“Spec Ops: The Line” is an incredibly frustrating experience, because it is so, so close to greatness. In fact, a lot of this game, narratively, is a superb riff on “Heart of Darkness”. Artistically, this game is an achievement in many respects.
As an actual game…it’s…it’s…
Like I said, so, so close to greatness.
The gameplay, in any respect, is OK. It’s cover-based shooting. There aren’t much in the way of squad mechanics, even though you have a squad. They’re mostly there to shoot at things and modulate the difficulty, status buffs with AI. It’s a fairly straightforward shooter in this respect. There are hints that there was ambition here, in fact a hell of a lot more ambition, but that got stifled for some reason. It does have the virtue of being quick and arcade-esque: enemies will take cover, but they don’t care much about their individual safety, so if you try to play turtle, you’re going to get swarmed.
One thing that does stand out in terms of design are the sandstorms. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy, and they dynamically change the game at a few key points.
But it’s really the story and the art that makes this game.
The game is beautiful in an attention-getting way: real time and care was put into this. Ruined Dubai is beautiful. The sandstorms are stunning as well, beautifully rendered. It really gives the environment a sense of ruined grandeur.
As for the story…if you’ve read “Heart of Darkness”, you know something ugly is going down the minute you find out the guy you’re looking for is named “John Konrad” and that there are thousands of refugees trapped in Dubai, buried under the sand. But how ugly will surprise you, as the game gets darker and darker as it progresses.
Special note has to go to Nolan North, who turns in what’s his best performance. North is a good actor, but he rarely get a role up to his talents. If this were a movie, he’d likely be getting Oscar buzz: he’s that good. Unfortunately, your squad isn’t quite as developed.
Despite its flaws, “Spec Ops: The Line” is a good game worth your time and money. It’s not a game that uses a shoddy plot to justify shooting at acceptable targets. In the end, it’s a game about how there is no “call of duty”, there are only situations you walk into, and some you’ll never walk away from.
In some ways, it’s a tough game to play, but it’s a game worth playing, and one of the best arguments for games as narrative to come along in a long, long time.
image courtesy 2K