Spec Ops The Line tells a gritty, compelling story of the horrors of war, but it’s undercut by ropey mechanics and unsatisfying gameplay
On the surface Spec Ops: The Line looks like a hybrid of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Gears Of War. Here’s a third-person cover-based shooter featuring macho US military types tasked with hunting down an army colonel suspected of going rogue.
Spec Ops The Line: Plot
Peel away that tissue-thin premise, however, and Spec Ops The Line reveals hidden depths in its compelling and gruesome narrative. The game is set in world where a cataclysmic sandstorm utterly wrecked Dubai, and the US army dispatched a regiment – the ‘Damned’ 33rd – to secure the city and help with the relief effort.
The player takes on the role of a soldier named Walker, who once served in the 33rd, who is dispatched to Dubai to make contact with the regiment’s commanding officer, Colonel Konrad. It seems that Konrad has stopped reporting to his superiors and the US top brass want Walker to discover why this is.
Spec Ops The Line: Setting and characters
From the opening moments of the game, it’s clear that Walker – whom the player controls – and his two teammates Adams and Lugo are in for a rough ride. As they head into the broken city, they come across grisly spectacles such as heads on spikes, bodies strung up to lamp-posts and graffiti showing pleas for mercy and calls for murder.
Walker and his men are well drawn and their dialogue rings true. As they fight their way through Dubai towards Konrad, their relationship is tested by the horrors they see and the paths the player follows.
It’s clear that the developers aren’t channelling the usual sources for the action in military shooters – such as Michael Bay or Michael Mann – and instead are referencing Apocalypse Now and by extension, Heart Of Darkness.
Konrad’s disappearance and the zealot-like loyalty of his troops instantly recall Kurtz from Joseph Conrad’s novel, and the scenes of horror that greet the player would be right at home in Francis Ford Coppolla's ‘Nam movie.
The smashed Dubai makes all of the horrific scenes of violence in the game seem garishly surreal. While a lot of the city lies in ruins, Walker and his crew fight the odd gun battle in surroundings of disgusting opulence and occasionally come across the sight of corpses strewn about in bastions to luxury.
It all combines to make the game feel unhinged, which plays beautifully with the story’s themes of madness and chaos.
Spec Ops The Line: Gameplay
Unfortunately, the game’s mechanics aren’t as well implemented as its story and setting. Too often, the player is let down by cover-based mechanics that hamper their aim, or boot them out of cover at inopportune moments.
They have a melee attack and the ability to leap over pieces of cover, but these are mapped to the same button, which means the game frequently interprets an attempt to get out of a firing line as the player wielding the butt of their gun as a weapon. In instances where a speedy evasion is necessary, this spells certain death.
The problem here is that the bad gameplay means the player is on the back foot against an AI that is actually very good. On low-levels of difficulty it moves to take up more advantageous battlefield positions and uses grenades to flush the player out of cover.
At higher levels, it lays down suppressing fire and flanks the player at the same time. To top it all off, the further the player gets into the story, the more likely they are to encounter foes who can soak up damage like a sponge. This wouldn’t be a problem if the player could rely on the gameplay mechanics, but they can’t.
Spec Ops The Line: Verdict
In the end, players are likely to find that they’ll enjoy the game’s story more than they’ll enjoy actually playing through the game. This is a pity because Spec Ops The Line has one of the best narratives and best settings for a game that players are likely to see all year. Overall, though, we wanted to like this shooter more than we actually did.
Spec Ops The Line availability: 29 June 2012
Spec Ops The Line price: From £39.99