Review – Spec Ops: The Line
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Upon first glance, Spec Ops: The Line looks like any other military shooter. Who cares that you have a three-man team, it takes place in the desert, and it’s in third-person perspective instead of the usual first-person. It still doesn’t look like it would offer anything different from any other military shooter. It probably has a half-assed plot and then completely focuses on the multiplayer. Right? Oh, so wrong. In fact, if there’s one thing Spec Ops: The Line does have, it’s an incredible (and harrowing) story. But don’t worry; Spec Ops has more great things than just its tale.
Spec Ops: The Line tells the story of Delta Force, three soldiers led by Captain Walker on a mission to find out what happened to the 33rd Division in Dubai. The 33rd–famously known as the Damned 33rd–had orders to evacuate Dubai and leave the citizens behind during a series of horrific sandstorms that were destroying the city. Colonel Konrad, head of the 33rd, opted to stay and help the civilians evacuate, despite his orders to leave. No one has heard from the 33rd since. Almost as soon as Walker sets foot in the city, it’s obvious to Walker that something is truly rotten in the state of Dubai. As pieces start to come together, they simultaneously fall apart. Walker never truly knows what has happened in Dubai or who the real enemy is until the end…and even then, that’s debatable.
I’ve played many games with great storylines, but very few have made my jaw drop followed by a “NO WAY!” I experienced BioShock for the first time earlier this year, and I honestly believed that no other game would shock me as much as that one. Spec Ops: The Line proved that assumption to be dead wrong. It’s easy to see from the outset that Spec Ops is going to be a dark, gritty tale, but you never see how dark it becomes until it slaps you in the face. And then, just as you think you understand what is going on, some other revelation will back-hand you into a new epiphany, only to learn later that that isn’t true either. This constantly shifting plotline continues all the way up to the very end, and the crazy part is, these twists aren’t the only horrific aspects players will have to endure.
Spec Ops forces players to make really hard decisions throughout the game, and none of them can be attributed to simple moral decisions like those found in games like inFamous, Mass Effect, or even BioShock. For example, early on, you are confronted with the decision to either save civilians from being murdered in cold blood or save a CIA agent from being executed. The kicker is that the CIA agent has been helping you and is the only person Captain Walker has met in Dubai who has actually wanted to help him accomplish something other than taking a bullet between the eyes. Also, if you choose to save him, maybe you can finally figure out what is going on. On the other hand, it’s not fair to let innocent, unarmed civilians get shot down for no reason. So, who do you let die? There is no easy answer, and this example is one of the easiest decisions Walker has to make throughout his mission.
This intensity of not having a clue as to what is going on adds onto the chaos of war and the chaos that is Dubai beautifully. As each sandstorm wails in, you can’t help but naturally feel tense that you can’t see your surroundings or even hear anything outside of the wind, gunfire, and confused shouting. As a result, you have no idea who is doing the shooting (until you get dinged) or who is doing the yelling. You can’t give orders to your teammates. You can’t stay hunkered down in cover due to the searing sand. You can’t walk out into the open too blindly or you’ll be killed by the enemy who continues to shoot while trying to escape the storm. It’s utter madness, and it’s really not long before every firefight, cut scene, and encounter feels as chaotic as each sandstorm.
The chaos of the environment and the story is so well done, however, that it masks the so-so game mechanics. The gameplay is nothing revolutionary or difficult. In fact, everything is pretty standard fare. In other words, if you’ve played any other shooter in the last year or two, you will have no problems picking up these controls. The only mechanics you have to “learn” are how to tap into a weapon’s secondary function and the battle management system. The former is nothing shooter players haven’t seen before in other games, and at its heart, neither is the battle management system.
The battle management system is simply giving your teammates orders, obviously not a new concept. That said, I haven’t found an order system that I’ve liked as much as this one. Most systems require players to select the teammate, tell them where they need to stand, and then tell them what to do. By the time I get done with that, I usually feel like I could have had it done with my own character in half the time and with more health remaining in the bar. In Spec Ops, you mark the specific enemy, and your team takes care of the rest. If the enemy is far away, Lugo will snipe them. If the enemy is a little closer, Lugo and/or Adams will cut them down. There was more than one occasion where I sat back in cover and doled out what I needed them to do without firing a shot. I especially enjoyed this system when someone was shooting at my team and I could not see where they were. I could then scan for whom to mark and upon finding them, mark them for someone else to take care of.
Despite the game’s shortcomings in actual gameplay, the story and nearly perfect (albeit exaggerated for the sake of being a game) emulation of the chaos of war makes it very easy to overlook all of its flaws. Would it be nice if it contained gameplay as solid as the story? Of course, but honestly, if you want another shooter purely for the mechanics, there are plenty of others to choose from. The developers behind Spec Ops: The Line chose to make their military shooter stand out from the pack via story, something that very few shooters do at all, much less military shooters. Even better, their gripping story surpasses many plots in other genres known for containing epic narratives. In this day and age where so many games feel alike, especially shooters, it’s hard to ask for more than a truly riveting story, and Spec Ops: The Line delivered exactly that.