Game Review | Spec Ops: The Line
Game Summary: Set in modern day Dubai, massive sandstorms have buried the city. As Capt. Martin Walker, you're sent in to find any survivors and learn what happened to the original rescue and evacuation team led by Lt. Colonel John Konrad. (IMDb)
There has been a lot written about Spec Ops: The Line (shortened to Spec Ops from now) that, to someone who hadn’t played it, seemed a lot like hyperbole. Okay, there were the criticisms that the gameplay mechanics weren’t great, but the story being told was phenomenal – possibly one of the best told in gaming history, especially how it was told.
Now that I’ve actually played and finished the game, I can join the ranks of those lauding the story but I’ll also stick up for the gameplay. Is it anything outstanding? Not really, but it still is certainly enjoyable to play through, with very few issues at all.
First, the story: a modern-day Heart of Darkness – the connection made explicit by a character named Konrad – or Apocalypse Now, where a slow descent into madness is portrayed extremely well, with every little thing just adding to the experience.
No joke, even the title screen does this, with it changing the further you go into the game and representing just how badly things are going for the characters. Or the incidental combat dialogue, which starts out very clinical and professional and ends up in rage-fuelled profanity.
The main character’s appearance also reflects this, starting out in a pristine uniform and ending in rags, with severe burns across his body. Or the squad-mates who obediently follow every order to begin with, but end up fighting with both you and each other as things get worse.
Notice how I haven’t even mentioned any specific events yet? This is how well Spec Ops gets across the experience of what the characters are going through, although there are certainly some moments which will live long in the memory.
The most obvious is when you use white phosphorus to attack enemy troops, with an aerial viewpoint similar to how drones work in the Call of Duty games. Just point, click, and boom. Except this time, the soldiers were sheltering civilians…
The aftermath, where you walk through the fire and carnage, screams ringing out as enemies missing limbs try and futilely crawl to some imaginary safety, is bad enough. When you get to the trench with the civilians, whose bodies have been burnt almost to a crisp, disfigured, or even melted together, you realise just how far the game is willing to go.
Usually, such a scene would be expected to draw outrage or disgust from a player over the horrors committed by those you’re up against, but how do you respond when you’re responsible? You keep going to see this story to its end, much like the main characters.
Which is the exact point of the story: you could turn it off and stop any further tragedies happening as a result of your actions. Just like Konrad says, the only reason bad things keep happening is because you keep pressing forward and making them happen.
It might be a little odd to praise a game that is essentially blaming a player for playing it to completion, but the only reason people play games like these is to feel like an action hero, seeing their mission through to the end, no matter what. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t provide a third option for events can play out, unlike certain scenarios that pop up.
As for the often-criticised gameplay? There isn’t anything to really rave about, but it’s certainly well done, and I wouldn’t count being ‘just’ good as a criticism simply because it doesn’t live up to the standards of the story.
Spec Ops: The Line has a great story told really well, with some great work from the voice actors too. The gameplay is admittedly basic, but it also doesn't really need to be anything more than it is, and actually often allows a player to take a third option when only two might seem available. Spec Ops: The Line is to be applauded for both of these things, which very games attempt even six years on.