The Spec Ops games have been around for some time now, all but avoided by myself as I classed them as more of a budget title; an opinion that has completely changed after having some time with the new release from 2K Games, Spec Ops: The Line.
There may already be a very full library of US Army based shooter on the consoles, all borrowing heavily off one another and Spec Ops: The Line starts off no differently with the now standard flash forward intro involving a wise cracking team member and a full on battle over the streets of Dubai that ends in the tried and tested helicopter crash. However it very quickly starts to pull away from the norm, first off, the location, Dubai, a rich man’s utopia destroyed by a series of horrific sandstorms, all but cut off from the world. You have been called in as a small Delta Force team to patrol the outskirts of the city, trying to find out what happened to the original US Army evacuation team, all that is left is a distress signal from the Colonel John Konrad and his battalion, the Damned 33rd. But as you venture further into the sand blasted streets of Dubai all is not what it seems, the 33rd have appeared to have gone rogue, what was once an evacuation now seems to be a free for all with small eruptions of gunfire between the 33rd and refugees and a unexplained presence of the CIA, setting in motion early doubts as to why you are really here as the Delta Force team are very quickly caught up in this mess.
Without going into too much detail, the plot and resulting action is some of the best from a solo player campaign I have experience for a long time on a console; this is helped along by the great voice cast including the familiar tones of Nolan North of (Nathan Drake) Uncharted fame as the pains of war clearly start to affect not only the world around them but the men and women caught up in the battles, with a superb plot that will very quickly have you second guessing your every move.
Being an over the shoulder third person shooter you can expect plenty of cover based action and for the most of the time, the ability to slip from or jump over cover works pretty well with the press of a button, however when it goes wrong it will often lead to a very quick death. On more than one occasion I find myself mashing the X button to dive for cover, with Walker stubbornly refusing to duck and getting shot to pieces; thankfully the games auto save waypoints are never too far from where you died.
When not complaining about the cover system you can’t fail to be impressed by the enemy AI, where even on the lower difficulties it will offer a real challenge. Though most of their appearances are scripted, appearing in the same place each time you reload a level, their tactics will change depending on the situation, with plenty of flanking and blind shooting to keep you on your toes. Captain Walker is not alone in these battles, supported by a couple of AI team mates who will also help out, mostly staying out of range of your own shots and shouting to you when specific threats appear on the battlefield, so when you hear “shotgun” or “combat” you know to keep well on your guard. As the action intensifies you are able to call in the assistance of your two team mates, with Lieutenant Adams as the heavy weapons support and Sergeant Lugo, the wisecracking marksman, with you pressing the trigger buttons to highlight enemies, letting you focus your attention on other areas. Most of the time your team mates will deal with the enemy with a swift head shot from a few hundred yards but on occasion they will give you the chance to call in a flash grenade, which can be invaluable at times, stunning groups of enemies and giving you the chance to outflank them for a change. The commands are very limited but due to not being overly complicated they manage to keep a decent flow of the action.
As well as plenty of audio cues from your teammates the sound effects also add an extra element of realism to the action, from echoes forming when in some of the vacated and cavernous buildings, the mad ramblings and tunes broadcast over the airwaves and the deafening rush of the sandstorms. This is also matched by some great visual choices, obviously there is a lot of sand which, when its calm you leave footprints in it, shooting walls and windows can cause it to flow out and subdue enemies or create a new path and the sandstorms themselves, bringing your view to a couple of feet in front of you, making it easy to lose your bearings. This is kept in contrast by the stunning bright sunlight as it breaks through shadowy corridors, beautiful views from the buildings towering high above the cloud line to the violent and disturbing images of war itself.
With four difficulty settings to play through and a couple of important choices to make, the six odd hours game time is an absolute joy, add to this a collection side quests that feel a lot more involved than the norm with an Intel Database to build up, be it thoughts from Walker, relics from the survivors or a black box recorder from a failed evacuation attempt, each one manages to push the story further and add even more depth.
Online, Spec Ops: The Line also has a well created multiplayer, picking from two sides, the Exiles or the Damned 33rd and playing through a selection of game modes from Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Team Elimination, to more specific modes like Uplink where you need to turn on a communications station and then hold onto a central scoring zone and Buried, where you need to destroy or repair vital points that reveal the game winning high value target.
The action is all based around a class style characterisation, with Gunners, Medics, Snipers and Officers each having their own special abilities; some are personal like becoming invisible and carrying extra explosives but some also have team perks, like Gunners granting a 20% damage boost to team mates within a 15 meter radius, Officers triggering ammo drops and Snipers marking enemies.
Each class loadout can also host up to three perks that can be swapped around once unlocked with abilities that can reduce damage whilst in cover, increase melee damage, delay mine explosions if you are unfortunate enough to trigger one and scramble the enemies map. To allow for some originality on the maps there are also plenty of weapons to choose from like assault rifles, SMG’s and shotguns plus armour, camouflage and helmets.
From sand ravaged plazas and shopping malls, traversing rooftops across makeshift bridges and zip lines or battling through a luxury resort, there is a fair variety across the six multiplayer maps, offering plenty of ideal sniper and bottleneck areas.
Though a tried and tested formula, Spec Ops: The Line manages to breath fresh air into the genre by offering a truly great story line, full of action and suspense that will keep you guessing till the very last moment.
Rating: Excellent Review Policy (version tested: PS3)
You can pre-order Spec Ops: The Line from ShopTo on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.