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Spec Ops: The Line 360 Review - -
Spec Ops: The Line
Reviewed by
Andrew Proverbs
Spec Ops: The Line 360 Review. Spec Ops: The Line uses a tried and tested shooter formula to deliver a powerful and thought-provoking story.

Gameplay 7.9
Graphics 8.4
Sound 8.4
Value 7.8
Distributor: 2K Games
Review Date:
July 2012
Andrew Proverbs


Specs Ops the Line

Alone, shell-shocked and bloody, you stagger into the impossibly opulent lobby of a Dubai hotel. The walls on either side glow blue, and cast rippling reflections on the floor. Brimming with brightly coloured fish, the aquarium bears the illusion of limitless depth. This casual display of wealth is as jarring as any of the horrors you’ve witnessed outside. Looking up, you see a dim blue light filtering through the skeletal framework of the tower; that’s where you’re headed. Clambering into the elevator, with one half of your face caked in blood, you listen to the gravely voice of the game’s antagonist as he quietly mocks you: “Do you feel like a hero yet?” 

Spec Ops: The Line casts you as Captain Martin Walker, a Delta Force operative. Along with your comrades Lugo and Adams, your task is to investigate a radio signal originating in Dubai. Several months prior to your arrival, Dubai was all but wiped off the map by the most vicious sandstorm the world had ever seen. A U.S Colonel named John Konrad (voiced by Bruce Boxleitner) led his 33rd battalion through the storm in an attempt to evacuate survivors, but the mission was a dead loss and everyone inside city limits was presumed dead. But the radio signal has given the outside world hope: Konrad and his ‘damned’ 33rd may well be alive, and it’s your job to get in and find out. 

Combat works like this: You can run, slide into and vault over cover. When you take damage, the screen turns grey and bloodstains appear around the edges. If you can avoid getting shot repeatedly, your health regenerates. Indicators tell you which direction you’re being hit from and where the grenades are landing. Sound familiar? That’s because you’ve played a third person shooter made in the last 5 years. 

Most of the battlefields are littered with explosive barrels and crates. Being dark red in colour, these are really hard to see from any distance, and it’s usually only after having cleared a room that you’ll notice them.   

While the controls and interface may be enough to induce a potent sense of dιjΰ vu, there are a few tweaks to the formula that make the gameplay feel at least a little bit fresh. The grenade indicator will change from red to white, depending on whether or not the pineapple is within lethal range. After dying a few times, you’ll also notice just how vulnerable you are to enemy fire. Stay in the open for more than a second and you’re cactus.  

The damage model is just one hint that Spec Ops wants to distance itself from the cool kids, and sit more towards the ‘simulation’ end of the bus. You’ll be given some tactical control over your squad-mates, and this is handled by pressing the context-sensitive right shoulder button. If you’re aiming at an enemy standing on a bridge, pressing the button will order your sniper to give the baddie a little extra ventilation in his head region. If you’re targeting a machine gun nest, your Lieutenant will charitably offer to throw a grenade. 

All-in-all, this one-button approach to squad control feels slightly restrictive. It would be useful to be able to order your men into position, or at the very least give them a simple ‘Stop’ or ‘Move’ command. Too many times, one of them will burst from cover and be cut down by enemy fire. When a squad mate goes down you can either order the remaining one to revive him, or do it yourself. But if they both go down in full view of the enemy it usually means curtains, as you’ll be cut to ribbons while trying to administer the life-saving jolt in the arm.  

But for all of those little foibles, there are a few big saving graces. There are a handful of stealth sections which do a great job at breaking up the action sequences. The setting of a sand-wracked Dubai is one of the most interesting and eerie locales I’ve seen depicted in a game for quite some time. The first time you see it close-up, the city glimmers like a scene from the cover of Omni magazine.  

You’ll creep through ornate hotel lobbies, fight your way down highways choked with sand-blasted Lamborghinis, and rappel down the sides of glimmering skyscrapers. But more so than the setting, it’s the story that will keep you slugging away. Right from the beginning, there are hints that The Line is hiding more up its sleeve than you’d find in the average game narrative. The U.S Army is seemingly at war with the CIA. Niches beneath underpasses are crammed with bodies. And you’re frequently in contact with a demonic radio DJ, who seems to take delight in it all. 

The game’s menu screen portrays a disquieting view: Looking over the endless dunes, a sniper is camped under an inverted American flag. These are all clues that The Line is somewhat different from the shooter norm. You’ll play on through the repetitive early sections, in the hope that the game is building to something special. 

And that it is. Deep into the campaign, you’ll be presented with what looks like an easy opportunity to destroy an entire base of enemies. The method of doing this is completely impersonal, so you don’t feel much of anything. But then the game forces you, literally, to walk through what you’ve done; to hear the consequences, to see them. And suddenly you don’t feel like a hero anymore. You feel ill.  

As Walker and his team probe deeper into Dubai, their mission goals become more and more nebulous. The friendly banter disappears, and is replaced by doubt, apprehension, and eventually, loathing. Towards the end, the only thing keeping the group together is a dogged resolve to see things through, and you’ll feel this as a player as you scrape through each encounter.

 It often feels like you’re walking a moral tightrope. Seldom has a shooter made us feel as accountable for our actions as we do in The Line. There is a very strong anti-war message here, but you also get the impression that Yager development are having a subtle dig at video game violence as well; which is a surprising and brave viewpoint for a developer to have. 

Closing comments: 

Spec Ops: The Line uses a tried and tested shooter formula to deliver a powerful and thought-provoking story.


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