By – Nathaniel Velliquette
Start talking to me about a war shooter and watch what happens. At first, I start to grumble and then begin foaming at the mouth. I spout profanities in between justifications about how stagnant the genre has become and write you off as a dull pulp fiction reader who thinks Teen Wolf and Twilight are the pinnacles of artistic expression. Yager Development takes what we know about war shooters and throws their players for a loop.
Spec Ops: The Line will never be what you expect it to be. It’s neither a typical military shooter nor a direct rip-off of classic film and literature. Just looking at the title and the setting, I thought I was about to experience a flat cast of characters who screamed about how awesome they were as they cuddled each other after exploding thousands of “terrorist” heads. It’s set in Dubai. Terrorists are from there, right? But something happens right from the beginning of the game that raises alarm. Taking from Apocalypse Now and, more importantly, Heart of Darkness, your seemingly typical group of soldiers, Captain Walker, Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo, must travel to Dubai on a rescue mission for a well decorated colonel named John Konrad (get it because the guy who wrote Heart of Darkness was Joseph Conrad but it’s spelled with a K because Kurtz is the character the colonel is emulating and Apocalypse Now was written by a man named John? So meta, man….) Konrad vanished after a failed attempt at evacuating the population of Dubai from its sandstorm besieged streets.
Upon arriving, however, they immediately fall under fire from terro…wait? Lugo just said these are civilians. But the game is tasteful about this so you still don’t quite develop a sense of moral jeopardy because these guys shot first, right? About halfway through this game, it finally sinks in. For those who haven’t touched this game yet, I cannot bring myself to reveal the event since the emotions that occur during it are so strong it would be criminal to ruin it for you. Lets just say, Spec Ops: The Line’s intended message is driven home here. By the end of the game, all three dynamic characters will go through drastic changes that occur so seamlessly that I can only applaud designers for their impressive level of subtlety. By the time the final choice comes around, you can’t help but feel bad for Captain Walker’s, his team’s, and even your own experiences. The game manages to blur that line between player and character that most developers struggle with.
So with all gushing aside, lets talk about the gameplay. Presenting itself as a tactical military game, Spec Ops: The Line devolves in a cover-based third-person shooter that offers little to no innovation. But it doesn’t offend because the game has enough challenges and diversity in the setpieces, that it hardly feels redundant. In control of Captain Walker, you can guide Lugo and Adams through a single button command to attack different targets. Though they are great at distracting and killing enemies, you will likely push them aside as critical gameplay elements. Instead, you rely on covering and precise aiming. During some combat segments, there are destructible walls, windows, etc that are holding back sand which will engulf enemies, giving you a tactical advantage to exploit. The marketing for the game tried to convince gamers that this would be the innovative aspect, but are so sparsely and conveniently placed that it feels like a failed attempt at a variety of combat alternatives. You will find intel that delve further into the events preceding the game. But yet again, it hardly feels innovative.
Viewing Dubai from its tallest skyscrapers can be breathtaking, but as you get close to many of its denizens and other objects, you might notice the poor textures. However, if you don’t try to press your eyeball to whatever you are looking at, everything looks fine. The sense of scale greatly outweighs the demand for perfect-looking camouflage. There is something in the moment when you realize you have been walking atop a massive sand drift and walk across the top of a skyscraper to see a thousand foot drop on the other side. It can be unnerving to say the least. What all of this seems like to me isn’t that Yager Development attempts to be the leading in graphics or gameplay, but utilizes these features to evoke a feeling. Even the pacing in gameplay and cinematics work wonderfully together so that it feels absolutely natural.
Spec Ops: The Line isn’t perfect. The gameplay lacks creativity and visually it is slightly above average. However, thanks to wonderful writing and pacing, it manages to do something that most shooters don’t: relatable characters with a heavily dynamic setting. And even with a short campaign, I feel it fit well within the range of its events. Honestly, I could probably write several more paragraphs about the cohesiveness of all the minor details and how well they tie together, but I am certain that would be too lengthy. By the time I got to play the multiplayer community seems to have died off. I tried joining a few matches, but ended up waiting to no avail. But from what I have been told, it plays just like any other shallow third-person shooter, so maybe I should leave it at that and keep my view of the game unscathed. If you want to experience a great story and twist on an over-saturated genre, Spec Ops: The Line is worth $30.