The Average Gamer

Spec Ops: The Line Review (360)

Spec Ops: The Line breaks convention and exceeds all expectation. That’s actually a tragedy, because it’s fantastic in a way that the traditional audience won’t care about and people who would be interested might never see. It does something with the plot none of its peers really attempts but will likely go unnoticed as a result of our overall fatigue with the genre.

It’s a cover-based shooter where you play a gruff army man embroiled in a desert conflict. Bear with me, I’m serious about it going somewhere. Set in Dubai after a horrific sandstorm renders the city uninhabitable, your role is to lead a small team of highly trained soldiers to investigate the ruins. Before the city was ravaged, a battalion of soldiers broke rank and stayed behind to protect the remaining civilian population. Following a broadcast some time after that indicates there might be unusual activity you enter to try and scout out survivors.

For a little while the game seems as rote as you’d expect from a military shooter. It opens on a turret section. You then move to kill men of Arabian origin. It almost measures up to the epitome of what we’ve come to expect from a blockbuster video game in 2012. The game’s name itself is even off-putting; it might as well be shouting “Product For Shoot Men Yeah Bros”.

But then…

I guess you’ll have to trust me. It gets more interesting; I think explaining exactly the nuances of why in a review is going to do your experience an injustice. Everything has to play out in front of you in order to be most impactful. I feel like the most I can get away with is saying is: Maybe you aren’t supposed to feel good about what you’re doing.

Because the plot is such a major part of the appeal, it’s disappointing that I can’t reveal more; fortunately it’s matched by mechanics that either work well enough not to distract you from the experience or are incredible additions in their own right. As a squad commander you can issue commands to your two followers.

This is as simple as painting a target and your team will react based on context. If the enemy’s far away your sniper will take care of them, if you’ve managed to avoid suspicion your partners will kill using silencers and melee attacks. You won’t necessarily feel compelled to overuse this as you’re still perfectly equipped with an array of modern weaponry, as well as in some cases being able to take advantage of the environment. It’s a little underutilised, but there are moments where you can shatter glass above enemies to pour in literal tons of sand from outside, trapping their bodies underneath and killing them.

The atmosphere is helped by incredible use of licensed music. It’s one thing to be involved in a gunfight for questionable purposes, but it’s far eerier when it’s offset by Martha Reeves. The setting is really sold by level design which captures the decadence of Dubai before everything turned, but yet still does an amazing job of showing it absolutely wrecked. It’s impressive how few of the art assets appear to be reused all that often, too. Though most areas are assorted deserted buildings covered in sand, each one new area feels unique.

The multiplayer isn’t a strong addition. It serves to scratch the same progression based tiers of unlocking that other titles have succeeded at before. It’s an inclusion that might extend your interest slightly longer but it’s not the product’s main point to draw purchasing consideration from.

The modes are standard deathmatch types and don’t cover any new ground. Depending on the map there’s occasionally some novelty; the scene can be overtaken by a sandstorm that makes it impossible to see too far ahead of you and will block out your mini-map unless you can find shelter. That lack of awareness is just as present with your radar fully functional though as the maps are a little too large and it can be full minutes before you’ll see another player.

Don’t be put off assuming this is a mindless shooter. Spec Ops: The Line is a real attempt to actually achieve something within the genre. It’s tough to get that across without example but it behoves you to find out yourself. This exists for a reason and you absolutely need to see it.

Spec Ops: The Line will be out on Friday 29th June for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

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