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I remember when Spec Ops: The Line came out because everybody was talking about a specific aspect of the game. If I’m on the edge about buying a game, I search for gameplay videos and depending on how I feel about what I see will determine if I buy the game at full retail price or wait for a sale. And the gameplay in Spec Ops never looked incredible to me and now that I’ve finally played it, I can actually say the gameplay is average. I discovered this game is part of the Spec Ops series. At least, that’s what Wikipedia indicates and evidently this is a reboot. Developed by Yager Development and published by 2K Games, Spec Ops: The Line was released for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in June, 2012. For this review, I played the PC version.
Before the events of the story, Colonel John Konrad volunteered the 33rd Infantry Battalion to help relief efforts in Dubai after a series of sandstorms forced out the city’s politicians and wealthy elite who left behind everybody else. The 33rd was unable to maintain order and eventually declared martial law resulting in violence and bloodshed. The story follows Captain Martin Walker, Lieutenant Alphonso Adams, and Sergeant John Lugo, a Delta Force team sent to Dubai on a reconnaissance mission after a radio signal with a message from Konrad indicates the evacuation of Dubai was a failure. There are choices you can make throughout the storyline and the game does have multiple endings. The plot is the real highlight here. The narrative themes conveyed in Spec Ops are very different than what you’ve probably experienced in most other military style shooters out there. The game conveys messages on heroism, violence, and the realities of war. It even makes you think about violence in video games. I have to say I was impressed. When I first started playing, I felt like it was going to be just another military shooter that maybe attempts something controversial for shock value but I was wrong. One of the best parts of the storyline is all the subtext. Spec Ops is a game that makes you actually think about your actions, choices, and their consequences. The plot in Spec Ops is great not only because of the writing and narrative design but also because of the voice acting. The voice work for all of the major characters is really well done. Nolan North delivers an incredible performance as Walker and I was also impressed with Jake Busey’s performance as the Radioman. In my opinion, Specs Ops: The Line includes the best storyline of any military style shooter I have ever played.
For me, gameplay is the ultimate factor in deciding if a game is good or not. Gorgeous graphics, fantastic audio, and a compelling storyline are all great but even if a game had all of those things, none of them really tell me if the it’s actually fun to play. And that’s why I play games. To have fun. The narrative and presentation can certainly add to the enjoyment but the core gameplay is the driving force. As good as the story is in Spec Ops, it shouldn’t blind you from the average gameplay unless it’s the only third-person shooter you’ve played since 2005. Spec Ops plays like your typical third-person cover-based shooter and includes a very basic squad command system. You play as Captain Walker and can walk, run, sprint, take cover, vault over obstacles, crouch, perform a melee attack, and issue orders to your squad members, Adams and Lugo. You can also execute downed enemies. Getting in and out of cover isn’t always a smooth experience and the command system is neat but in no way innovative nor does it feel necessary to utilize to succeed. That said, calling Spec Ops a tactical or strategic game would be a stretch. You can command your squad members to throw stun or flashbang grenades but only when the game tells you and you can also command them to attack specific enemies and heal a fallen squad member. You can also heal them yourself if need be. For the most part, your squad members perform more than adequately on their own and I never felt forced to babysit them. They will run around, take cover, shoot at and kill enemies, and they will alert you when dangerous enemy types are approaching.
Enemies exhibit basic behavior and do come in different types. They shoot at you, snipe you, they’ll often throw grenades which will flush you out of cover, and they will utilize weapon emplacements. They often do stupid shit like standing out in the open when under heavy fire. Some dudes rush you with knives, you’ll encounter more heavily armored baddies late in the game, and Heavy Troopers are probably the most dangerous enemy types in the roster. They’re basically bullet sponges that carry light machine guns or automatic shotguns and can put you down quickly if you’re not careful. Checkpoints are plentiful and there’s a decent arsenal of weapons at your disposal. There’s multiple handguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, a light machine gun, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, and you can acquire and throw three types of grenades – frag, sticky, and stun. The AK47 lets you change fire modes, you can attach a silencer to the M4, the SCAR-H is equipped with a grenade launcher, and the P90 is equipped with a laser sight. Fallen enemies drop weapons and ammo and you can refill all your ammo at once from ammo boxes scattered throughout the environments. You can only carry two weapons and some grenades. Ammo is plentiful but usually not for a specific weapon as in you’ll be swapping out weapons often. There usually plenty of weapons lying around during a firefight so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to play around with different guns. It is easy to run out of ammo during a firefight if you don’t keep moving. Remaining behind cover can ensure your safety until you realize you need another weapon or more ammo and have to leave cover to get it. You want to make your shots count if you don’t want expose yourself too often. If you’re not behind cover, you become an easy target. Commanding your squad members to take out enemies giving you a hard time is usually beneficial and will allow you to save some ammo.
