Version Played: PS3
Time Invested: Around 8 hours to complete the campaign on the default setting. No time spent in multiplayer.
Released in June of 2012, Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person military shooter that focuses heavily on cover mechanics and firefight-style gameplay similar to the Gears of War franchise. There is also a smaller focus on issuing squad commands, utilizing destructible environments to your advantage and making various moral choices that lead to multiple endings. At first glace, The Line is just another generic military shooter, but after sitting down with the latest entry in the Spec Ops series, I can honestly say that it was anything but.
Unlike any other military shooter I’ve played before, The Line really emphasizes the fact that war is, indeed, hell. As you progress through the campaign, all of your decisions come back to haunt you and alter your personality – your orders to your squad mates will turn in to shouting matches, you’ll curse a lot more as you kill enemies and your execution abilities become much more brutal in nature.
Your psyche as a whole is completely turned upside down, you’ll start to question your moral choices and this leads to one hell of a mindfuck as you play through the intense campaign. Even the loading screens ask the question “Do you feel like a hero yet?” or “Do you even remember why you’re here?”, which continuously caused me to sit back and think about the position these three characters were put in and how there are real people out there today that deal with this on a daily basis. How do they go home and sleep at night after seeing civilians burned alive in white phosphorous or seeing their friends strung upside down, riddled with bullets? The storytelling itself is executed quite well with some solid voice acting, lots of plot twists and a fair amount of scripted cutscenes ripe with explosions, blood and some pretty intense violence. The Line does not try to sexualize war, make it seem cool or let you feel like a hero. It tells a horrifying story about three Delta Force squadmates in a haunting, realistic scenario and makes you feel for these people every step of the way. Depth in a war shooter? I know, I’m baffled as well.
As far as the gameplay goes, it’s a bit on the simple side but it definitely works. One squadmate happens to be a sniper so you can have him counter-snipe or pick off enemies from afar. The other is a bit more tactical in nature and tends to help you flank the opposition or gain better ground. You can issue these commands by holding the R2 button and hovering over destructible environments, enemies or the other squadmate for medical attention, so there isn’t a lot of complexity here. I found that as a bonus, but if you’re looking for something like Ghost Recon you might be a bit disappointed.
In what seems to be a common trend, you’re only able to carry two weapons a time and there isn’t a large variety to choose from. You have your basic small arms like desert eagles and SMGs, as well as assault rifles, shotguns, a sniper rifle or two and the occasional RPG. Most weapons have an alternate fire mode that could add a silencer, a scope or turn it in to a grenade launcher, accompanied by a variety of grenade options. The cover system works a lot like Gears of War, rushing in and out of destructible environments in the midst of some intense firefights, picking and choosing when to poke your head out or blind-fire from cover. It’s a simple and effective mechanic that keeps the pace frantic and refrains from promoting a laughable Rambo approach while working through the campaign.
The campaign itself took around 8 hours to complete and has 5 different endings depending on the choices you’ve made throughout the game. I think the 8 hour mark is the sweet spot when it comes to shooters, personally. Any more and they seems to drag on, but any less and I start to feel like the game was only introduced for multiplayer purposes. Thankfully The Line really feels like the campaign was put on the throne and multiplayer is just an option if you want to get a little more out of the game – so much so, in fact, that there are no multiplayer trophies to unlock. Thank. God.
Graphically, character models in The Line can be hit or miss. As the campaign progresses and Delta goes from looking dapper to mimicking hammered shit, their uniform textures start to look a bit less realistic and their faces (albeit melting off a bit) begin to resemble something you’d see in Borderlands with a hand-drawn art style. Character models aside, the post-castarophe Dubai looks incredible and for a game that takes place in the middle of the desert, the devs did a great job of keeping the environments varying from building to building. There were plenty of times between firefights where I would do that nerdy slow camera pan around me just to see how good Dubai looked.. even when most of it was on fire, littered with bodies or buried beneath the sand.
The Verdict – B+
It’s rare to put the terms “war shooter” and “amazing storytelling” in the same sentence, but Spec Ops: The Line managed to do so in spades. Every decision made caused me to question my own morale choices and there were plenty of moments in the game that stick with you until the very end. From the opening sequence where you’re dodging buildings in your chopper to witnessing a mother hold their child while you melt them with phosphorous, I was completely engrossed by the story the entire time, wondering what I could possibly screw up next. The mechanics are a bit simple, but they work, and the graphics are better than they are worse, but the city of Dubai was an excellent back drop for such a great experience. After finishing up The Line, I had to tell my friends about it and that’s something you don’t always get with today’s games.