Review: Spec Ops: The Line (PS3)

Title: Spec Ops: The Line
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (5.5 GB)
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Yager Development / Darkside Game Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Spec Ops: The Line is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 disc version was used for this review.

Spec Ops: The Line came out of nowhere at E3 2010 to surprise and excite us with a gritty style and unique setting. News about the game was scarce after that with rumors of cancellation swirling like the sands that consumed Dubai in the game’s setting.

Fast forward to June 2012 and the game is finally here complete with multiplayer and a mind bending story to boot.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 274 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
This third person, squad based action shooter is set in a modern day Dubai where sandstorms of biblical proportions have buried the city. As Captain Martin Walker, you’ll be commanding a three man Delta team tasked with finding survivors and figuring out what happened to Lieutenant Colonel John Konrad and the men of the 33rd under his command. Konrad took his troops in to help evacuate the city when the first storms hit. As another, bigger set of storms descended upon them, they were cut off and all contact was lost. Now, six months later, a weak signal from Konrad is heard and your mission begins.

Your squad is tight, as evidenced in the banter while entering the city. You’ll be using your team by issuing simple commands during battle. At times it’s critical to use them to clear out threats when you’re pinned down but you have to be careful when ordering them around. These men will follow your orders to the letter, so if you tell them to attack an enemy that’s out of range, they could end up exposed in the middle of the battlefield trying to execute your orders. You’ll have the opportunity to heal them when they’re injured, if you can reach them, otherwise they’ll end up dead and you’ll start over from the last checkpoint.

This isn’t Call of Duty, Battlefield or even Gears of War, but the controls have a good feel to them (once I adjusted the sensitivity to my liking) and the cover system works really well. Some cover is destructible so expect to spend your time moving from place to place while fighting.

As Dubai has been pretty much buried, sand can play a major part in the game, essentially becoming another character. There are, of course, scripted points in the story where you have to shoot glass or a wall to unleash a torrent of sand upon your attackers but at other times, it’s just there, waiting to be used, or ignored depending on how you want to play.

Oftentimes I found myself forgetting about the option entirely and subsequently having all kinds of problems in a given level. When I remembered that I could use the sand to my advantage, enemies became easier to take out en masse. It won’t always be available to you and it won’t always work to your advantage, but look for the leaky walls and windows and let loose on your enemies when you can.

One of the big draws to this game that’s designed to set it apart from other action shooters is morality and choices. Throughout the game you’ll be placed in impossible situations, forced to choose between a bad option and a worse one. This was one of the things I was raving about in preview coverage here on the site. Taken on their own, the choices really kick you in the gut, in the context of the full game however, they tend to lose some of their punch.

The problem here is that you’re spending the majority of the game fighting remnants of the 33rd, killing American soldiers, your own countrymen, because you have no choice. Unfortunately, after the wholesale slaughter of your fellow soldiers, the moral choice to save one man while killing another just doesn’t have the impact it should. It’s a tricky balance that doesn’t quite seem to come together the way it should have. The developers themselves even beat you over the head with it in loading screens as you get deeper into the game. They’ll ask, “Do you feel like a hero yet?” and tell you “You are still a good person”. It felt like a bit much and it took me out of the game at times. In a strange way though, all that death and destruction does serve the overall story as it twists and turns to a surreal conclusion.

The are a handful of collectibles strewn across the levels in the form of Intelligence Files. While not absolutely necessary, they flesh out the story and give a look at hidden agendas which help make the narrative a bit clearer. You’ll definitely want to find them if you can.

Visuals:
The graphics are really good, not Triple-A title polished but definitely above average. Throughout the game you’re given glimpses of Dubai landmarks, some you’ll definitely recognize. Seeing them half buried in sand along with dessicated and decaying bodies pulls you right into the game.

The ever present sand leaks from walls and ceilings waiting to be let loose. Breaking open these areas sets forth a flood of sand and a huge cloud of dust. Nearby enemies that don’t get buried will be coughing and choking, affording you the opportunity to gun them down.

When the sandstorms roll in, and they will, your visibility is cut considerably. Captain Walker will try to shield his eyes from the blinding fury of the sand and you’ll have to find your targets in this mess. Grenades come in handy here.

