It’s the Dubai setting that first grabs your attention upon booting up third person shooter, Spec Ops: The Line. Most of us are more than familiar with sandy, war torn locations, but this is different. When conjuring up images of Dubai in my head I get vast, luxury skyscrapers with swimming pools on the top and exotic cars parked below.
To see it almost destroyed is quite unsettling; once proud towers standing in ruins as bodies litter the ground – the obvious remains of those trying to escape.
It wasn’t even war that caused this, rather Mother Nature is the cause. Hit with the biggest sandstorm ever recorded, Dubai was ripped to pieces. It didn’t end there, as survivors still had to deal with frequent storms surrounding the city, essentially cutting it off and preventing mass evacuation.
Defying orders, U.S. Army Colonel John Konrad and his unit, the 33rd, stayed behind in Dubai to try and help any way they could. Branded a traitor, he was assumed dead until a transmission was intercepted from the man himself, claiming huge death tolls. It’s up to Captain Martin Walker and his team to go in and find out just what is going on.
Images of a destroyed Dubai are haunting.
Whilst a lot of games present larger than life characters with a gung-ho attitude, Spec Ops offers three rather normal (albeit highly trained) guys who are dumped into a situation that starts off bad before spiralling wildly out of control.
Several times you are presented with options on how to proceed, and the game has no qualms with making you question your actions; heck, even the loading screens slowly change from helpful tips about weapons to a more sinister tone. Oh, and the twist at the end is rather delicious although perhaps not unexpected if you pay attention.
In fact, it’s hard to think of a military shooter with a story that comes close to the one in Spec Ops. Whilst not the longest campaign in the world (it doesn’t push much beyond 6 hours), the length is spot on and any attempt to extend it would just ruin the story.
Luckily the gameplay mechanics are up to the same high standard as the story. Those familiar with third person shooters will feel right at home, as it has an easy to use cover system as well as the ability to quickly dash to nearby cover points. Be warned though, your cover disintegrates under fire, so you need to keep your wits about you.
Whilst not containing a huge variety of weaponry, there’s still more than enough to satiate those who are fond of a shoot-out. Guns sound and feel meaty whilst distinguishing themselves from one another in terms of how they handle. For the most part your squad, which is comprised of two AI characters, can look after themselves but there is a basic squad command mechanic you can utilise. This never really goes beyond “snipe that guy” or “heal your teammate” but it works well and can get you out of a tight spot.
Then there’s the sand and sandstorms to deal with. There are certain points throughout levels where you can destroy parts of buildings or walls, unleashing a wave of sand upon your enemies. It’s a useful idea, and one worth keeping an eye out for as while some areas are obvious, others aren’t. Occasionally a sandstorm will hit, normally in the middle of a fire fight, throwing things into chaos. During these times visibility is reduced to almost zero are you struggle on, looking out for tell-tale signs that enemies are nearby.
In terms of presentation, Spec Ops is mostly positive. The backdrops look stunning and harrowing in equal measure, and it all moves at a solid frame rate. Sometimes the textures on the character models take a few seconds to load, creating an odd effect that doesn’t look particularly great.
The sandstorms that devastated Dubai aren't gone, and still play a part in the game.
Once you’re done with the campaign, there’s online multiplayer to sink your teeth into. Unfortunately I haven’t had much of a chance to try this out because, well, the game isn’t out yet and the servers appear empty. However, if they can prevent lag it should be a quality experience, as the gameplay mechanics are spot on.
From looking through the online options there is certainly plenty of scope in terms of tailoring your character to suit your style of play. Custom loadouts are available from the start, with different character classes and perks unlocking the more you rank up; it doesn’t look like a half-hearted affair.
Despite the overwhelming positives, there was one consistent issue throughout Spec Op’s campaign – the spikes in difficulty. Walker can’t take much in terms of damage, yet there are times when you face an almost ridiculous amount of enemies. My personal best (or worst) is being gunned down within four seconds of reloading a checkpoint. Towards the end these spikes became far more frequent, unfortunately turning it into a bit of a trudge, rather than the exciting battle it should have been.
The checkpoints also feel too far apart. In reality they might not be, but the fighting in between is so intense that if you die and have to do the whole lot again it can be soul-destroying.
- Fantastic, compelling story.
- Some stunning vistas.
- Strong characters.
- The voice acting.
- Good gameplay mechanics.
- Difficulty spikes.
- A few visual glitches.
- Checkpoint spacing.
If you’re into shooters then Spec Ops: The Line should be at the top of your list. It blends a brilliant story with strong characters and gameplay mechanics that rival much more established franchises. Yes the difficulty spikes can be a grind, but push on through and you’ll find one of 2012’s best games.
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