Spec Ops: The Line is a third person shooter with cover-based combat (of course) set in sandy Dubai, and involves Captain Walker and his two squad members tasked to locate and evacuate civilians from the war torn city. Walker must coordinate attack and rescue attempts while battling his own personal demons brought about by the effects of war.
Quick! Throw Sand In Their Eyes!
Combat is cover-based and never becomes anything else. Thankfully, the crumbling city of Dubai contains objects like cars, walls, barriers and boxes that not only provide useful cover, but also make complete sense. And the battlefields range from apartments, deserts, hotels and airplanes, so even though game play itself barely changes, Spec Ops: The Line keeps each level varied and interesting.
Enemies don’t pose that much of a threat, and like many other cover-based shooters, battles can quickly turn into a tedious, though mildly fun, arcade-y game as you pop up and blast the baddy’s heads off. And regenerating health forces you to sit behind cover and watch everybody else have fun while you heal. These aren’t enough to outright destroy the game play but The Line can still have somewhat fidgety combat. Especially since it has one of the worst ‘grenade detection’ systems I’ve ever seen which may as well be one of your squad members pointing in some vague direction and saying “It’s over there somewhere I guess!”
regenerating health forces you to sit behind cover and watch everybody else have fun
Both of your depressingly generic team members have distinct talents that can be utilized to quickly take down certain targets. By holding the Right Bumper, Walker can select enemy soldiers and order a specific squad member to take them out in the best way possible. This is helpful for dispatching soldiers who are far away or behind a turret, who are taken out with snipers or grenades respectively.
These commands take an appropriate amount of time to pull off so as to not make them overpowered, but Walker being able to ‘detect’ enemies behind walls or from 100 metres away can break immersion since the player can simply ‘scan’ the battlefield and figure out where every enemy is.
Ammo is effectively scarce, so it is very likely that each major battle will be won using completely different weapons. It also raises tension by forcing the player to take whatever equipment they find, which works very well during a couple moments when an unarmed Walker must singlehandedly kill and take the weapon of an enemy soldier without getting shot by numerous others searching for him.
It’s a shame there aren’t more moments of stressful vulnerability since runnin’ and gunnin’ is essentially all you do game play wise.
War Do You Think Of This?
…That was dreadful…anyway.
Spec Ops: The Line has garnered some attention for being an action shooter that tackles ideas of war and death. Even if The Line totally failed at exploring them, it is certainly praise worthy that it even attempted to have them in at all.
There are more poignant moments here than I would have guessed. Even something as simple as a stop sign is incredibly striking amidst the rubble and sand. Yet much of the imagery doesn’t really express anything other than “War kills people, therefore war is bad”, especially a statue of what looks like an Orc from Warhammer which I think looked freakin’ stupid.
a stop sign is incredibly striking amidst the rubble and sand
Most of the especially powerful moments involve dialogue during cinematics, which don’t hold much weight when it’s in a video game, for obvious reasons. In my opinion (In case you thought I was using somebody elses…), the best moment is when you’re given the chance to make Walker shoot a suffering man or simply walk away. Not only does the game give you complete control over Walker, but it was a choice, something Spec Ops: The Line barely has, and even when it does it’s often too comical to take seriously, as if they were set up by a Batman villain.
Walker suffers from hallucinations throughout his journey, and pretty much every vision is a little too poetic for it to really work. Soldiers turning into mannequins and people burning into sand both look interesting, but feel more like something Scarecrow would give Batman in Arkham Asylum. Also I’m not really sure what the mannequin thing is supposed to represent other than “Oh no! Walker’s goin’ crazy!”
The Line’s attempts at engaging the player emotionally are rather hit and miss. There was a moment where Walker makes a very regrettable decision which results in the death of dozens of innocent people and a very spooky image, but the game tries to make it seem like Walker made an easily avoidable mistake, when it was just an accident. And later, a hallucination shows one of his recently deceased co-soldiers yell “It was your fault” and “You let me die”, which I found pretty odd since Walker did try and save him. What was he supposed to do? Run faster?
I was constantly on Walker’s side, no matter what
I was constantly on Walker’s side, no matter what. I never thought I was playing as an evil person, even when he started saying “Kill is fucking confirmed!” or “I want him dead” towards the end of the game in a voice that makes it seem like he’s impersonating Christian Bale’s Batman. I’m making a lot of Batman references…
Small touches, like enemy soldiers talking about gum, or a frightened civilian running in fear from a soldier give Spec Ops: The Line a nice and delicate human feel. If you begin the game like I did, knowing that it was going to explore certain morose themes, than you’ll probably pay closer attention to the imagery and dialogue than usual.
Therefore, it can be confusing to think what is supposed to be taken as provocative imagery or what is just a random object. I’m still wondering if taking cover behind a sign that says ‘Visitor Centre’, destroying a helicopter through an office building or shooting hanging butterfly decorations are supposed to be thought provoking or if I’m just being overly interpretative.
If you’re looking for a functional shooter with a relatively engaging emotional element, then you can’t go wrong with Spec Ops: The Line.
Combat is standard, but utilizing sandstorms, destructible environments and scarce weapons, it becomes relatively engaging and mildly creative. Your squad members are also appropriately useful, and the environments gracefully progress through visually different and beautiful settings.
Its emotional side works well, for the most part, but should have added more choices to the events to give them more weight and feel less like something that just had to happen to advance the story.
If you want something a bit more exciting than the Modern Warfare games would be better, but Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t do nearly enough wrong for me to give it a score any less than this:
BoG’s Spec Ops: The Line Score: 8.4
Why so high?
- Scarce ammo and realistic cover makes for some engaging combat
- Squad members are distinctively handy, but not invincible
- Changes in battlefield environments keep game play interesting
- A fairly emotional journey, compared to most shooters anyway
Why so low?
- Enemies could have been a bit more varied
- Taking cover forces you away from the game play
- Hallucinations and other ‘touching’ moments can get pretty obnoxious and sometimes don’t make much contextual sense.