Spec Ops: The Line Review
The longer you play Spec Ops: The Line, the more you realize what developer Yager was trying to do. However, although interesting and even stimulating, the concepts broached within this hectic adventure are mostly missed opportunities. While I always appreciate a nod to morality and philosophy in any form of entertainment, I can’t overlook the somewhat generic gameplay and the fact that clichés can - and do - infringe upon higher artistic aspirations.
The graphical presentation is decent without making a big fuss about it. For a production that thrives on intense military gun battles, I was a little surprised at the lack of visual firepower. It’s not particularly flashy or exquisitely detailed and although a few of the animations and special effects are cool, the visual style seems a little outdated to me. Furthermore, it almost looks like there’s a filter that turns vibrant color into a more pastel style. The environmental design is very good, though.
The audio is hit or miss depending on where you are in the campaign. If you’re in the midst of a wicked battle, you might get a little tired at hearing the same exclamations over and over. “Grenade!” and “Tango down!” top the “most repeated” list. Then again, you’ve got Nolan North (yep, the voice of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake) as Captain Walker, an overall solid group of voiceover performers, and an effective soundtrack. It’s just interrupted by the aforementioned repetition and some lackluster attempts at enhancing the atmosphere via stereotypical background effects.
Though I have accused the game of going heavy on the military clichés and stereotypes, the plot itself isn’t your boring, run-of-the-mill drama. Yager puts together an intriguing story, where the city of Dubai is besieged by massive sandstorms. Initially, Colonel Konrad and a crack team of infantry soldiers stay behind during the worst of the storms; their goal is to evacuate as many citizens as possible. But things go terribly wrong and Konrad and Co. disappear into the swirling, concealing sands.
That’s where Captain Walker and his Delta Force team come into play. You play as Walker and you’ll have two buddies backing you up. Spec Ops might technically be labeled a squad-based third-person shooter but to be clear, the command-giving strategy is as simple and streamlined as possible. If a particular foe has you pinned down, you simply hold R2, hover your aiming reticule over that enemy, and release R2. At that point, Walker gives the command for his allies to focus their fire on that one target.
Tapping R2 has one of your guys toss out a stun (flash) grenade, and if one of them falls, you can order the other to heal the incapacitated dude by holding R2, aiming, and releasing. Easy as pie. You don’t need to order them to take certain positions; they’ll do that on their own, and they’re not bad. And most of the time, they dutifully fulfill their duty, so you don’t usually have to worry about them failing to execute any given order. Control is simple, too; you hit X to take cover, hold X to sprint, hit Circle to vault over an obstacle, Triangle switches weapons, and L2 is for grenades.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because there’s really nothing in the basic gameplay structure of The Line that’s going to feel fresh or inspired. This really is my biggest problem. It’s great that there’s not anything necessarily broken, and it’s a breeze to pick up and play, but shouldn’t I be expecting a bit more…? Besides, the enemy AI is really dense; they’ll often stand out in the open and get mowed down, and they even select terrible cover positions. They’re not totally braindead, though, and you can count on dying quite often. Control mechanics are a breeze…the quest itself is not.
Part of that is due to the inherent difficulty of the mission. The other part is unfortunately due to some design errors in my opinion. For instance, the enemy always has a ready supply of grenades, and not only are they deadly accurate with them, you can’t get away easily. There’s no dodge option, so getting away from grenades is often a death-defying sequence of leaving cover and sprinting away through a hail of bullets. Then there are the shotgun-toting foes who don’t just carry shotguns; they carry super duper shotguns that do maximum damage even over long distances.
But let me address the moral choices Walker and his team face during the course of the story. This really could’ve been the best part of the game (and in retrospect, it still might be the best part), but not enough was done to bring it out. Our choices do have an impact and there are some supremely tense situations, but it’s all bogged down beneath some tedious gameplay that, while often entertaining, just fails to impress. The last potentially innovative aspect centers on the much-discussed impact of those sandstorms, which is admittedly a sweet feature.
Shooting out windows to let the sand bury your enemies is always fun, and things get a little dicey when you’re caught in one of those storms outside. It’s a nice addition but much like the morality element, it just feels underwhelming. You can also shoot out the glass foes are standing on and watch them plummet to the ground, and other environmental elements – such as things that go boom – infuse the campaign with a bit more flavor and style. But it just isn’t enough in my eyes, as we’re left wanting more of…well, just about everything.
The bottom line is that there are several great ideas here, but they’re sort of mired beneath the weight of a generic shooter. The multiplayer isn’t overwhelmingly great, either, and despite a really solid story with a lot of potential, a few compelling characters, and an immersive, challenging environment, Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t make good on its lofty claims. It’s usually fun and the control makes it accessible, but that just isn’t enough these days. No real "oomph" here.
The Good: Decent soundtrack, and some good voice work. Simple, streamlined mechanics. Squad control is easy to grasp. Campaign is lengthy and challenging. The morality/philosophy segments are mildly interesting.
The Bad: Graphics aren’t impressive. Enemy AI is on the stupid side. Not enough done with the sandstorm idea. No dodge option. Just underwhelming and generic-feeling.
The Ugly: ‘Indifference’
6/26/2012 Ben Dutka