Spec Ops: The Line – PC

Spec Ops: The Line is an unremarkable shooter with a few interesting points.  I read recently that professionals write what they need to and hobbyists write what they want to.  The statement is true yet short sighted, much like this game.  I didn’t play the multiplayer and my criticism is only held towards the single player campaign.  Spec Ops: The Line isn’t a fun game, but the story has some interesting points that are undermined by plot holes and bad mechanics   And it does that thing I love where the opening screen is the starting shot of opening gameplay al la God War and Infamous.

The gameplay is a third person cover based shooter using mechanics similar to Gears of War or Mass Effect 3 yet inferior to both.  Be warned PC players, if you have a gamepad plugged in yet intend on playing with a mouse and keyboard the game will only display button prompts for the gamepad.  More often than naught, I found myself dying because my character didn’t latch onto the cover I was aiming for.  Only two guns can be equipped at a time and the game gives little to no tutorials for most of the weaponry available, making any weapon switch out a gamble.  Grabbing a shotgun only to find yourself in an exterior environment covered in snipers is pretty frustrating.

The level design is pretty linear and bland.  The idea is the player and the two AI members of Delta squad walk into a room, defend it for a while, then walk into the next room, rinse and repeat.  There is very little variation from this formula but occasionally a turret sequence occurs.  One of the few enjoyable things about the level design is the sand.  It doesn’t look good, like in Journey or Uncharted 3, but windows can be shot out causing sand to change the entire terrain of the room and occasionally sand storms will hit changing the gameplay tactics.  Unfortunately not every level has these aspects and they almost altogether disappear around half way through the campaign.

Another unfortunate aspect is the bad check pointing system.  Every cutscene that occurs is the checkpoint start.  Luckily after a few seconds of cutscene, it can be skipped by repeatedly mashing the A button on a 360 controller.  Expect to die a lot.  And then expect the game recommending changing the difficulty to easy.  And then expect the game to warn you that some achievements might become unavailable if easy is selected.  Oh yes, it was frustrating much of the time.

The part this game is recognized for is the story.  Some claim it as putting Call of Duty and such to shame, throwing out that it brings the horrors of war to the forefront.  There is some truth in the later but I imagine most people play Call of Duty for fun.  Spec Ops: The Line is not fun.  Walker, the player character, is not a likable person.  Walker’s enemies in the game are not likable people.  No good comes out of this.  There are movies people watch for fun like The Avengers and then there are movies people watch for a horrible reality such as Requiem for a Dream.  This game is the later.

The idea for the setting is Dubai is blown to hell and swallowed by sand.  At some point the game asked me if I even remembered what the original mission was and truth be told, I wasn’t even paying attention at the time.  These questions are typically asked on the loading screen between deaths.  But what becomes the mission is to liberate the survivors of Dubai from the US 33rd.  There are only three of you in Delta and lots of the 33rd.  The officers under Walker constantly bring up ethical and moral questions and no one is happy about killing other US soldiers.  But when they open fire on Delta Squad with a refusal to talk, what do you do?  Either put down the controller and turn off the game or start shooting.  Spec Ops: The Line antagonizes the player at every possible level.

The amount of commentary and drama that occurs on loading screens can become unintentionally comical if the player isn’t immersed in the drama and events that unfold.  Spec Ops is pretty desperate when it comes to this.  There is more than one field of corpses to walk through and unlike the rest of the game it forces the player to walk through them by disabling the run command.  The problem is the self conscious thoughts that occur on the loading screens really should occur in game.  Player death should have been something that was avoided.  Imagine, someone you were trying to protect dying, teammates getting into an argument, and then getting into a firefight and then getting killed in that firefight.  Loading screen happens with a line of guilt.  Then the entire scene plays out again because of the bad check pointing mentioned earlier.  This situation happened repeatedly to me in the game and I died more than once in an area more often than naught.  It took me 9 hours to complete the campaign.

The story itself is interesting but if you like to deduce things you’ll realize there are really only a handful of ways it can play out.  Its an unfortunate aspect of modern day story telling that to be edgy or controversial means riding the back of great stories past.  I would love to elaborate further but I intend to keep this spoiler free.  And to give the famous examples I would give would be a spoiler.  Lets just say if you’ve been watching cinema for the past 30 years, there are no surprises, only attempts at provocation.  At times I chuckled to myself, as the game essentially has a relationship with the player like an abusive dog owner.  The dog owner trains the dog to shit.  Then the dog owner shoves the dog’s nose in the shit and says “No, that’s a bad dog!  Bad!”  Its really the problem with this type of linear story.  There are a few choices in the game (3 or 4), but nothing meaningful.  The problem is the game makes you do something bad and then informs you how bad of person you are for doing those things.  Its not unlike this paragraph where I just over explained the point.

Spec Ops: The Line isn’t a bad game, but its not a good one.  If it wasn’t trying for such artistic commentary on videogames I would say the story would be a better fit for a 2 hour movie instead of a 9 hour game.  The mechanics and level design take away from the immersion the story requires.  The lack of real player choice might undermine the intended editorial Spec Ops: The Line attempts for some.  If you’re going to play it, I recommend buying it for under $20 and setting it to easy.  Play it for the story and expect it to be upset with you for playing it.  Unfortunately, its way to easy to get upset with people who are upset with you.  Remember that as you kill your first US solider.  But who am I to judge?  Maybe some people need this wake up call.  Personally, I see it as common sense.

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About MusiM
Musician, writer, Gundam model hobbyist, video game lover, host of The Carousel Podcast, and all with a day job.

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