Spec Ops plays out in chapters and each chapter contains objectives to complete and intel to find. The objectives always have you going from point A to B and the intel would be the only real reason to explore the environments. I’ve heard about difficulty spikes but in all honesty, I didn’t have too much trouble getting through the game. Things certainly get more challenging the further you progress but I can’t say I ever felt like there was a point where all of a sudden things were noticeably more difficult or became frustrating. There are four difficulty modes and the hardest one needs to be unlocked. Other than the multiple difficulty modes and the intel that act as collectibles and provide some backstory, there’s not much in the way of replay value. Although, there is a multiplayer component and cooperative mode but I didn’t get the chance to try either of those. The campaign is a pretty linear experience with environments that funnel you down specific paths that only open up for firefights or set pieces. You basically just navigate from one battle to another. You’ll traverse through a good variety of locations including desert areas, a fuselage, hotel, and museum. Some encounters allow you to be stealthy through the use of a silencer and others allow you to flank enemies. Most encounters have you engaging foes all guns blazing. Take cover, pop out and pick off some enemies, advance forward, rinse and repeat. There are some neat set pieces like when you’re hanging off the side of a truck and must blow away enemies with a grenade launcher or when you’re riding in a helicopter while shooting down enemy helicopters or when you have to engage enemies during sandstorms. There is a limited amount of environmental destruction that can be used to your advantage. Some objects that can be used as cover can break from gunfire, you can break windows and glass which will sometimes result in enemies getting buried in sand, and explosive objects like canisters always seem to be placed near groups of enemies.
From a gameplay standpoint, the replay value is low but one reason you may want to return is to catch all the things you may have missed the first time you played through it. There’s a lot of subtext and visual storytelling that’s very easy to miss. You can also make different choices throughout the story but the results of most of the choices don’t really affect the narrative. There’s a lot of neat details and aspects that change over time to reflect Walker’s state of mind or the squad’s attitude. Their dialogue during battles changes over time. Walker’s executions become more violent. The information seen on loading screens becomes more hostile. And you may see or hear things during gameplay that raise some questions. The game is always trying to keep you engaged. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss a lot of subtext and information related to what’s really going on in the story.
Spec Ops is a military shooter with a visual presentation that isn’t washed out. There’s a decent amount of color and it doesn’t really look bad for the time it released. The game is filled with a lot of details. Spec Ops excels at visual storytelling. The Delta members will show more and more visible damage the further you progress through the campaign, you’ll come across numerous dead bodies, some are hanging, and dirt, debris, and abandoned and destroyed vehicles will be littered throughout the environments. The core shooting isn’t as satisfying as it could be but the animations are solid and the gore effects do enhance the gunplay, if only slightly. Blood puffs will appear when enemies are hit, blood will splatter, you can blow off an enemy’s head, explosions from grenades or rockets can just obliterate enemies and send body parts flying, some of the executions are satisfying, and pools of blood will form under fallen enemies. The gore effects never reach over-the-top levels of ridiculous which helps emphasize the serious and dark themes of the story. The sound effects are far from impressive. The weapons sound weak and lack any kind of punch which doesn’t help enhance the already average gameplay. You’re going to hear a lot of shouting and screaming during gameplay and every now and then you’ll hear the sounds of fallen/wounded enemies struggling to breathe. The soundtrack is composed of a lot of rock tunes, including some licensed tracks like Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “Hush” by Deep Purple among some others. As for the technical aspects, I had no issues. The frame rate was solid and I didn’t encounter any bugs. None that I noticed, anyway.
Spec Ops is certainly one of the most thought-provoking games I’ve ever played. It’s a game that makes you think about morality, violence, and war and it’s all conveyed through subtext. Spec Ops is not a military shooter where you’re patted on the back or rewarded for blowing away hundreds of foreign bad guys. You’re not going to get bonus points for sneaking up behind an enemy and slitting his throat. The game is always trying to make you think about right and wrong. We can analyze Spec Ops all day because it’s the kind of game that’s open to interpretation and I did have fun with it but I was more impressed with the plot and themes than I was with the gameplay. The gameplay, itself, is solid enough to be enjoyable but there’s no denying that it’s an average third-person shooter. The storyline is what really drives the experience. Unfortunately, the campaign doesn’t offer a lot in terms of replay value so while it may not keep you coming back, the plot would be hard to forget and might even keep you thinking well after it’s over.
I would recommend Spec Ops: The Line to anyone looking for an action game with a good story. If the storyline wasn’t as good as it is, I would tell you there are better third-person shooters out there and to wait for a sale if you’re seriously interested in it. If you’re like me and care about the gameplay most of all, I would still say wait for a sale because I think even I bought this during a Steam sale but it’s the kind of game I would still suggest you check out anyway despite the average gameplay. If you don’t want to buy or play it, watch a let’s play or something because it contains one of the best storylines for a military shooter to date. The writing and themes are certainly worthy of praise and make Spec Ops: The Line feel like a very different and even unique experience compared to other third-person shooters. And that’s saying something.