Spec Ops: The Line Xbox 360 Review

This generation of gaming has sure seen its fair share of first and third-person modern military shooters. I’ve got nothing against these games; I just wish developers would change the themes and settings to something that isn’t part of this “genre standard” anymore. In all honesty, I went into 2K Games’ latest entry in the Spec Ops series with a bit of a meh attitude. I didn’t know all that much about it and because of the military setting I wasn’t expecting anything great to come out of it. I have to admit that at times like this I’m glad my initial view of the game was wrong.

The game sets the backdrop by explain that six months prior to the beginning of the game a giant sandstorm ravaged across Dubai. As this was happening, Colonel John Konrad was returning from Afghanistan with his 33rd Battalion, U.S Army. He offered to help with relief efforts, but was deserted when an order was given to abandon the city. Dubai was damaged so much that the United Arab Emirates agreed to declare Dubai a no-man’s land, blocking entry by anyone. Two weeks before Walker and his two Delta Operators, Adams and Lugo, are involved, a transmission is heard from Colonel Konrad explaining the evacuation was a failure. The United States decides to send in these three men to carry out reconnaissance and confirm the status of Dubai, Konrad and any survivors.

Spec Ops: The Line is more than a simple brain dead shooter. This game encapsulates you in an engrossing story that lets you see its characters evolve due to the plot’s consequences. No member of the unit is safe from the physical and mental breakdown that occurs here. This is something most shooters don’t even try to do. It’s inspired by the Heart of Darkness novella, or if you aren’t a book reader, the film Apocalypse Now (which was inspired by Heart of Darkness) might ring some bells. Yager has done well to adapt the story into a modern setting. It gets grim, nasty and shows the full implications of what war can do to the people wrapped up in the conflict, be it civilians or military personal.

Unforeseen choices are forced on the player and the outcome never seems to make anything better. It’s a no win situation, so the question is asked “what is the lesser of the two evils?” One example is when you’re forced to execute a civilian who broke the law or a soldier who was chasing the lawbreaker, but killed his family in the process. These choices really dig down into your soul, with one scene making me question what I’d just done, then feeling sorry for the virtual people who were in these circumstances. This game isn’t shy at putting you right in the middle of your decided outcome, and it can be quite harrowing at times.

Caring for the characters is helped along with a well written story, great dialogue and quality voice acting from the likes of Nolan North (another game to add to his ever growing list), Omid Abtahi and actor/comedian Christopher Reid. The banter between squad mates makes you feel part of the family. The speech is scripted, but with a game like this telling such a gripping and constructed story, I didn’t mind hearing the dialogue again after respawning at a checkpoint.

All I’ve done is talk about the story and characters, but that doesn’t mean Spec Ops: The Line is a slouch when it comes to gameplay. If you’ve played any third-person shooter that features cover mechanics, you’ll know exactly how this game works. Cover can be snapped to by simply tapping the A button. Holding B while sprinting towards a wall, or if you’re crouched behind it, will automatically make you vault over. It’s great for quick escapes when you’re hunted down by enemy soldiers. Cover is vital because Walker can die in a few hits from some well-placed shots. This is the same for enemies too, with only the heavily armed soldiers surviving a clip loaded into their body. Your two squad mates can be commanded with limited control. Targeting an enemy is as simple as holding down a button and letting go on the desired target you want your companions to assault. Sometimes the game will allow you to order your squad mates to launch a flash grenade, making it easier to pick off prey.

A.I is amazingly self-sufficient in Spec Ops: The Line. In many games, I find that when you have buddies that are supposed to help you, they don’t actually seem to do much work. Their bullets often miss, and they’re mainly used to give a sense that you are part of an army/squad, but in fact everyone is helpless at hitting targets but you. Spec Ops gives a great sense that the A.I companions are just as good as you are. They aren’t afraid to move, cover, shoot and rack up a bunch of kills. Since you can’t directly tell them where to go (you can only tell what person they should target), it’s great that the A.I is decent enough to traverse the environment and survive without needing to be babysat.

One detail that stuck out for me while going through the game was the solid level design. Sand is a massive part of the environment and covers every place imaginable, and it’s also incorporated into the gameplay. During battle, sandstorms can form and tremendously hinder your view.  Because of this element, caution is advised – if you aren’t proceeding slowly and in cover, you can find yourself running into the enemy (and vice versa for the enemy A.I) and dying quite easily. I think these are scripted events as they always seem to happen in the same place whenever I was replying a section of the game. Still, they are a good inclusion and are used often enough to show just how hard it is to fight in such a hazardous environment. Structures semi subdued in sand can be used to wash away enemies with sand waves. A simple pop of a window will let the sand through and the unsuspecting enemy will be sleeping with the… scorpions, I guess? “Coooool” is a word that jumped to mind when seeing the sand coming in and swarming everything. There are some memorable moments based around this.

Visioning the destroyed Dubai with your own eyes is maliciously beautiful. A ravaged city covered in sand has never looked as good (although not many games probably have this setting), and it’s all thanks to the artists and the use of the Unreal Engine 3. Rather than dull browns and blacks, Spec Ops is full of blooming orange and beautiful blue, sunny skies. Buildings incorporate the rich setting that Dubai has become known for, with big white skyscrapers covered in giant glass windows that litter the city, sometimes still intact or otherwise twisted and mangled due to the storm. I never once got bored of the setting. The people at Yager always keep changing the environment so you’re never in the posh fancy designed buildings or the wasted sand covered outdoors for too long.

Multiplayer is hard if you haven’t learnt to stay in cover from the single player campaign. A few shots from another player are all it takes to end your life, so it’s vital that you stick to concealment and move around carefully. I found in my matches that most people would camp, move a bit, camp some more; it was rare to find people willingly to move great distances. This causes the game to have some downtime – you won’t see anyone for a while, and then suddenly someone takes a shot at you.

Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are self-explanatory, but one mode where the game seems to feel better is “Buried”. In this mode, you have to destroy the opposing team’s points while making sure your team’s own target doesn’t get taken down in the progress. Uplink is a game mode where you have to control a point on the map to earn score, but you can only earn score if your communication array is online. If the array gets taken down, you need to get it back online as points can’t be earned without the array online. The feel of the multiplayer changes in Buried and Uplink forces people to have to move, making the game feel less of a camper’s paradise. Multiplayer follows the tried and trusted level up system that is featured in every shooter nowadays. Leveling up earns new equipment and weapons, etc. you all know it by now. Online multiplayer as a whole is fun, but I don’t think it is anything to shout home about.

Well, call me utterly surprised. Spec Ops: The Line showed me that it’s more than just a generic shooter. Backing up the solid, if somewhat familiar, gameplay is a fantastic and smart story experience that no other shooter has done for some time. It probably seems that this game is all about the story since that is what I spent most of my of time discussing, and I won’t lie, the plot captivates you all the way to the end of the five hour adventure, giving some violent and powerful scenes that will make you remember them for time to come, but that shouldn’t shun out the fact it is a well made and fun game to play. I whole heartily recommend playing Spec Ops: The Line for the single player alone, just so you can understand a session in how to tell a good war story.

8 out of 10
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