Also On: PlayStation 3
Publisher: 2k Games
Developer: Yager Development
Medium: DVD ROM
Players: 1 – 8
Back in the late-90s, single player military-based counter-terrorist action games were all the rage. Probably the most successful and certainly the most popular amongst current generation gamers is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 series. Before the franchise got consolized it relied heavily on tactical strategy; you would map out all of your teams’ routes and room clearing methods, then have them execute your commands with lethal precision. It was a great sub-genre that unfortunately wasn’t ADD-friendly enough to be maintained.
One of the lesser known titles of the sub-genre (although successful in its own right) was Spec Ops. Unlike Rainbow 6 it failed in its transition to be more action-oriented, sticking to a more realistic format which ultimately didn’t turn out to be as popular with console players. The last official Spec Ops game was released in 2002 (10 years already?) and after that whatever sequels had been planned were shelved… Until now.
Spec Ops: The Line is a re-envisioning of the franchise. And by that I mean the only thing that’s similar is to previous games in the franchise is the “Spec Ops” in the title… Honestly, this game was probably developed as “The Line” and then somewhere along the way a producer figured they could capitalize on the “Spec Ops” brand, leeching off the popularity of others. The good news, however, is that the game is actually pretty good in its own way (not the Spec Ops way), so it’s one of those “I came for the Spec Ops, but I stay for The Line” type scenarios.
You’re Walker, the leader of a three man special operations Delta team sent to Dubai to rescue the 33rd infantry. That’s right; your team is so good that when an entire infantry gets lost, you’re the three dudes they send in to find them. Dubai had fallen under a state of emergency after getting repeated slammed by devastatingly harsh sandstorms. While trying to rescue civilians, the 33rd mysteriously went out of contact — it’s vague as to what happened. A short time later, you and your team is sent into the sandstorm-torn Dubai to find out what happen to the 33rd; you’re rescuing the rescuers. On one side it’s very future soldier-y, alternate reality post-apocalypse. On the flip-side, it’s not very Spec Ops… Or at least not the Spec Ops we used to know.
Playing the game feels more akin to a third-person COD game… but not one of the good ones. Sandstorm ravaged Dubai offers a pretty cool setting with all the huge dilapidated buildings and quasi-psychedelic clubs, but it gets a little marred by the cover-shoot-cover-ad-nauseum gameplay. Plus the controls are slightly clunkier than they should be which only exaggerates the game’s abrasiveness.
Graphically Spec Ops: The Line seems a little stale as well. Not that it’s ugly, just that it looks fairly generic by this generation’s standards. Again, the only thing that gives it a little separation in the visuals department is Dubai and the variety of architecture that entails. Specifically with buildings crumbling and dust clouds whipping around. Come to think of it, even the multiplayer is pretty weak and not very noteworthy. There is a points system with unlockable rewards, but it’ll put you to sleep long before you actually unlock anything good.
Now I know what you’re thinking; a few paragraphs ago I said it was “pretty good in its own way” and then I spent the rest of the page discussing how generic it is in gameplay, graphics, and structure. The thing about The Line that is different is its moral ambiguity, and more over, its lack of direct consequences to your morally ambiguous decision making.
Choosing right or wrong (or should I say, “witnessing”) happens quite a few times in the 7-8 hour campaign, but the results affect the characters more than your mission or your team’s objectives. In that respect it’s fairly realistic; killing an innocent person or making the “wrong” choice doesn’t stop the war or anything, but it does make Walker feel bad. Everyone gets agitated and the “bag ‘em and tag ‘em, Hoorah” attitude fades pretty quickly as the burden of their mission starts to weigh down the entire team. It’s actually kind of cool and ends up being the game’s saving grace.
I was quite disappointed when I realized that this is “Spec Ops” game in name only. From a gameplay perspective it’s basically a throw-away of everything the franchise was about, instead opting to amalgamate it with the rest of the homogeneous military-action titles currently out there. In other words, as good as it is, mechanically there’s nothing special about it, nothing that separates it from a genre that includes some massively successful heavy hitters. Except the characters, which start out like fairly typical military fodder. It kind of catches you off guard and, dare I say, makes you think about the game even after you put the controller down. Needless to say, it’s something you don’t normally expect from an otherwise generic action title.