Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Spec Ops: the Line

How many Americans have you killed today?
Dismissed as just another war game, a generic third-person shooter, Spec Ops: the Line is doomed to languish in obscurity. Multiplayer is a ghost town. The first hour of the game screams "you've done this before!"

The Line will become a cult classic, a design document for future projects.

I quite like the game's core shooting, to be honest, so I don't quite get the dismissals. Sandstorm-wrecked Dubai is a near-perfect shooter landscape: outdoors is bleak post-apocalyptica while indoors are the ornate excesses of oil princes. Sure, chest-high walls abound, but bullets matter. Some of the later enemies can soak bullets up, which is a shame, but the vast majority are quite fragile, and ammo is scarce. Nail headshots or run dry and frantically backtrack to find a gun with ammo left in it.

The player is in the shoes of Walker (voiced by the omnipresent Nolan North), commander of a three-man Delta Squad sent to investigate the current state of the city. What happened to the brigade tasked with rescuing survivors? Are there survivors? What the hell is going on?

These questions will be answered...sort of.

There are survivors and the "Damned 33rd" are a presence in the city. A three-man squad shouldn't upset the balance of thousands, but maybe a grain of sand in Morocco caused the sandstorms in Dubai.

Throughout the brief campaign players will be faced with moral choices ranging from bad to worse, bringing players into complicity with the dark tale Yager has woven here. The choices are presented contextually, requiring action on the player's part besides pressing A or B, but sometimes suffered from a lack of clarity. It's a linear action game yet it has choice. The story branches but it's not an RPG. Six hours feels thin yet I wonder if more content would have overstayed its welcome.

Poorly marketed, badly priced at $60, Spec Ops: the Line made my jaw drop numerous times. It's flawed, the conclusion is rushed, but it presents something few shooters have lately: a unique experience which leaves you emotionally shaken. Shaken.

Three Stars

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