Spec Ops: The Line Review
“Tango down! F**king grenade! Take cover! Yes sir! S**t, f**king s**t!” – if ever there was a time to start shouting and swearing then this would be it.
Three soldiers are stuck in a bloody hot wreck of a desert city, surrounded by dozens of angry men filling the air with bullets and shrapnel, with mother nature chipping in occasionally to flay them all alive in a blinding sandstorm.
We wonder, would a trio of highly trained Delta operatives really be quite so vocal? Would they brim with squaddie bravado when the going’s easy and border on subordination when the sanity has been extracted from everyone around them?
It’s a little more understandable coming from the 33rd Battalion, who have had the proverbial rug whipped from beneath their feet when they remained behind in Dubai to help the evacuees avoid drowning in sand, only to be subjected to an insane situation that goes from vanilla Platoon to fruitcake Apocalypse Now in less than a few chapters.
For Delta Force Bravo team, Lugo, Adams and Captain Walker, it’s supposed to be a rescue mission and for us, we were expecting to yoke the power of the sand where we could and for the sandstorms to dynamically change the battle field in epic, unscripted events. We’re all going to be a bit disappointed, then.
They weren’t expecting their night out to end this badly.
Taking control of Captain Walker (voiced by Nolan North, who else?), we lead the three man team into a city drowned in sand – and we’re not just talking about a few sand dunes here.
Dubai is being evacuated because the desert is reclaiming it, so entire city blocks are being engulfed in a wall of shifting yellow particles. It’s a potential game changer; we can’t judge where we might be able to go or whether the enemy is based on a predictable system of architectural tiers any more.
Now dunes slope to a broken office window several floors up and entire levels are created by drifting sand that has filled in the gaps, smoothed over by the wind.
Nature can help or hinder us on a whim, giving us a leg up over the heads of our enemies or offering them shelter where we weren’t expecting it.
Spec Ops: The Line puts us behind Captain Walker in a third-person perspective, directing his sergeant and lieutenant with RB to target enemies and heal allies.
As we’d expect from this small team of specialists, our two companions are actually quite useful, especially when given direction. It’s a context sensitive system, with Adams and Lugo laying down fire for us most of the time, lobbing stun grenades when we’re pinned down and when one of our squaddies is knocked out, getting the other back on their feet.
The classic melee-execute manoeuvre. We never get tired of this.
We soon noticed the difference they made to our effectiveness when they were both taken out, were unable to help each other and the enemy began to concentrate its fire on us.
It only takes a few seconds to heal them up again, but when the AI behind five 33rd Battalion soldiers is looking for that window to close the distance, and melee you in the neck while a sniper trains its laser sight on your only exit, a few seconds is long time.
Naturally it gets more intense with each chapter as the fighting becomes more desperate and the moral fabric of the situation Bravo team find themselves in begins to unravel.
To say there’s some ‘f***ed up s**t’ going on here would be an appropriate Lugo paraphrasing. Spec Ops: The Line is dark in places and occasionally surprised us with its depth, even if we could see the way the plot was unfolding several chapters ahead of the one we were playing.
It made admirable attempts to smudge good into evil at key points where we got a choice, whether or not to do evil for the greater good and what we considered the ‘greater good’ to be.
There was even a gut-wrenching moment when we realised that the evil-for-the-sake-of-good decision Walker had made had a dire consequence that no-one anticipated.
We had no influence over that decision as a player, but we did get a brief sense of the awful accountability that Walker was suddenly faced with, no matter what his intentions were.
Spec Ops: The Line is a short (eight hours or so) and pithy shooter, but sadly fairly forgettable. It might have distinguished itself more if nature had played a bigger role but as it is, the odd sand dune trapped behind breakable glass and the randomly generated sandstorms don’t constitute anything remarkable.
Despite 2K’s admissions that Dubai’s sandstorms had been scaled back, we were still hoping for a feature that would play a more prominent part on the battlefield, but other than blinding foes and giving developer Yager the opportunity to bolt an interesting scripted crescendo onto a big firefight, its just a big yellow backdrop to all the shooting and swearing.