Into the Heart of Darkness with Spec Ops: The Line (Hands On)

Into the Heart of Darkness with Spec Ops: The Line (Hands On)

“So… why another military shooter?”

You’d think that question might rankle a developer, but Cory Davis, Lead Designer of Spec Ops: The Line was actually eager to answer it.

“We wanted to give gamers an unflinching look at what it’s like to be a soldier. It’s dark. It’s emotional,” Davis told me. “Other games give you a series of heroic moments. Those happen, but the experiences you’ll have with Spec Ops: The Line reflect the types of choices real soldiers make every day and have to live with for the rest of their lives.”

A bullet has no name on it.

He and I had the chance to speak about the game’s stunning animations, brilliant use of lighting and in your face violence. Most importantly, we discussed the moral ambiguity that happens with imperfect information while in the middle of a warzone.

“There are no good or bad choices. It’s going to be ‘push A to be a good guy.’ All of your actions have an unforseen consequence,” Davis shared.

Playing through the 30 minute demo gave me a good understanding of what the team is going for. The game is a third-person shooter, with a cover mechanic that is similar to Gears of War. You can carry two weapons at once, along with grenades. The team at Yager has included one of the smartest features for lobbed explosives: you can cancel your throw. That’s right. No more cursing because of accidentally wasted grenades.

Your squad, the leader of which is, I think, voiced by Nolan North, is easy to relate to. “It’s about their relationships. As you make choices, though, there will be rifts and your team will start to break down mentally,” Davis informed me. At the start, they are lightly cracking jokes; nothing overtly knee-slapping, but instead, the kind of humor you probably share with many of your friends. Later on, though, the stress begins to show.

The game takes place in a ravaged Dubai. The city has been destroyed by massive sandstorms. John Konrad, a US Army Colonel, was tasked with helping with the evacuation of Dubai. When ordered to pull back, he disobeyed the order and, has since, become holed up in the ruins of the once-opulent city.

Rush hour was never THIS bad.

As Captain Martin Walker, you must investigate Konrad’s disobedience and disappearance. If only it were that easy. Along the way, you’ll have to confront armed survivors and Konrad’s own men. The story is about discovery, so information about the narrative wasn’t overabundant. What was in great supply were bullets flying my way.

The animations, specifically in death, were beyond what I’ve come to expect from military shooters. The first time I saw an enemy’s head explode, I was truly taken aback. It wasn’t just because it was particularly gruesome, but because it felt so real. There was a weight to my actions that I simply haven’t felt before in the genre.

Before I parted ways with Davis, I asked him about the antagonist, Konrad. Given his name, his betrayal and the Radioman, whom he trusts absolutely, I had to ask, “are the Heart of Darkness connections intentional.”

“Of course,” he told me, “the first three words out when we started developing the game were ‘Heart of Darkness.'” Joseph Conrad, the author of that tale would likely be proud to be associated with this modern day retelling.

Spec Ops: The Line arrives on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on June 26, 2012.

Mike is the Reviews Editor and former Community Manager for this fine, digital establishment. You can find him crawling through dungeons, cruising the galaxy in the Normandy, and geeking it out around a gaming table.

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