To this day I am still constantly amazed that games can evoke emotion from me. Playing for over two decades makes you a little numb to certain things. I have destroyed demons in hell, stolen police cars and ripped people’s spines out in my virtual playground. These things are not always as shocking as they should be. Spec Ops: The Line is. Military shooters have always tried to evoke more emotion from the player. Some have made decent strides, but nothing, and I mean nothing matches what happens throughout the campaign here. By the end of this game I was emotionally torn and exhausted; this is one game I think everyone should at least experience once.
The story is familiar in concept. You play as Captain Martin Walker who is sent into post-catastrophic Dubai to rescue squad mates and get out. The events in the city have left it pretty much a wasteland, and for the first half of the game, things seem pretty straightforward. You are seeking out a man named John Konrad, who you truly admire, but along the way things get muddled. Two soldiers accompany you, Lugo and Adams, and the events that unfold truly need to be experienced. Taking the ideas of war and showcasing the things it can do to a soldier’s mind are truly unparalleled here.
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I don’t want to spoil anything that happens later in the game. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you have wanted that emotionally charged experience from your military shooter, this is it. Find some way to play through it, and whatever you do, don’t let anyone spoil any of it. The voice acting and interaction also sell the narrative. Nolan North voices Walker, and he delivers an outstanding performance. Almost all of the dialogue is well performed and written. I love the minor touches such as your character shouting and calling for help when bullets are all around him. It draws you into the experience.
Story aside, The Line is a solid, if predictable shooter. It takes place in third-person and keeps focus on team management and cover-based action. You can sprint from cover to cover and the shooting feels great once you get used to it. Every weapon feels impressive, from powering off shotgun blasts to that satisfying headshot with the pistol. Ammo is scarce though, and the first time you run out in a massive firefight, the tension is handled perfectly. This is one area The Line excels. The tension from even a minor battle really caused my hands to sweat; something that hasn’t happened to me in years.
Controls can be cumbersome at times because of an odd button choice. Placing the melee button on the same button as the vaulting action can result in some issues. I found myself punching at air at times instead of leaping over cover. The game excels when unpredictability sets in. Sandstorms crop up from time to time, and they affect both you and the enemies. You won’t see them until you are a mere few feet in from of them, and they won’t see you either. This leads to some wild shooting and plenty of tension. These moments continue to solidify the harsh realities of war and combat, and Spec Ops nails it.
While the campaign isn’t overly long, it feels perfectly paced. The best part is there are multiple decisions in the game to make, and each one will take a lot out of you. These aren’t the types of decisions you simply make on a whim. I struggled with one choice towards the end until the last second. These are major consequences and sometimes they involve doing things you would never fathom. It isn’t for shock value as much as it is about seeing what a soldier goes through in war times. By the end of this game, I was truly ready to talk to someone else about the decisions I made and the consequences I suffered. It really was that impactful of an experience.
Once you finish the campaign, there are plenty of reasons to go back. Achievement/Trophy hunters can rejoice as the list is entirely single player, so no online boosting for you. Speaking of online, there is a competitive set of modes to be played, and to be fair they can be fun, but none of it matches the main campaign in spirit. You have your traditional versus, which is entertaining for a while, but the maps are simply too large and barren for most encounters. There is a highlight though. Buried mode is an interested take on the Spec Ops gimmick. Here two teams each try to destroy the opponent’s base and eventually bury them. Almost tower defense and offense at the same time. It is a tense struggle and by far the highlight of the online modes. Co-op DLC is on the way, and honestly I cannot wait to go through the campaign again, preferably with someone who hasn’t already seen the story.
Visually, the game definitely has its ups and downs. Emerging from an indoor environment always impresses. Seeing the sun blind you as you step out to the massive landscape that is Dubai is incredible. There are also some really nice effects, such as the glass breaking and seeing sand pour into a room is impressive. The problems arise in areas like animation. Leaping over cover is a nice feature, but when it comes with some stiff animation, the sell is hard. There are also some really bland textures popping up constantly and some weird disappearing moments. None of these take away too much, and the game looks good so long as you don’t notice the Unreal Engine pop-in that happens on occasion.
Audio on the other hand is absolutely incredible. Everything from the voice acting to the soundtrack really sits well. There is a DJ who has rigged a PA system in the game, and he plays the most appropriate tracks during your firefights. The music goes from upbeat rock when things are hectic, to somber acoustic melodies, as you get more beat down. The subtle touch does not go unnoticed. His banter is also at times, hilarious. Nolan North voices the main character, and his performance is fantastic. His comrades are also particularly well done, and on a fun note, Adams is actually played by Christopher “Kid” Reid from Kid and Play. If you don’t know who that is, never mind. It just makes me sound old. I was also thoroughly impressed with the ambient sounds. Hearing your character scream when bombarded with bullets was nice, and the explosions and effects are top notch. If you have the means, play this game on the proper setup. It makes a world of difference.
Spec Ops: The Line may seem like a standard third-person military shooter on the surface, but once you dig a little more, you discover its dark side. War is hell, and no game has delivered that point better than The Line. The decisions you are forced to make and the outcomes they deliver are incredibly gritty and representative of the things soldiers likely deal with in battle. The mind is a powerful tool, and having never served, I have massive respect for people who have had to deal with things like this. If you are looking for an emotionally charged military shooter, Spec Ops: The Line is a must-play.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.