Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Spec Ops: The Line - Video Review

Spec Ops: The Line Review - I Walk the Line

Score: 7.75 / 10
Spec Ops: The Line
Xbox 360 - PS3 - PC
Developer: Yager Development (Sp) Darkside (Mp)
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: June 26th, 2012

  • A compelling narrative for a military shooter
  • Combat is easy to get the hang of
  • Visual eye candy for each chapte
  • Powerful performances by the voice cast
  • Linear corridors limit your options in a firefight
  • Cover mechanic feels clunky and unrefined
  • Enemy and friendly AI can often become vacant and predictable

It is easy to look at a game like Spec Ops: The Line and cast it aside without a second thought. Let's be honest, a cover shooter involving a squad of hardened military commandos blasting their way through a city is nothing new. Not to mention the previous Spec Ops games have been less than stellar military adaptations, with the last true title coming to light a decade ago. A trailer in 2009 showed a welcome departure for the series norm in the form of a third person perspective with dynamic terrain elements, and inspiration from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. With Yager Development heading up the single player and Darkside working on the multiplayer component, Spec Ops: The Line results in a surprisingly enjoyable military shooter.

Hold the Line

You assume the role of Captain Martin Walker, the leader of Delta squad sent into the heart of Dubai. A series of sandstorms has cut Dubai off from the rest of the world and destroyed any remnants of a once thriving civilization. In a mysterious transmission from the 33rd Battalion who refused to evacuate the city, Commander John Konrad ominously informs that events went awry with the evacuation and Delta squad is sent in to investigate.

The story starts out obvious enough, but as you move through each chapter you begin to see how this particular narrative outshines other military shooters. Instead of a glorification of war and typical cocky soldiers, you get a much grittier and emotionally heavy story. Each chapter gives way to the horrors of war with unspeakable violence and moral ambiguity, and your squad becomes a shell of their former selves. The cocky wisecracker transitions to a frustrated, second guesser. Your tough guy soon become furious and reckless. Even the subtle hint of a more aggressive in the tone of your voice as you cry out "reloading" for the eightieth time combine to show characters that are affected by the increasing body count.

Propelling the story forward is a superb presentation. The desert ridden city of Dubai holds glistening skyscrapers, war-torn rooftops, and once-populated courtyards. The environments remain fresh with few repeating corridors and plenty of panning overworld shots to showcase the scale of the world around you. The polish shows not only in the surrounding environment, but the sharp character models and motion capture on close ups. Audio is also top notch in delivering some solid original tracks, well known hits, and bass-inducing bullet fire. Despite Nolan North heading up his hundredth or so voice in gaming, both he and the rest of the cast deliver some real power to each cinematic sequence.

The Hallway is Your Playground

While the narrative is compelling, the actual gameplay stays close to the norm. Typical cover to cover combat will be the bulk of gameplay with breaks in the action for a few stealth segments, moral choices, and on-rails sequences. Despite these mixups and a vast backdrop, you cannot help but feel a bit claustrophobic by the bottle-necked corridors you are forced to traverse. The choices made and successful stealth segments have little affect on anything but the immediate situation, often leading to avoiding a small skirmish with nothing long term.

Spec Ops boasts a dynamic environment to keep things from getting stale. At certain moments you are able to shoot vents or cracked glass to send a wave of sand to take out a group of enemies. These are satisfying at first, but fail to really alter as much as it should. Sure it takes out a group of enemies, but beyond that it does very little in providing the desired affect of walking into a room with a playground of hazards at your disposal for varying approaches. There are also segments where a storm will roll in obscuring your view and decreasing you overall accuracy. These occur during a few segments in some of the chapters and provide some brief mixups in the firefights, but their potential and span feels constricted to scripted events.

The campaign is paced fairly well and will impress with a few segments, but some of the basics of the game drag it down below perfection. The friendly and enemy AI preform fairly well by flanking your position or drawing you out with grenades, but they can become incredibly vacant at times occasionally standing in place while being littered with bullets. This is more frustrating on the tougher difficulties, due to the fact that your AI buddies can bleed out and send you back to the last checkpoint. Cover to cover transitions work well enough, but pale in comparison to some of the more refined systems out there.

This is one Big Sandbox

In addition to a single player campaign, there is also a fairly fleshed out multiplayer available.Six gametypes throw in the typical mix of objective based gameplay and classic deathmatch. These are littered with various sand hazards, and even features the occasional sandstorm to add to the cover shooting mechanics. Coupled with zipline systems used to get across the stage quickly, and the multiplayer hits what the campaign failed to do in providing a multitude of ways to use your surroundings to your advantage.

Like most additions these days, you are able to equip your character with a loadout. Weapons and perks are slowly unlocked as you gain experience from matches. As you gain more levels the arsenal at your disposal allows you to customize a class any way you see fit, with up to three different perks, a main weapon, and a sidearm. With this system, the higher level players will have a clear advantage with a larger weapon variety and even body armor to decrease damage taken.

The multiplayer can be enjoyable, but the servers themselves are quite sparse in looking for objective based game types. Finding a match for deathmatch is quick and easy, but the objective based games are reminiscent of the desert I wish to actually play on.


Spec Ops: The Line has its downfalls, but ends up being a surprisingly enjoyable experience. The compelling narrative allows the minor faults within the game to be tolerable, and the twist ending and hidden collectibles will warrant a second play through for a better sense of closure. It may not break any new ground in gameplay, but provides a welcome step up in overall presentation for a military shooter. If you are a fan of the cover based shooter genre, chances are the Specs Ops: The Line is one line worth crossing.