Rarely does a game translate the drama of cutscenes into the actual gameplay. Some games are scolded for meaningless violence. Spec Ops: The Line gives weight and brevity to every pull of the trigger. With emphasis behind dialog and choices, Spec Ops presents an unforgettable story.
The premise behind Spec Ops: The Line, is you and two other soldiers get assigned with finding any survivors of a massive sandstorm in the city Dubai. This mission doesn’t include just rescuing the citizens, but trying to find any remaining members of the 33rd Infantry. The 33rd was originally tasked with evacuating Dubai, but command has only a distress signal after 3 days.
Upon entering the city you meet the hostile locals, only to find out they’re fighting with the 33rd. From here you’re met with a barrage of information that’s a bit overwhelming at first. It crams the story between the protagonist and the villain along with other tidbits of information that flew over my head in the moment, only for it to make sense hours later. Once the tutorial-like parts are over, the game holds nothing back. The battles grow ever more epic as you progress, as do the difficult choices you’re forced to make.
You’re met with various moral decisions throughout the campaign. These choices are not delivered in a traditional fashion. When given a choice there are no button prompts, the cutscene ends and your decision begins. In many cases it’s a matter of walking away.
At first, the choices don’t seem like there’s much of an option. With a seemless transition from narrative to gameplay decisions, it’s hard at times to distinguish what you’re supposed to do. An example would be when walking underneath an overpass, the villain has suspended two people from a rope. It is your choice as to who lives and why. You are given both backstories for the people in question. What isn’t apparrent is you can simply walk away, shoot one of the men, or choose to attack the snipers watching the two dangling people.
As you further your journey, you begin to see those choices carry over throughout the story arc. Your two squad mates will even banter and have discussions, both in and out of cutscene, about the choices you’ve made.
As you continue to move throughout this destroyed city, you begin to notice how the locals and the military have taken shelter under the city. This results in some creative battle-scapes. They may take place indoors, underground, or in completely open areas, all of which are varied and detailed.
In each of these environments sand is a key element. As enemies are bombarding your location with bullets, a few blind fire shots to an above window means sand will pour out, devouring your foes. Every battle gives the sensation you are a true underdog, which is something not felt too often in games. A lack of patience and timing will result in many, many game over screens. Your targets are numerous, tactical, and aggressive.
You’re always reminded those foes, like you, are U.S. soldier’s. The enemies come in a variety of sizes and shapes. You have your traditional soldier with an assault rifle or some type of machine gun. Then you have the knife wielding wackos that chase you down, to the fully plated heavy trooper with a light machine gun. The game presents you a good mix to keep you on your toes at all times.
Each and every one of those enemies were fast, smart, and flanked… a lot. Every time a soldier went down from my bullet, it felt weird. For some reason not knowing why fellow soldiers were firing stayed in the back of my mind, each and every time.
In no other game have I held on to the fact I was actually killing people. The game even breaks down the third wall a few times to point out how “it’s just a game” and “it doesn’t matter.” I found myself many times thinking the same thing my two squad mates were, “we’re just killing for no reason.” At one point, which I won’t spoil, you realize you’re indeed going too far, even in a digital world.
Spec Ops: The Line crosses the threshold of “just another shooter” by having such a fundamental emphasis on story. One that takes a drastic change at the end, leaving me wanting to replay the six-hour campaign another time or two. The multiplayer on the other hand left me with bitter taste in my mouth. Though the game is on the Unreal Engine and plays something similar the Gears of War series; the multiplayer just doesn’t fit.
The notion that multiplayer needs included in every game is incorrect. Spec Ops: The Line‘s multiplayer is a shining example of that. With maps not fully thought out, unbalanced combat, and a lack of polish, the multiplayer seems like a wasted effort from the studio.
Despite the lack of a fun multiplayer, Spec Ops has one of the best single-player campaigns I’ve played in a long time. Which is an experience not had with many shooters. Despite the genre this game falls into, the sheer fact the developers were able to so seamlessly intertwine story, gameplay, and choices so well is incredible. The way violence, both in-game and in real life get conveyed is an amazing feat.
Spec Ops: The Line is a diamond in the rough. With so many games attempting gimmicky approaches, Spec Ops nails what it intended to do. It tells a compelling story in which your conscience keeps reminding you about the digital atrocities you’ve committed on-screen. Even in the wake of such a heavy toned story, the gameplay is fun and challenging, and one that everyone should experience.