Review: Spec Ops: The Line

Developer: Yager Development | Year: 2012 | List Price: $39.99 | Buy from Amazon

Spec_Ops_The_Line_coverIt only took me one night to finish Spec Ops: The Line from start to finish. I didn’t play it straight through — I started around 7 p.m. and ended around 7 a.m. — but that speaks to how compelling its story was. I couldn’t put it down. Spec Ops: The Line is a 2012 third-person shooter with heavy emphasis on story, and it certainly does not disappoint in that regard. Spec Ops: The Line has one of the best-written narratives I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience in a videogame. This review is going to be spoiler-free, which means I can’t really go into why The Line is so brilliant. But I’m going to say right out of the gate that you really should give Spec Ops: The Line a go.

Spec Ops: The Line casts you as Cpt. Martin Walker, whose three-man squad is on a mission to rescue any possible survivors of a series of cataclysmic sandstorms that have been hitting Dubai over the preceding six months. What was originally intended as a simple reconnaissance mission soon becomes more complicated, as the line between right and wrong becomes cloudy. I knew from reading reviews online that the story was good, but I was actually disappointed at first. This is because, although every moment of the game is actually consequential to the plot, the story doesn’t apparently do anything out of the ordinary until an hour or two in. But I assure you, if you just see Spec Ops: The Line all the way through, you won’t regret it.

Alongside Walker are Lt. Adams and Sgt. Lugo, whose intermittent quips and comments really create a sense of camaraderie between the three characters, which serves to highlight the gravity of the later events of the narrative. This is only helped by some really great voice acting. Walker is played by Nolan North, who also plays Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series. His voice acting works especially well if you’re familiar with that series, because Walker sounds uncannily like Nathan Drake at the beginning but soon begins to change in tone as he faces unimaginable situations in Spec Ops: The Line. Altogether, the game’s characters are very believable, entertaining, and most important of all, very human.

If there’s one place where Spec Ops: The Line falls short, it’s in the gameplay. It isn’t really bad mechanically, but it feels almost completely derivative. It’s a basic third-person cover-based shooter, where you’ll hide behind crates and cars and shoot enemies. The only thing that stands out is the addition of environmental effects. Because you’re playing in a disaster-ravaged Dubai, you’ll be able to make use of frequent sandstorms for cover. There are even some scripted events in which you’ll make use of sand to kill enemies in some creative ways. But on a minute-by-minute basis, Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t give you anything unique in terms of gunplay.

I’m not sure I’m actually qualified to comment on how Spec Ops: The Line looks, since my ancient Mac frankly shouldn’t be allowed to run the game! I ran it on lowest settings and even then the game still stuttered often. But the design of the city still managed to take my breath away on some occasions. The desert is as brightly orange as it is bleak, and the vast, deserted city that serves as the setting for most of the game is striking. Music comes in the forms of various rock songs, due to Walker’s possession of a radio.

What I found really cool about Spec Ops is how deliberate everything is. There’s a reason the first part of the story isn’t too unique. There’s a reason the gunplay never gets more complex than your average cover-based shooter. There’s a reason the environments don’t actually make much sense. There’s a reason why you the game doesn’t make you enjoy the gunplay. Yager Development made Spec Ops: The Line to tell a very specific message, and almost every element of the game serves to emphasise their point. There’s a great sense of progression throughout the six-hour narrative, and maybe it was because I was sleep-deprived by the time I got to the end of the game, but I really got a sense of exhaustion from the protagonists’ late-game behaviour.

I’m not sure how much more I can talk about Spec Ops: The Line before going into deep spoilers, but I’ll finish by saying that it is one of the most unforgettable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Spec Ops: The Line is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC/Mac, and if you have any of those systems, it really behooves you to give it a try.

Design: 10/10 Spec Ops: The Line is a masterfully created story-based shooter. Nearly every single element of the game is meant to prove a point, and you may not notice most of it the first time you play. The story is absolutely superb, and the protagonists are entertaining and relatable.

Visuals: 9/10 Post-apocalyptic Dubai is an interesting setting and there’s absolutely no doubt it’s gorgeous. The outdoor environments are vast and vibrant, and the indoor environments are at once moody and colourful.

Sound: 9/10 Music is surprisingly varied thanks to the ingame radio, though it’s usually rock-oriented to complement the shooter elements. Voice acting is superb and there’s tons of it.

Gameplay: 7/10 There’s not much to say about the gameplay. What’s present is well done, but there’s nothing that really sets it apart other than a slightly underutilised environment system.

Value: 8/10 Spec Ops: The Line is short, coming in at only 6 hours or so long. And at roughly $20 on the internet nowadays, this may not seem like a great deal. But the story is one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen in a game, and I’d recommend anyone who enjoys the first-person shooter franchise give it a shot.

Total: 43/50 (A)

List Price: $39.99 | Buy from Amazon

I’m making great use of my Spring Break, beating a game almost every day. I’m trying to get through Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 right now, though I’m (very) slowly chipping through Final Fantasy 8 as well. I also just started Bioshock Infinite as well as Valkyria Chronicles recently. It’s all a big mess, but there are still more reviews coming down the pike. Stay tuned!

For now, please read some of our other videogame-related content which you can find here, and see always-up-to-date ranked lists of my favourite console games and computer games of all time.

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