STAFF REVIEW of Spec Ops: The Line (Xbox 360)

Friday, July 6, 2012.
by Adam Dileva

Spec Ops: The Line Box art I have to admit, I may have rolled my eyes when I was going to start playing Spec Ops: The Line, thinking it would be yet another cover based militaristic shooter where you?ll hide behind cover, shoot enemies, and repeat for six-plus hours. While I did get that, which is what I was expecting, what I also got was an intriguing story packed with real emotion that made me question my decisions. It concluded with a captivating ending and will have me remembering it for some time; it even had some decent shooting mechanics under the hood as well.

Generally in these war games the hero is portrayed as the do-gooder and is usually thrown into a bad situation that only he?s able to fix. Here, it?s not so simple and the answer is usually a no-win ending no matter your choices how good your intentions are. It?s about the events of Delta Squad and their struggles, not saving the world from some evil tyrant, making it a much more intimate story where you actually care about the characters and outcome.

The Spec Ops games have actually been around for quite some time, but the last one being on the original Playstation, it?s had time to sit and be forgotten. It?s back now with The Line and is its own story and doesn?t take anything from the previous games, in case you were a Spec Ops fan and was wondering how it ties in (it doesn?t). Developed by Yager, a smaller studio, I was curious to see how the gameplay would hold up or if it would just be another shooter eventually forgotten among the crowded genre.

The setup is that you?re playing as Captain Martin Walker, who just happens to be voiced by none other than Nolan North, and you?re sent into Dubai after a catastrophic sand storm has essentially wiped out a good portion of the wealthy city skyline. You?re tasked with finding Colonel Konrad and to evacuate any survivors still trapped in the city. With days gone by without sun due to the storm, planes have come crashing down and the city itself is turning into rubble from the storm?s onslaught.

Konrad volunteered himself and his 33rd battalion to help with relief efforts once the deadly storms starting to strike the city, and when the order came down to evacuate the city the 33rd ignored the orders and stayed behind. When no caravans of survivors or 33rd soldiers arrived after the storms stopped, the 33rd were slapped with the treason title, thus sending in Delta Squad comprising of Walker, Adams, and Lugo. Their mission is simple; find Konrad, survivors, and then radio for extraction. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems though and you?ll eventually face enemies you were never trained to fight; American soldiers. It becomes clear quite early on that something is not right and you?ll have to walk the fine line of following orders or doing the right thing.

I don?t want to get much more into the story as I found it was the best part about the game and really had me wanting to continue at the start of each new chapter. While the lead writer has said that much influence came from the novel Heart of Darkness, fans of Apocalypse Now will find many similarities in tone and events that unfold. The story lays itself out at a steady pace and slowly starts to bring in more emotional elements with the use of disturbing and graphic moments that you have to choose. If the ?Airport? level from Modern Warfare 2 made you feel uneasy, you?re going to have some similar feelings playing Spec Ops: The Line. Because you?re going to be making these difficult decisions, usually quite quickly, it makes you think about how you would react if it was real and question your own morals at times. It?s a very powerful story that even had me questioning some of my choices and if I really did know what?s right.

As you start the game you?ll have access to just a few weapons, but like any good shooter, the further you get into the campaign, the more weapons you?ll be able to employ again your enemies. There are a handful of different Pistols, SMG?s, Assault Rifles, Snipers, Shotguns, and Grenades that will all be at your disposal eventually, usually from the downed enemies you defeat. Many of the guns even have alternate firing modes such as a silencer, scopes, laser, and more. Each gun feels different and you?ll quickly find your favorite and usually stick with it throughout the entire campaign.

Since Adams and Lugo are with you, you also have some minimal control over their actions in battle as well. You can designate a specific target for them to take out, help injured teammates, or even toss a flash into a crowd of enemies. You?re only able to use the flash command when you?re prompted to do so, as it would have been nice to be able to use the command whenever they had flashbangs in their inventory. Also, since you can send them to revive each other if one goes down, I found it odd that the moment you die the last checkpoint has to be restarted. I?m not sure why you aren?t given some time for your teammates to come and try and save you as well, as there were a few sections in the campaign that I had to reload the checkpoint once or twice.

As this is a cover based shooter, I was hoping for some great cover mechanics or at least something that matched how easy Gears of War has made the cover mechanics become. Oddly enough, I found myself struggling with the cover and vault mechanics more times than not, resulting in a few unneeded deaths and restarts. The vault button is also the melee button and if there?s an enemy near a low wall it was about a 50-50 shot of either vaulting or punching the enemy. Many times you?ll also find yourself wishing there was a dodge or roll button, as getting left in the open will get you killed quite quickly without cover to hide behind.

Dubai is a magnificent city that?s in the heart of the desert, and after the giant sandstorms that have blown through, the sand itself plays a large theme in Spec Ops? gameplay. Certain walls can be destroyed behind enemies to engulf them in a wall of sand and interestingly enough, this mechanic carries over to the multiplayer aspect as well. While it really only takes prevalence in a few scenarios, I would have liked to see this mechanic a larger part of the gameplay itself throughout the campaign.

Spec Ops: The Line also includes a multiplayer mode that has multiple game types, maps, and loadout customization for up to eight players in a match. You have all your standard online competitive modes like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and objective modes, but there?s also a few neat twists on a couple of the modes. There will even be some levels that are randomly hit with sandstorms, making it very difficult to see anything more than five feet away from you. It?s a neat addition to the multiplayer experience, but doesn?t really add all that much to the overall involvement. The standard treadmill of leveling to unlock new perks and rewards is present here, and I?m sure some will flock to it to max out their levels, though I just found the multiplayer offering as a whole was very lackluster and not all that exciting when compared to the amazing campaign story.

At first it was quite odd hearing Nolan North (Captain Walker) swearing so much and being so fired up when delivering his lines, but just like all his roles, he gives a flawless performance that really makes you believe what the character is struggling with and going through with his decisions. The soundtrack is also very fitting for each scenario and had some great licensed music to make it that much more memorable.

While the cover system isn?t as advanced or polished as others, and the gunplay is more or less standard, the story and plot will make you forget all of the game?s shortcomings with its powerful imagery and distinct moral choices throughout long after you?ve completed the game. It?s fantastic to see that what I was expecting to be a standard shooter was actually an experience that I?ll remember since it wasn?t just about a hero trying to save the world but rather the hero feeling terrible for the choices he has to make. The game has rough edges but it can be overlooked with how well the subject matter is handled and how it will make you think about the choices you make. Even if you?re generally not too into the war shooter genre, I suggest picking Spec Ops: The Line up simply to be engrossed with its story telling and thought provoking climax.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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