Published: 10-Jul-2012 14:47
By Dylan Moran
Every day, we all have choices we can make which can drastically affect the outcome of our lives.
Games have often tried to emulate this, with varied success, however it’s not often a shooter does.
Spec Ops: The Line is all about choices and the different ways they can come into play.
Set in a Dubai that has been taken over by soldiers who’re “just following orders” sent down by their increasingly detached colonel, you play Captain Martin Walker. Originally sent to find out why nobody has heard from Colonel John Konrad, you very quickly learn there’s something going on in the city as both locals and US soldiers start shooting at you.
It isn’t clear what has lead to Konrad’s power-trip to take control of the devastated Dubai portrayed in game until a few insights toward the end of the campaign.
The city’s majestic glass-lined towers which glitter like diamonds in the sun today are blown out wrecks in the game. Spec Ops: The Line is filled with sand and there is even gameplay mechanics around it - sometimes you can take out windows to bury enemies in it, sometimes you have to battle your way through a raging sandstorm to cover as enemies quite literally come out of nowhere.
Things originally play out as your stock-standard Call of Duty-esque campaign, linear and with no choice. Just follow the game, watch the cut-scenes, shoot some sand bros. This changes around the halfway point where you’re given a succession of choices in a number of chapters, but thankfully it doesn’t take the easy way out and just offer you disconnected-feeling quicktime events where you hold B then tap right then push Y to disable a bomb.
Instead, the choices you make are very definitely made by you and carry with them consequences.
For example, at one point a crowd of angry locals are advancing. Your offsider advises you to shoot one to send a message to the rest.
However, though it’s not explained to you as it’s a decision you must make yourself, you can also use melee. This too scares the crowd off, but doesn’t affect your comfortable view of yourself as a peaceful humanitarian (despite the fact you’ve just spent several levels mowing down people while yelling “Get some! Get some!”)
In a strangely welcome move, this game does not gloss over the atrocities of war. At all. While the graphics are not impressive, the game shows off some truly gruesome content – a prisoner having their face sandblasted by an M249 SAW is not the worst example.
It is also not a subtle game with its themes whack you in the face like a sledgehammer. Captain Walker’s projection and failure to associate his actions with the consequences lead toward an obvious and clichéd – though realistic – conclusion. It’s a shame then that while it has a fantastic story and delivers it brilliantly, the finale is an incredible disappointment – more on that later.
Another barrier to success is the gameplay mechanics. While I am not a fan of third-person shooters as a rule, The Line does a good job as it’s more of a second-person perspective. You’re looking over the shoulder of Captain Walker, but he’s set off to the side of the screen and if he gets in the way a click on the right thumbstick switches him to the opposite side of the screen.
The player cover mechanic is identical to Gears of War, as are the bulk of the controls, but you’ll often find yourself sprinting through open ground to get a better position only for the game to refuse to recognise you mashing the “cover” button and leave you standing straight up like that kid who never paid attention in the safety briefing at paintball, or trying to melee attack an enemy only to jump over an obstacle.
Ammo is surprisingly scare despite the fact you’re in a massive military-run Dubai, and this is considering I’d already played the game in a hands on to know to expect it, and was as conservative and accurate as possible with my shooting.
The AI is also a letdown. Enemies will hide behind cover… but if you kill one, another will run to the exact same spot. “He’s in the open!” is a catchcry from your squadmates, as the AI will direct enemies to take that now-vacant spot with no regard for their own safety.
Similarly derpy are your own squadmates. You can order them to concentrate their fire on one particular enemy, but often it’s just faster to do it yourself.
Sometimes your squad will spend minutes in cover trying to get a shot on a concealed enemy, while other times they’ll just run up the guts to a hail of gunfire.
Multiplayer is not really a facet many will bother with, and it’s nothing to write home about. The online marketplace is dominated by the big two players at the moment – for good reason – so games such as The Line must turn to “different” game modes to carve themselves a niche.
In The Line this is done through the ‘Buried’ game mode where two teams of four work against each other to destroy one another’s headquarters. This is the only standout amongst the online options, and even then it’s incredibly lacklustre.
Despite these problems, the gameplay is quite enjoyable. Sure it gets a little same-old same-old as each level basically consists of ‘run here, kill these enemies, run there, hold your position for a few minutes’, but towards the end the levels do get a bit different.
There’s a reason for this, but to explain it would be spoilerific. Let’s just say those who’ve been to Fallout 3’s Vault 106 will recognise some of the nice touches.
There are multiple endings to the single-player campaign. It’s been a while since I’ve completed a game which offered these and made me want to watch them all – though this was a staple of titles in the early 2000s it appears to have dropped off now in favour of “cinematic” storylines.
There are four possible endings but they are all incredibly underwhelming compared to the solid plot which preceded the final act. Imagine a Kubrick-esque concept written by Damon Lindelof and you’ll have an idea of how much of a let down the final few acts are.
A disappointing ending coupled with average graphics, clunky mechanics and unintelligent AI makes a very promising title leave you with a below average experience, which can easily be completed within four hours.
Spec Ops: The Line
:: Publisher: 2K Games
:: Developer: Yager
:: Format: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
:: Rating: R18