Spec Ops: The Line – 7.5 / 10
Inspired by the 1902 novel ‘Hearts Of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad, you play as Major Walker, who heads a three man Delta squad on a rescue mission in a sandstorm destroyed Dubai. A previous military unit the 33rd, headed by Major Konrad, lost contact while rescuing survivors, and it’s up to the Delta squad to find out what happened.
‘Hearts Of Darkness’ was also used in a war / military setting in the film ‘Apocalypse Now’, and as with this game, it works well with the subject premise.
There are moments that will shock and ‘disturb’ the player in the mindlessness and brutality of combat in an urban environment. It is this sense, that literally creates emotion as to what’s happening onscreen. This is highly unique considering at the heart of the game, it’s a squad -based shooter.
Apart from a few interactive action sequences, and some instances where you shoot ceilings and walls to make an avalanche of sand, this is a very typical squad-based shooter.
There are multiple assignments to a couple of buttons on the console version – don’t know on the PC – that the game gets ‘confused’ at times, or the actions pop up on the screen to quickly to react to the action you want to do. These are the vault/bash and slip out/swap actions. This isn’t the only game that incorporates multiple actions to one button, but in fairness, it does work most of the time.
Whenever an enemy throws a grenade at you, you can only walk away, even though you’re pressing the buttons to run. This gets very annoying, as you end up dying frequently. Just why you cannot run away is beyond me. In other shooters you can run, so why not this. When you throw grenades at enemies, it makes a billow of sand that obscures their vision, which is a nice effect.
There are some sections that you confront enemies when a sandstorm hits, and when you’re looking directly at the sun. The sandstorm effect is blindly furious and very well incorporated. When looking at the sun, you’re vision is blinded as in ‘reality’, which makes it highly effective or annoying – depending on the player.
You can assign very simple commands to your AI squad members – which only are taking out an enemy or healing. At times when you assign one member to kill an enemy, they sometimes run far out ahead of you into heavy fire and get wounded. At other times both AI squad members get wounded at the same time, and you cannot heal them in time. When this happens, you ‘die’ and need to start at the last saved checkpoint. There are no manual saves – only auto-saves – so at times it gets annoying to go through the same section multiple times to advance. At least the checkpoint system are frequent, and you don’t need to start from the beginning.
Along the way, there are parts where you need to make a decision on what action to take. These are not so easy to pick, as there is no ‘wrong’ one. It’s more like the ‘greater’ or ‘lesser’ of the two evils. What you pick influences how the story plays out, and how the AI squad reacts to you.
The game is broken up into fifteen chapters, with a prologue and epilogue. Some chapters are shorter than others, and the game lasts roughly six to ten hours, depending on the player’s skill and difficulty set. For a game that’s essentially a single player affair, that’s too short. A much longer campaign would be better.
Presentation & Sound
Graphically-wise it’s similar to ‘Uncharted’ and ‘Mass Effect’. The sandstorm-ravaged landscape of downtown Dubai looks great, but other sections look average. In cutscenes, the character animation isn’t mind-blowing, at at times they don’t look as good as they ought to be. Something like in ‘Deus Ex Human Revolution’.
The character voices are excellent. They really did a very good job portraying emotions when confronted by the realities of war, and effects on the civilians.
Sound-wise, the weapons doesn’t have the ‘punch’ as they should have. This is evident for ‘heaver’ weapons such as assault rifles, shotguns, and turrets. The wind effect of sandstorms is another thing – excellent.
The single-player campaign is quite short – similar in length to ‘Call Of Duty’ – which doesn’t amount to much. You can play through it again to collect all those ‘intel’ items, or on higher difficulties, but once you played through, you know what the outcome is, so there’s really no incentive to play it again. This is even though there are multiple endings.
Even with its gameplay niggles, this is well worth going through, as the storyline itself makes this not your average shooter. Overall, it’s not a bad game, but I wish either the developers had more time to tweak the gameplay.