Audio:
One of the strongest parts of the game, the audio delivers on all fronts. From the creaking sounds of abandoned, sand filled vehicles, to the scavenging birds and all the voice work, it’s all excellent.

The venerable Nolan North voices Captain Walker while Christopher Reid of Kid N Play fame (the dude with the impossibly high hair) and Omid Abtahi round out your squad. Bruce Boxleitner (yup, Tron) turns in an admirable performance as Colonel Konrad but it’s Jake Busey as the Radioman who nearly steals the show. He’ll provide updates on the current situation in Dubai to the 33rd, the locals and really anyone listening. He’ll taunt you throughout the game and even provide the soundtrack to some of your triumphs and failures. It’s really great stuff.

Online/Multiplayer:
I got to play a good chunk of the multiplayer in a special session in New York the week before the game was released. The multiplayer was actually handled by another developer, Darkside Game Studios, and they’ve done a great job of it. While you’ll have some of the standard fare, Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, etc. there are some unique twists that make it worth checking out.

The fact that it’s four on four helps push the squad feeling. You’ll even be rewarded for keeping squad mates in close proximity to each other. For example, the medic will increase everyone’s healing ability and the gunner increases everyone’s bullet damage and so on. It’s a nice touch that adds another layer of strategy to the gameplay. Especially when you’ll need to split up your team in some modes and maps. Keeping the right classes together in support of each other can help turn the tide.

You’ll have 45 ranks to build through before you “Reenlist” (think Prestige), 56 different weapons, 30 perks and over 120 customizations to unlock. There are six classes in total with four shared between the Damned and the Exiles and the final two being unique to each side. The unique class for the Exiles is the Breacher which has increased explosive damage, while the Damned has the Scavenger who has an increased explosive radius and the ability to repair points faster.

Buried is one of the standout modes. In it, your job is to infiltrate the enemy base and knock out several key walls, bringing the sand in and, obviously, burying their base. At the same time you’ll need squad mates defending your base and repairing walls before they’re breached. In tighter maps it leads to some frantic battles.

The other highpoint is called Uplink. Essentially a modified King of the Hill mode where you have the center scoring area and more importantly a Comm Station. Your team’s Comm Station need to be active in order to score points. Because of this, you’ll need to split your team up to attack the enemy’s Comm Station, defend your own and hold the scoring area. Things get even more interesting when the Comm Stations are about 30 feet away from each other on opposite sides of a small structure as they are on one of the maps we played.

On top of all that, the sand plays a part here as well. Walls will give off the telltale leakiness and sandstorms will rip through the levels at random intervals causing havoc on both sides. You can reshape the level by taking out walls and letting the sand pour in and it’ll stay like that until the next round.

We did see a few odd lag issues here and there but they were more the exception than the norm. All in all, the multiplayer modes for Spec Ops look to be fast paced and genuinely fun.

Conclusion:
Spec Ops: The Line was not the game I was expecting and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I was looking for something that would put me into uncomfortable situations and force me to make difficult choices and it does just that. Unfortunately, the impact is lost amid the noise of all the relentless killing. Maybe that really the whole point of the game, war is hell, morality can be flexible when your own life is on the line.

The setting and the sand mechanic make for a unique game and as I said, the story takes some wild twists and turns along the way so it’s definitely worth a look.

Score:
8.5

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 18 consoles and 4 handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nick-Light/903475001 Nick Light

    I’m a creative writing major in college and I’ve read Heart of Darkness before. I’m a huge fan of story in video games, I think they are full of so much potential and I’m excited to see how this one does. Your review sold me on it because it sounds like they followed through with their goal. Great review, Josh. Hail baby!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremy-Andresen/100001410685298 Jeremy Andresen

    4v4 multiplayer and a 4 hr Campain, for $60…seriously??! FAIL.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeremy-Andresen/100001410685298 Jeremy Andresen

      I might do the GameStop rental with this one, so I don’t lose my money like with GRFS and Battlefield.

    • http://psnation.org/ Josh

      Who said 4 hour campaign? It took me longer than that. Try playing at the higher difficulty level and see how long it takes. You’ll need to be more careful and methodical in battle.

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