The Spec Ops series first started out as a military shooter on the PC platform before finding popularity on the first PlayStation console as a budget title. While the series never really took off to gain the recognition that other shooters later got, it found an audience that was willing to put it through the motions for providing a more realistic squad-based approach on the genre at the time. After spending almost a decade in the shadows, the series makes an ambitious return with Spec Ops: The Line, featuring plenty of elements from current shooters with a few touches of its own. Can this obscure franchise stand toe-to-toe with its contemporaries, or should it be left buried in the sand.
The game takes several cues from Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, and is set in the near-future setting of the influential Gulf city, Dubai. A series of violent dust storms have left the once prosperous city completely ravaged, requiring the evacuation of scores of people living within the region. In a bid to assist with the relief efforts, the 33rd Battalion of the US Army goes against orders and remains within the devastated metropolis shortly before losing all radio communication due to dust storms. The player takes control of Delta Force operative Captain Martin Walker, a member of a three-man squad sent to Dubai to recon the area. From thereon, the story places heavy emphasize on the dark and tragic circumstances surrounding war, and how being in a desperate state can change someone drastically. The plot is well crafted and holds the game together with its drama and tension, focusing on morality and the harsh realities you face on the battlefield. It’s a shame through that the single-player campaign only last about eight hours for such an intriguing storyline.
Even though you’re sent in as part of a rescue mission, most of the people you encounter within the desolate ruins of Dubai are hostile, which forces you to engage in lots of killing. The combat takes cues from the industry standard set by the Gears of War and Uncharted series. You’ll be forced to take shots at enemies from behind cover and try to outmaneuver their attempts at bringing you down.
The gameplay has this framework very tightly coupled into its core, and there’s not a lot of room to go out all guns blazing, especially with the awkward controls. Instead you’ll have to be smart and use superior tactics in order to make it out alive. Headshots will give you a brief instant of slow motion. Certain portions of the environment are destructible, that can help you take care of your enemies, and sandstorms will randomly blow through the area blinding everyone out in the field.
While the single-player campaign is a blast to play, the multiplayer mode sadly feels tracked-on and anemic. You’ll have access to number of death-match and objective-type game modes, and there’s a host of unlockables to acquire as you progress through the ranks. The maps are all varied, you not as expertly crafted as in the single-player campaign, and there’s not much of a variety in terms of gameplay other than the standard format implemented in so many other games. The multiplayer may hold your attention for a while with its drive for progression and initial fun, but pales in comparison to the competition along with the game’s own single-player mode.
Sights and sounds
The ravaged city of Dubai certainly looks the part, with towering skyscrapers, tons of sand, and interesting locations that once spelled out the city’s grandiose identity. Even as a city hit by environmental disaster, the place has iconic and distinct feel, as do the many areas you’ll encounter within the game. Character models and animations look great, and do incredibly well to add to the drama that unfolds within the main story mission. The multiplayer lacks a lot of refinement and polish, especially the character animations and environments. However, the voice acting is great and really holds the plot together while giving you a greater understanding of the characters you see on the screen.
Most military shooters capitalize on the concept of giving players tremendous amounts of action they can sink their teeth into. However, it is clear that Spec Ops: The Line was not built with that in mind. The game does a phenomenal job working with a powerful tale of war and survival and simultaneously provides an interesting look into philosophy coupled with an adrenaline-packed experience. Still, the single-player game delivers both in terms of action and narrative, and the multiplayer warrants at least a few play-throughs. There’s no denying, however, that the game is a solid shooter with plenty to offer. This is one trip to Dubai you should definitely take!