War is never pretty. Few games manage to convey this message amid the gunfire and explosions that are reminiscent of any Michael Bay film. Most of the games have you playing as a generic soldier fighting to save the world from some power hungry warlord bent on global domination. Spec Ops: The Line is a welcoming change of pace as it puts you in the shoes of Captain Martin Walker and takes you through difficult decisions he has to make on the battlefield.
Set in Dubai, the once rich and beautiful city has been taken back by Mother Nature after a series of sandstorms wreaked havoc on its monolithic buildings. That when Colonel John Konrad of “The Damned” 33rd Battalion of the U.S. Army stepped in to help with the evacuation of the city. When a mysterious radio message is received saying that the evacuation was a complete failure, Captain Walker and two members of his team are sent in to assess the situation of Konrad and any remaining survivors. What they find is worse than anything they could have imagined.
It turns out that Konrad has declared martial law and taken over what's left of Dubai and its citizens. With the help the Radioman, a former journalist embedded with the 33rd, he is able to broadcast his propaganda to the masses. He's your guiding voice throughout the game, even though it's Konrad who is pulling all the strings.
Spec Ops: The Line's story centers around Captain Walker and his Delta Force squad mates Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo. There is a real sense of comradery among them, whether it's the banter between them as they trek through the desert or their constant communication when under heavy fire. It's only reasonable that The Line features an all-star cast including Uncharted's Nolan North, Bruce Boxleitner, Jake Busey, and Christopher Reid. They all breathe life into their respective characters. These aren't just some nameless soldiers on a mission. Little details about who they are and what they stand for trickle out as the game goes on.
As you progress, key moments arise where you are made to choose between two scenarios. These aren’t just some good versus bad decisions, either. It’s like choosing between horrible and awful. Sometimes, there simply isn’t a good path to walk down, and you have to make that terrible decision in a split second. There are moments where you know someone is going to die; the only question is who.
Details are further fleshed out by simply listening in on conversations rather than pulling the trigger early. Two soldiers could simply be chatting about everyday life, and rather than have one of your teammates take them out, you could listen in for a while. Listen in too long, though, and you might be spotted. Spec Ops: The Line always has this sense of danger, like any step could be your last.
Speaking of death, prepare to die…a lot. The Line is more challenging than most war shooters and you’ll find yourself seeing Captain Walker’s body fall limp far more often than you’d like. Bullets tend to have a real weight to them, where a well-placed headshot is able to put you down instantly. You’ll have to make apt use of the cover system in order to survive.
Cover works very intuitively as you can crouch behind almost anything that stands. Busted cars, dilapidated buildings, and sandbags all act as barriers between you and gunfire. You can blindly fire from behind cover or pop out for a more controlled shot. It’s pretty much Cover System 101. Gameplay functions exactly how you would expect a third-person war shooter to play. While it doesn’t introduce any new mechanics to the genre, it’s a solid game. Besides, the story itself is more than enough reason to keep playing.
Spec Ops: The Line also features a robust multiplayer component with six gameplay types, various loadouts, and community challenges. It’s the typical fanfare you’d expect from a shooter as you gain experience with your soldier and unlock more weapons, armor, and perks.
One interesting aspect about the multiplayer is how the environment changes. Many of the maps feature both indoor and outdoor environments and sometimes a sudden sandstorm will hit, forcing players to either weather the storm with limited visibility or head indoors where others are no doubt lurking in the shadows.
In the end, Spec Ops: The Line shines because of its haunting story that is a refreshing divergent from the norm of the genre. There are no feel good moments when it comes to war, and The Line bravely crosses the boundaries of what’s right and wrong to craft one of the best games of 2012 so far.
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