation of Dubai that’s 1:1 to the actual city as things like the Burj Khalifa aren’t on display, but the city itself looks amazing through some of the grand city landscapes that are depicted in a few key scenes which almost give this sci-fi edge to everything due to how sleek the buildings are. Beyond the sleekness that’s seen underneath the sand and rust, the grim nature of the game is also on display through street art which can be best described as being a more moody and graphic representation of what acclaimed street artist Banksy does. In a few key areas in the game I was shocked to see some beautiful but very graphic graffiti showing the juxtaposition of a particular area such as an image of a person shooting their head on a vacation ad. Used in the right places, the street art does paint a picture at how dire things are without coming across as too obvious and even better it presents another visual flourish to an already good looking game.
If there’s one inherent weak point of Spec Ops: The Line it has to be the multiplayer mode. While not feeling as shoe-horned as the infamously dull and pointless MP mode of Midway’s Stranglehold or 2K’s very own The Darkness, the multiplayer mode in Spec Ops just falls into a place where it feels like it’s in an identity crisis and even worse it’s plagued by technical problems. Including the typical gamut of game modes (team deathmatch, zone control), and more special modes that involve no spawns or dish out objectives, the base for a good multiplayer experience is there. Sadly it seemed like Yager and the support dev team couldn’t figure out what sort of tone to strike in the game.
While not entering a realm of arcade silliness, Spec Ops kind of draws from games such as SOCOM as strategy and patience is used but at the same time it’s filled with Perks and half a dozen weapons and other such mods that need mass XP leveling in order to acquire. Gaining XP to access a few weapons is fine, but in Spec Ops it puts the game in a weird spot as it’s not necessarily a fast and hectic action title so trying to gain XP is a process that’s simply long and in some cases tedious due to the tech issues that arise.
The multiplayer mode of Spec Ops: The Line sadly has the unique distinction of being host to quite a few technical issues which range from horrendous lag/framerate issues, slow matchmaking, glitches that involve guns becoming invisible and subsequently useless, and a poor lobby system. Those issues alone may make the multiplayer mode sound like a horrific nightmare, but when a match is devoid of lag things can be fun when everything clicks together. But even then I’m a bit unsure about the future of the multiplayer as it’s not necessarily strong on its own and even at launch the amount of players partaking in it seemed to be small. So it seems like due to its somewhat mixed production values the multiplayer mode of Spec Ops: The Line may soon be as barren as how Dubai is depicted in the game.
Spec Ops: The Line is far from being another conventional clone in the 3rd person action genre as it has some true depth to it that not many other games achieve or even set out to try in the first place. While the message the game is trying to tell is deep and ultimately is one that doesn’t end on a chipper note, the game still has all the action one would want from a video game without it being too repetitive, meaningless, or simply boring. The action in the game is something that kept me enthralled as the gun play is tight and is represented in a nice way, but the true centerpiece of Spec Ops: The Line is without a doubt the story as it actually has a narrative that isn’t disjointed and more importantly has an ending that is impactful for all the right reasons. While the game itself may be a bit on the short side, it took me around eight hours to complete, and the multiplayer is just kind of there, Spec Ops: The Line is a game that needs to be played by those who are looking for a modern warfare game that is both thought provoking and entertaining at the same time.