A good decade has past since the last Spec Ops title graced consoles and for some, the name Spec Ops may not carry much weight and feel fairly unfamiliar with the franchise bypassing a sizeable chunk of the current era of gaming.
Yager Development returns the series back from the brink with Spec Ops: The Line, a third-person squad-based cover shooter void of any plot tie-ins to previous titles which, tends to be a common trend with reboots nowadays. It’s a hit-and-miss affair when the word reboot gets tossed around yet surprisingly, Spec Ops: The Line performs admirably well in an over-populated genre.
Developer: Yager Development
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Players: Single-Player, Multi-Player
Genre: Third-Person Tactical Shooter
Release: (EU) June 29th 2012, (NA) June 26th 2012
Spec Ops: The Line places us in the role of elite Delta Force operative Captain Martin Walker (voiced by Nolan North) bound for the hostile desert environment of a ficticious post-catastrophic Dubai in search of missing Colonel John Konrad, a clever tongue-in-cheek reference to Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness in which Lead Writer Walt Williams drew inspiration for the game’s plot. Six months prior to our hero’s rescue mission, Commander Konrad and his team “The Damned” 33rd Battalion were home-bound out of Dubai for U.S. soil, only to head back into enemy territory when the United Arab Emirates is struck by a massive desert storm.
While volunteering the 33rd services, the unit along with the city are engulfed in a fiery sandstorm resulting in a state of chaos with civilians looting, pillaging and generally doing nasty things. As the sandstorm rages on, disorderly conduct and communications in and out are blotchy at best. Months onwards a mysterious looped radio distress call makes it out of the city prompting Walker and his team into action, bound for the state-of-disaster Dubai.
Accompanying Walker on his journey are teammates Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo who banter back and forth providing colourful commentary through the many sandy dunes. Not only for entertainment value, Adams and Lugo also provide cover fire and various squad-based functions when engaging hostile forces. Players that want to take the tactical high road can issue commands for Lugo and Adams such as highlighting targets to snipe, places to hurl grenades at, and other useful cover-based actions.
The available options are fairly simplistic but does give meaning to Walker’s Captain status at the very least. It’s actually quite amusing to point the cursor at an enemy target and watch as his body falls from the rooftops knowing you were responsible for his demise. Unfortunately the command system loses its value as the AI allies do a fairly solid job holding their own even without much direction, making the exercise of co-ordinating the flow of action kind of meaningless.
Combat controls are solid and responsive, stacking up relatively well when compared against other third-person shooters. If you’re familiar with the likes of the Ghost Recon and Gears of War series, adopting the control scheme of Spec Ops: The Line is a smooth transition. It doesn’t quite feature the same depth or tightness of controls as the bigger name counterparts but it certainly didn’t feel like it’s lacking too much either.
Much like many shooter titles nowadays, Spec Ops: The Line distinguishes itself from the masses with a ‘hook’, this time round in the form of dynamically evolving environments. The Dubai desert setting offers a unique landscape for interesting, and at times creative ways to pick off enemy soldiers. One firefight encourages the player to shoot out load-bearing glass windows, burying hostile insurgents beneath the plentiful supply of sand found in just about nook and cranny. Dubai’s exquisite architecture has been transformed to war-torn buildings and the once wealthy nation is now a distant memory. Deserted towns and crumbled buildings are playgrounds for gunplay with ample cover to hide behind, or against when exchanging bullets.
War-based shooters rarely touch on the mature theme of the fragile human psyche, whereas Yager Development pushes the often avoided territory with Spec Ops: The Line, exploring the effects of war and the trauma sustained on soldiers during times of conflict. Moral dilemmas confront Walker and his team on their rescue mission where ascertaining who’s the enemy isn’t always a clear case of black and white. At times the decisions you make have very real consequences and even after the controller has been packed away, the events experienced continue to linger on the mind. Spec Ops: The Line poises the provocative question: Just because you wield the controls, does it always make you the hero? The toll of war through the eyes of Captain Walker offers a level of realism that even shooter veterans may have a hard time stomaching.
The single-player experience features a strong narrative that drives one of the most engaging war stories in recent memory. Although the solo campaign comes highly recommended, the multi-player component unfortunately falls far short of anything quite as engrossing. The maps are uninteresting, the level of detail in the environments are dull, and the options available feel lacking to the point of being unfinished. Shooters tend to live and die by the longevity of their multiplayer component and it feels a shame that many will judge Spec Ops: The Line solely on this one aspect when there is so much more on offer if the campaign is given half a chance.
Spec Ops: The Line may not be pleasing to everyone or reach critical acclaim status, however still manages to deliver an experience that will long be entrenched in the mind of anyone looking for a title representing more than mind-less shooting. For years, gamers have demanded realism and what Yager Development have produced takes it to potentially a new, disturbing and thought-provoking level.
7.5 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.