Remember when Call of Duty 4 came out? It was a massive day for gamers. Something modern! Something set in the present day that we could relate to in both characters and story. What a great day that was. Sadly, now with the success of Modern Warfare, the modern military shooter has become its own over-saturated genre that makes many groan at the idea of another one coming out. You need to do something special to stand out in that crowd nowadays. Something unique. Something terrifying. You need to be original.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at Spec Ops: The Line. Don’t be fooled by the name, this is not the same Spec Ops you and your pals laughed at on the PS1. This is a game that takes all those pre-conceived ideas for a shooter and turns them on its head. It’s a study on the shooter genre as much as it is a study on the human condition and it’s a terrifying slice of reality to all those that want to play the hero when they pick up a controller.
After an explosive "on rails" start to the game where you take down a seemingly endless amount of helicopters, you are thrown back to the start of this story with you playing as Captain Martin Walker, a Special Forces soldier with a past. You and your team have been sent to Dubai, the richest city in the world though it turns out that all that money can’t save it from the worst sandstorm in history and the city now lies in ruins. For the last six months Dubai has been under the rule of Colonel John Konrad, the man the United States sent to help in the evacuation of the city who instead decided better to stay and “look after” the citizens that couldn’t get out.
Your mission is simple. Find Konrad, get him and any survivors out of Dubai safe and sound. It sounds simple. It isn’t. Konrad has brainwashed the team he went in with into believing that staying behind and massacring civilians is the right thing to do, and as such, you have to fight your way through your military brethren to get to him. You have to do unspeakable things to your own countrymen to accomplish your goals and this is where Spec Ops: The Line is nothing short of genius.
Forcing you to not only witness, but be the cause of so many American deaths in Spec Ops forces the player to sit back and realise that these are not the world saving heroic deeds of any other video game. These are truly the horrors of war you are being shown. These American bodies are not ones you are fighting to avenge; they are the direct result of your actions. The charred and dismembered corpses you are forced to look at are there because you took the actions you thought were right and necessary. Even the games “moral choice” mechanics are there solely to mess with the head of the player. Things go bad quickly, even when you do the right thing and this is the whole point to Spec Op: The Line.
From a gameplay stand point, Spec Ops does nothing special. It’s an average third person shooter with the most basic of cover and shoot mechanics. Your team mate AI has a lot to be desired too, regularly running directly into gunfire and on the higher difficulties, requiring almost constant revival. Spec Ops’ strength lies in its story and its symbolism. Your characters quickly become ravaged by the horrors of the game, in both their appearance and their mental state. You will regularly start a mission on a bright, sunny roof only to quickly go down, both literally and metaphorically, into the darker recesses of the games story, forcing the player to be one with the mental anguish your characters are feeling.
Should you play Spec Ops: The Line? Absolutely! While the gameplay is very much what we expect from a third person military shooter, Yager have taken Joseph Conrad’s "Heart of Darkness" and successfully brought us a game that will legitimately keep you up at night, watching Walker descend into madness in such a way to rival the descents of Travis Bickle and Jack Torrence before him.