Let’s be honest I play modern military shooters for the storyline about as often as I watch porn for its dialog. The majority of the time there about Russians and/or middle-eastern trying the blow up the world with a hijacked Nuke and it’s up to team America to save the day. You may find yourself attached to one or more of the protagonists, but by the time the usually 6-hour campaign is over, you find yourself wowed by the roller coaster ride that was generic shooter X. Whether or not the game left any sense of impact on what you did being rite or wrong is normally not a question, and when it is, it almost always ends with “Your teammates are dead, war is wrong, you’ve suffered casualties now try to forget about it and just dive into the multiplayer.”
This is more or less how modern shooters try to make you engaged in whatever narrative they offer. That is where Spec-ops the line tries to differentiate itself. For one the primary objective that you’ve been given at the beginning isn’t espionage or infiltration, hell it’s not even about fighting or trying to end a war. Instead, you start off as the leader of a three-man delta squad stationed in Dubai 6 months after a massive sandstorm has left the capital city in shambles, and your job is to help rescue the locals by providing them with emergency relief by whatever means you can. This already shows how dedicated the developers are to creating a game with a strong narrative. Instead of being stationed in some random Arabic country and having the game say “unspecified-istan” or “some ware in the Arabian peninsula” (like the end of mw3 where the developers don’t want to mention the name even though it’s obviously Dubai)and tasking you with shooting Arabs because they’re evil and are plotting to take over the world. You start off intending to do the exact opposite. Though as fate would have it six months of being trapped in a sand coated wonderland have made the residents of Dubai very aggravated. They start shooting at you on-site and then after an hour or so in you realize that it’s not just the sand that makes these people so upset it’s the united states military. The game uses the capture and poor treatment of one of the American soldiers held hostage by an American as the starting point for this game’s central theme. That being who you can trust and what it means to be truly good or truly evil. When you first encounter the nameless soldier, you will be able to make your first choice, and you can either shoot him or let him go. I had just saved him from being tortured by someone, so naturally, I felt as if the game had wanted me to save him. But all hell turns loose when that man’s squad starts firing at you and the man you saved him from was actually a CIA officer who was interrogating him on the whereabouts of the alleged group of rogue soldiers who happen to be a U.S. funded squadron. From this point on, the game quickly turns into an intense fight for your life shooter against your own military. This already has a better set up and theme to it than most modern shooters on the market. Now other then the controversy of shooting at American troops can spec-ops the line really offer you a satisfying gameplay experience to go along with it?
This is where developer Yager Studios has to face reality. The game for all its ambition in storytelling, for the most part, plays out like your standard generic 3rd person shooter with a really awkward cover system that feels too unreliable for this type of game. When running into gunfire, you have to quickly press the run button to take cover while letting go of the left analog stick because, for some reason, nobody thought that using the button that you would use to run as the same button you use to take cover was a bad idea. If games like uncharted and gears of war have a cover system that is generally loved by most then why can’t spec-ops do the same? The game doesn’t even have an option that lets you tweak the controls to your preference, something that has become industry standard since the original Goldeneye came out back in 1997.
You can only carry two guns at once, something that has been a trope in modern shooters since halo, and none of the guns feel like they have much personality to them. I couldn’t pick a favorite machine or shotgun because they all feel the same regardless of whether one might have a slightly higher rate of fire, or the other does slightly more damage. Certain guns have secondary features that you can switch to, such as a grenade launcher mounted onto the bottom of the machine gun or a sniper rifle with multiple Zoom options, but none of these really made me look forward to picking up one gun over another. Still, the weapons are as reliable as they should be, and I never had any real problem hitting my target.
If you are ever low on ammo, you can order one of your teammates to take out a specific enemy by dragging a cursor on the screen that highlights red when it is aimed at a target. You can also move a cursor over one of your teammates to have your second teammate revive him if they are too wounded to move. It’s kind of like Killzone, but unlike Killzone, if you die you won’t get a second chance. Your partners expect you to revive them because if they pass out there’s a certain amount of time that you have before they die, but if you pass out you die instantly. I appreciate the whole teamwork aspect of this squad shooter but it kind of feels uneven when your ally’s lives are tied to yours. Throughout the roughly 8-10 hour campaign, you will be taken to very well modeled and highly detailed environments. The inside of a fancy hotel/bar that’s been half-buried in the sand as well as seeing swimming pools on top of roof-tops and gorgeously detailed interiors show that the team in charge of the art design really cared about making this look like what the city of Dubai would look like if it was hit by a sandstorm. I was honestly surprised to see a game this pretty used the unreal three engine. It’s just a shame that the enemies won’t let you look around and take in the environment for too long before they start shooting at you.
Now as much as I did enjoy the story and the above-average gameplay wasn’t too much of a hindrance, I felt as though sometimes the level designers were in too much of a rush. At one point early on in the game, I was trapped in a room with a barred door keeping me from getting out. I tried shooting at it, kicking it, and throwing grenades at it. Nothing happened. It wasn’t until after I was ambushed and had bombs thrown into the room that one of my partners kicks down the exact same door with one kick that I was trying to break at the very beginning. Another instance is when the game starts throwing cheap enemies at you that kill you in one hit. These melee opponents that are quick and agile charge at you with a knife and when they do one of your squad members will yell out “Crazy mother fucker with a knife”. Despite them having less armor than the average enemy they end up taking more it’s to kill just to make the game challenging. I tried to melee him, but despite it only taking two or three hits to kill a normal enemy, it takes seven hits in a row just to kill the knife wielders. Seven not an easy number like 3 or 5 no 7. and they don’t get dizzy after you hit them. Hence, you have to constantly time your punches to make sure that you’re not too early or too late; otherwise, they will instantly kill you because of their asinine speed and agility.
The game also makes a very important gimmick out of the sand. A lot of the times, when you are outnumbered, there will be a glass barrier keeping literal tons of sand from poring down and crushing everything beneath it. Shooting it too quick kill your foes is almost a requirement because of the colossal amount of enemies in this game. The sand can also be a hindrance often when you walk outside a sandstorm will start brewing, making it difficult to see as well as disabling your ability to shout orders to your men.
With all of its great set pieces and shootouts, the ending, unfortunately, left a lot to be desired. It’s by no means bad, but when you get to it you realize that none of your choices matter because the only thing that will affect the outcome of the end happens in the last level and the epilog. It felt to me as though the developers were trying to shove the narrative of the first ten hours of gameplay into the last five minutes.
Still, I did enjoy the ride, and while its campaign does not offer much replayability outside of a few scripted scenarios, it was interesting to see how the actions you committed in one incredibly brutal set-piece are reflected at you by the time the game ends.
Now unlike most multiplayer-focused military shooters nowadays that are lacking in the single-player department, this story-driven Military shooter lacks in the multiplayer department. There are only three modes of play, well actually 5, but 2 of them are just the same mode only for higher ranking players, and the lobby is limited to just eight players max. You can customize your class once you start leveling up, but it’s kind of shallow. Sure you can equip different guns, and additional perks, but you can’t add anything to your guns besides grenade launches and laser sights. So if you weren’t a fan of the insane recoil of the mp7 in the single-player campaign and you were hoping that you could give it something to help that out in multiplayer, then tough luck.
When all is said and done, Spec Ops The Line is a very mature and well-written story that knows how to take itself seriously and use the cliches from military shooters of the past as satire to make its own point.