Review by Dr. Deezee

"A servicable third person shooter with a compelling story"

Spec Ops: The Line is a fairly straight forward, third-person cover based shooter (like Gears of War). Set in the sand storm beset city of Dubai, you play as Captain Martin Walker of Delta Force, leading Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo in what begins as a simple recon mission but quickly becomes much more. Having been inspired by the book Heart of Darkness (which in turn inspired the film Apocalypse Now), probably the game's strongest suit is its story. We'll get to that in a bit. This review was written after one play through on the default campaign difficulty.

The mechanics of the game are nothing revolutionary, but they work functionally. Controls are fairly responsive, and unlike Gears of War, I didn't run into the problem of sprinting into cover I didn't want or exiting it when I didn't want to. However, the sprint button and the enter cover button are on the same key, so if you are sprinting to cover you need to press the button once to enter a sprint (the button doesn't need to be held) and then press again to enter cover. Vaulting over cover is assigned to a separate button, which helps ease the pain of accidentally exiting cover when you don't want to. You carry two weapons at a time, and switching between them is bound to a key (by default, the mouse wheel toggles between your three different grenade types) while activating alternate fire/alternate functions is bound to a separate key. Aiming grenade throws is pretty easy as well, as all that is required is you hold the button to bring up a targeting arc that will show you where the grenade will land upon releasing the button. Lastly, you have a melee key, which will also trigger a brutalized execution animation for foes who have been temporarily incapacitated and are on the floor but not dead.

The variety of guns is about what you would expect from a game of this sort. The major division of guns are rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, small arms, and heavy weapons. Most weapons have an alternative fire mode (such as burst mode for the FAMAS and the AK-47, which supposedly increases ranged accuracy) or an alternative function (such as the scope for the 417 or the suppressor for the M4A1). The game warns that ammo for weapons is scarce in Dubai, but there were only a few heavy firefights that left me strapped for ammo and most of the time enemies drop plenty (or there are ammo boxes scattered about the battlefield that refill a significant amount of rounds). The gameplay varies with the weapon you choose – shotguns and sub machine guns require you to get in closer and be more aggressive, whereas rifles and sniper rifles allow you stay at a longer range and take well placed shots to take out enemies. Generally, I found rifles to be the superior weapon type, as enemy AI played into rifle gunplay quite well.

One thing this game is sorely lacking in is enemy variety and enemy AI. For the first half of the game, you'll be fighting the same type of enemy (sort of – without spoiling anything, enemies change models but are for all intents the same type) until you're introduced to a slightly more armored variant of the standard foe, who can take a couple headshots instead of just one before being downed. The last and most annoying enemy to face are called “heavies,” and they are heavily armored and armed foes that take several explosives or a lot of ammo to bring down (even if you're scoring direct hits to their unexposed face). As far as AI goes, most soldiers hide behind cover and pop out to take shots, advancing or retreating to gain a slightly better position, with shotgunners, SMG wielders or bayonet soldiers rushing you at melee range. From time to time, you can use the environment against enemies by shooting out ceilings and causing sand to fall on them, but opportunities for this are rare.

The game also features a rudimentary squad based command system. Certain contextual situations will allow you to press a key (middle mouse button by default) to have your squad mates throw a stun grenade, or heal a downed squad mate. Holding the key and targeting an enemy then releasing the key orders your squad to attack that enemy, which usually results in Sergeant Lugo sniping them. In the rare cases where you're undiscovered by the enemy, ordering an attack will cause your squad to use silenced weapons so long as you remain unspotted from the enemy.

I was unable to play any of the multiplayer modes the game has to offer.

The game's story is its strongest suit. The basic set up is as follows: Delta Force Captain Martin Walker is sent into Dubai along with Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo to assess the ongoing evacuation and report back to command. In the first level, insurgents have apparently attacked the 33rd Battalion, headed by Colonel Konrad, and so the mission changes to a rescue operation. Things become increasingly complicated as the game goes on, and it forces you into uncomfortable moral quandaries as only war can. But it appears that at the center of all the madness of war and the state of affairs of Dubai is Colonel Konrad, who Captain Walker pursues with a single minded earnestness. There are several factions at work in Dubai, including insurgent rebels, the local civilians, Colonel Konrad's 33rd Battalion, and even the CIA. The game features a twist ending as well that leaves final interpretation up to the player.

Playing on max detail, I thought the game looked very good. It also performed well on my system, never losing frames even when there were dozens of enemies and explosions going off all over the place. However, the graphics options didn't seem very customizable compared to most PC games, giving you a scant handful of settings to tweak with. I could see how someone with a lower end system might have a problem configuring the game to look good and run well at the same time since the options are sparse.

Sound was also fine. The music was entirely forgetable, but the voice acting was well done and sound effects were right for a game of this type.

According to Steam, I beat the game in six hours. Replayability is also low, unless you want to go achievement hunting or for whatever reason play on a harder difficulty. I played on the normal difficulty; if you pick the hardest one available from the start and beat the game on that, it unlocks an even harder difficulty, so if you're into that sort of thing there's some replayability there.

Spec Ops might not be worth the default asking price of $30 for such a limited experience, both in the time it takes to beat the campaign and the banal lack of variety that firefights provide. The experience amounts to an extended interactive movie, of a sort, and the story it has to tell is interesting and I believe well done. I personally purchased the game on sale for $15 and feel it was a worthy experience, and one I may return to at some point in the future.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/02/14

Game Release: Spec Ops: The Line (US, 06/25/12)

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