Spec Ops: The Line Review (PC)
The game brings you right into it by listing you as a guest in the opening credits and putting you in the shoes of Captain Martin Walker, with Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo making up the rest of your team. You are sent to Dubai six months after it was hit by a devastating sandstorm. Immediately following the sandstorm the US 33rd Brigade was sent in to assist the locals, but shortly thereafter went dark. Your mission begins with being tasked to find any survivors from the 33rd.
Spec ops starts off looking like your traditional war game, with you fellow soldiers falling into fairly standard “good-looking killing machine” stereotypes - Walker the no-nonsense leader, Adams the loyal second in command and Lugo the Joker.
However, Spec Ops changes tone quite quickly. Even after the first fight, the squad questions what they have done and continue to do so throughout the game. Over the course of the mission, all three squad members’ physical, mental and moral state deteriorate, as the harsh decisions forced upon them start to take their toll. Spec Ops really wants to show the reality of war - that it’s not all run in, kill the bad guys and be the hero, then shrug it off likes it’s nothing.
One of the way Spec Ops approaches this is through several morale choices over the course of the game. These have neither right nor wrong options, as both choices will cross the line in some way with no happy/good choices. Apart from the last choice these have no overall bearing upon the end of the game, although they are recapped in a little video before the final choice. There are a possible 4 endings.
I loved the story as it felt different and engrossing. While it was on the shorter side, it really sets this game apart from other, far more clichéd, set piece action shooters.
The way the soldier’s transitions are presented in Spec Ops is great, showing in the clothes becoming dirty, blood and tearing and in their words and character as Lugo loses his quick wit and Adams starts to disagree with Walker, and Walker starts to see things that aren’t there. The squad command responses from Lugo and Adams gradually change from ‘will do’ to ‘if I have too’, a nice way to show the creeping dissent and lessening trust Lugo and Adams have in Walker.
The levels themselves are quite linear, with little room for exploration, though they vary from interiors and wide open expanses to rooftops and this variety keeps each fight feeling different. The game’s checkpoints are generally well placed with a couple having a slow walk section just after them. Loading was hidden, apart from reloading checkpoints/saves, and cutscenes can be skipped (which is always nice, not that skipping is recommended on your first playthrough of course). The user HUD isn’t intrusive, although button prompts can become annoying after you have learned the controls.
Spec Ops gameplay doesn’t do anything too special and plays as a straightforward third-person, cover-based squad shooter (there are a small number of on-rail sections and moments without the squad that add some limited variety). There are four difficulties in Spec Ops, with FUBAR being the hardest.
You will find yourself behind cover most of the time. Enemies go down easily on the lowest difficulty , though you can survive for a while standing in the open, large groups will kill you without cover. On the hardest difficulty, however, you can die in the seconds it takes for you to throw a grenade, enemies becoming a lot more resilient and cover is absolutely essential.
Squad A.I. is generally good, although there are rare moments where your companions will have moments of stupidity, getting downed in impossible to reach positions (particularly on harder difficulties) and other times where they just seem useless. Your teammates can be revived by you or each other, but they cannot revive you so it is game over if you or they die. Control over your squad is very limited, with just one squad command (focus fire on an enemy), and there were times when I would have preferred to have more control over their movements.
Enemy A.I will try to flank you occasionally, throw grenades to get you out of cover and very much focus on your character over the rest of your squad. Enemies become more heavily armed and armoured as you progress through the story, with knife wielding enemies and heavies (bullet/grenade sponges) making a couple of appearances to spice things up.
While you have a melee attack, you should stick to dispatching enemies through firearms as attempting to rifle-but multiple enemies will generally get you killed. As a bit of a gameplay twist, every now and again you will come across a destructible object that, when destroyed, will dump sand on top of your enemies, killing them quickly.
There is a large variety of guns, some more useful than others. The AA12 (an automatic shotgun) stands out for dispatching enemies with great speed even on FUBAR difficulty. Certain guns have a secondary fire mode such as burst/auto, zoom or adding a silencer (stealth opportunities are limited, but they are there).
Sand plays a large part at times, helping or hindering you, with grenades kicking up sand that blind your enemies and sandstorms limiting visibility across the battlefield, lowering your accuracy, reducing your mobility and disabling squad commands.
Dubai looks great for a city that has been hit by a cataclysmic event. While the graphics aren’t pushing the limits, the game still looks great on Very High settings. Many locations and background settings look amazing, and the rooftop levels with large expanses of the city in the background are standouts. The squad’s models are highly detailed as are all the guns. The lighting is great, with the sun blinding and obscuring your view at times, especially when going from interior to exterior locations.
The only graphical options are the levels of textures, shadows, vsync, and ambient occlusion, so AA has to be forced on through your graphics settings outside of the game.
Performance was generally good, with no noticeable texture popping or frame-rate issues. The only issue I encountered was a slight freeze when the auto-save/checkpoint was reached, although I would most likely put these down to my low hardware than the actual game.
Nolan North does the voice for Martin Walker and while he sounds a bit like Nathan Drake of Uncharted Fame, he does a good job. Indeed, the entire cast does brings the characters to life and makes them sound believable. I especially enjoyed Jake Busey as the Radioman, who provides entertaining background chatter and harsh observations on developments during some of the missions - for example "Where's all the violence coming from? Is it the videogames? I bet it's the videogames."
The ambient sounds really help build atmosphere - whether its rock music blasting over speakers in the background or when fighting your way through a sandstorm.
The game’s menus are easy to move through, with level select available through a map showing your path through the once-thriving city.
I played mostly using an XBOX controller; I did have a little playtime with mouse and keyboard also, which was fully customisable. The controls felt cramped at times on the pad with multiple buttons having multiple uses. Walker did pop out of cover without being prompted a couple of times, and very rarely the sprint into cover didn’t work, both of which on higher difficulties would generally result in death.
First off, I did not play any actual multiplayer gameplay, as I could not get any games going, apart from a solo co-op match.
The multiplayer retains the single player gameplay mechanics, and comes in competitive and cooperative varieties, with both game modes offering matchmaking through Steamworks or LAN, and public or private matches.
Competitive multiplayer has six game types, starting with three types open to all players with a further three unlocked through levelling. There are 2 factions (Exile and Damned), each having unique bonuses. Competitive has multiple classes, avatar customization, weapon load-outs and perks, which you gaining more of each with levelling.
Co-operative was added later through free DLC and supports 2 players battling waves of enemies and sandstorms to complete objectives.
Spec Ops: The Line’s multiplayer player base is extremely small so finding matches can be difficult or impossible. As such, I would not recommend buying for the online portion, unless you have a group of friends or some patience and luck.
The story makes the game - without it, it would otherwise be forgettable, and while story was short it was engrossing and gives you something to think about. Even though the gameplay doesn’t do anything to stand out from other third-person cover shooters, it was still enjoyable and felt good for the most part, especially when stealth sections came together. If you’re looking for a compelling story you should add this to your list, but if you want new gameplay, something with a bit of longevity or a multiplayer experience, give it a miss.