Spec Ops: The Line Review (PC)

very good
key review info
  • Game: Spec Ops: The Line
  • Platform: PC
  • Gamepad support: Yes  
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Spec Ops: The Line PC review

The shooter genre, whether it’s first or third person, has become one of the most boring ones in the gaming industry, yet, as a complete paradox, it’s still one of the most profitable.

Thankfully, while it may not look like much from the outside, Spec Ops: The Line, the newest third-person shooter from Yager and 2K Games, manages to bring some much needed innovation to the genre, especially in terms of story.

Being set in a Dubai ravaged by sandstorms and with a desire to reveal the atrocities of war, Spec Ops: The Line is definitely looking like a breath of fresh air among dusty old shooters.

Does it succeed in making the genre relevant or does it fumble before reaching the objective? Let’s find out.
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Explore a devastated Dubai ...
... and be wary of sandstorms
Story

Protagonists in shooters nowadays are as one-dimensional as they come, being able to easily mow down thousands of non-descript enemies without batting an eyelash. In The Line, however, you play as Delta Force Captain Martin Walker who, alongside his squad mates, Lugo and Adams, needs to head into a Dubai wrecked by sandstorms. Their mission is to find the remnants of The Damned 33rd, a battalion led by Colonel John Konrad, who was supposed to evacuate civilians out of the city before the storms hit.

While the premise may not seem that out of the ordinary, the actual narrative is heavily based on Joseph Conrad’s cult classic book Heart of Darkness and on its big-screen adaptation, Apocalypse Now.

Things quickly go haywire and Walker is forced to lead his team in fights against bandits, civilians, CIA agents, and even U.S. soldiers who are engaged in a bitter fight around the ruins of Dubai. There are no easy choices in this game as it becomes a battle of survival that usually entails choosing between the lesser of two evils.

Slowly but surely, the events take a toll on the physical and mental aspects of the protagonists and players are forced to engage in all sorts of actions.

To put it bluntly, Spec Ops: The Line is probably one of the most accurate depictions of warfare in interactive entertainment. If you pay attention to what’s happening on the screen, you’ll begin to care more and more about Walker and his team and wonder about what really happened to Dubai when the sandstorms hit.

The ending is ambiguous, to say the least, and you’ll most certainly want to replay it multiple times in order to choose different courses of action. While the actual conclusion may confuse some players and the game leaves a lot of things to their imagination, it’s still a great narrative.
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Command your team ...
... and defeat your enemies

Gameplay

Spec Ops: The Line excels in terms of story, but its gameplay isn’t too shabby either, as it delivers one of tightest third-person shooter experiences since franchises like Gears of War or Uncharted.

While combat mostly relies on using cover and waiting for the right time to go on the offense, the whole experience is enriched by different mechanics, such as a squad command one. While you can’t order your squad mates around the battlefield, you can set priority targets to be taken down as soon as possible and even make them deploy grenades or flashbangs during certain moments.

Sadly, their AI isn’t that great and, when given a priority target, they easily jump out of cover and head right for the enemy, often getting shot in the process. When they’re down, you can go up to them and revive them before they bleed out or order the remaining squad mate to do that.

Weapons are quite varied and all feel great when in use. While you might end up with favorites early on, do try to use all of them as you might end up missing out on some great items. Most importantly, however, is that all of the guns, from the pistols to the machine guns, and even the grenades have a sense of weight and you can feel the impact of the bullets into your enemies.

Enemies are quite smart and, even on the normal difficulty setting, quite aggressive. They don’t die easily, unless you score a perfect headshot, and range from regular ones with rifles or SMGs, to heavily armored ones or nimble foes that run right at you with a knife. They always communicate on the battlefield and you can easily figure out their strategy if you pay enough attention.

Spec Ops: The Line also has a few other claims to fame, including the novel sand mechanics. During regular fights in buildings there are quite a few spaces filled with sand that, if shot at, spew it out and confuse enemies. If you’re actually fighting on the sand and throw a grenade, a big puff of sand appears after the explosion that also leaves opponents stunned.

During certain moments in the game, massive sandstorms appear, which makes navigation and combat quite difficult. Fortunately, they don’t last long and affect your enemies more than you.

While the game uses all sorts of environments, from giant aquariums and restaurants to sand-filled marinas with ravaged yachts, it can still feel a bit claustrophobic at times and you’re easily reminded every now and then that you’re on a linear path and can’t really deviate from it.

Movement is also a tricky area in the game as it doesn’t allow that much room for maneuverability when you’re in cover and feels quite clunky when you need to pull off some split second dashes, like when you’re running away from grenades.




Multiplayer

Spec Ops: The Line also has an online multiplayer that’s quite decent but a bit basic. While it won’t compete with the likes of Uncharted or Gears of War, the mode delivers a good experience, features different types of modes, from Team Deathmatch to King of the Hill, and has an RPG-like progression mechanic that lets players unlock different gear and items.

Sadly, after witnessing the atrocities from the single-player campaign, the multiplayer feels a bit tacky and doesn’t really feel that fun as you’re always reminded the consequence of your actions. Even so, it manages to deliver some entertainment and extends the shelf-life of the game, at least until the cooperative missions are released via DLC in August.
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Review image
Remember the fallen ...
... and try to stay sane

Graphics and Sound

Spec Ops: The Line uses the Unreal Engine 3, but it manages to avoid quite a lot of its inherent issues, like texture pop-in and low quality character models. In fact, the in-game cut scenes and models are even better than the pre-rendered cinematics which are of an extremely low quality.

The game also changes settings in a flawless manner by taking advantage of the different influences seen in Dubai. As such, it offers harsh deserts one moment and in the other brightly colored dining rooms or giant aquariums.

In terms of sound, The Line once again shines as it uses a variety of licensed progressive rock tunes to highlight a variety of firefights at the beginning of the game, and slowly lets players engage in battles without any sort of audible distraction, letting them truly contemplate on their actions.

Voice acting is also top notch, with Nolan North taking the role of Martin Walker and truly selling his slow mental breakdown as he progresses through the story. The other characters are also quite believable even if a few clichés, like a crazy DJ, are present.
Review image
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Travel through Dubai ...
... and survive against all odds

The Good

  • Interesting story
  • Great shooting mechanics
  • Varied environment

The Bad

  • Dumb squad mate AI
  • Ambiguous ending

Conclusion

Spec Ops: The Line is a competent shooter, but its special story and tone manage to set it apart from the likes of Call of Duty or Gears of War. This is a story about warfare and all of its inherent brutality and grey morality.

While there are a few mistakes and the conclusion might not thoroughly explain everything that happened, it’s a great experience that will have you think twice as you mow down enemies in other shooters.
story 9
gameplay 8
concept 9
graphics 9
audio 9
multiplayer 7
final rating 8.5
Editor's review
very good
 
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