When it comes to military shooters, I find it’s very hard for consumers, like myself, to actually express interest in a genre that is so wildly overused. My first thoughts usually are, “What does this game do differently than other games? Why should I even care about this title?” However, this is where I come in and tell you that you should keep a very close eye on Spec Ops: The Line. If you’ve been dying for an extremely solid military shooter that has a story that is genuinely interesting and downright emotional, this may be what you’ve been waiting for.
One of my most common problems with military shooters is finding a way to give two shits about the story. Usually it’s just another story about America invading/being invaded and you’re the hero. You blow shit up and move on with your day. That isn’t the case here. In fact, during my two hours spent playing the demo version shown, I expressed more interest and emotion in the game’s story than I had with every military shooter in 2011. I’m looking at you Modern Battlefield 3.
What Yager Development does particularly well with The Line is offer up very memorable story moments. When you look back on franchises like Call of Duty or Battlefield, you think about the biggest explosion or some incredible sniping mission. (You know damn well where you learned about the Coriolis effect.) Now, while the gameplay in Spec Ops: The Line is indeed superb, the most memorable moments are the emotional events that happen, not just the big budget action sequences.
If you were one of the lucky few who was able to participate in Yager’s Spec Ops: The Line EPD (Exclusive Private Demo) way back when, let it be known that much has changed since then, in a damn good way. First and foremost, the game has actually been in development for nearly five years, now. The reason for the huge gap between the EPD and now is due to a complete rewrite of the game’s script. They’ve also increased graphical detail, fine tuned the controls and evolved their core gameplay elements since then. Think about playing a less gruesome, yet more realistic version, of Gears of War in a Modern Warfare setting and you’ve got the general idea of Spec Ops: The Line.
The cover system and animations have been tuned to perfection, and the gunplay is fast, fun and intuitive. During my time with the demo version, I played through various sections of the game, with subtitled cutscenes to fill in the parts that weren’t shown. With the game being set in Dubai, you’d expect nothing but sandy levels. However, while those do exist, Yager has done a great job with variety in their color palette, as well as level design. In one part of the demo, there was a beautiful underground aquarium with multicolored glass statues making for a gorgeous environment to walk in; so beautiful, in fact, that I was afraid of even shooting my gun. That beauty ended when a body came crashing down through the ceiling onto the glass walkway, nearly shattering it to a thousand pieces.
Aside from the beautiful environments, Yager also is going for a somewhat cinematic experience. It’s nothing too over the top, like you’d see in Uncharted, but, rather, realistic events portrayed in cinematic form. Trust me when I say, they work beautifully. They feel natural, look fantastic and really draw you into the moment. Other little cinematic touches, like slowing down time when you pull off a quick head shot, really add to the direction Yager is heading. One of the coolest gameplay elements actually lies in the sand itself. Throwing a grenade may not kill someone in its blast radius, but it will kick sand up into their eyes, temporarily blinding them. Don’t tell me that ain’t cool.
You can also use the sand and environments to your advantage in battle. For example, shooting out a glass window could send a mountain of sand down onto your enemies. Some of these actions are scripted, but others are purely optional, and sometimes you wont even be aware that they exist unless you look closely at your surroundings. Of course, if you feel like blasting away every enemy you see, that’s entirely up to you. The Line also features Gears of War like executions, in a more realistic way. You’ll often find yourself stepping on the chest of an enemy then putting a bullet between their eyes. This brings me to another interesting gameplay element: Choice, consequence and multiple endings.
The developer I spoke to confirmed that the game will indeed have multiple endings, and that you’ll also have to make game changing decisions throughout. A few of these choices will actually have impact on the outcome of the game, but others will be more “in the moment” types of choices. Halfway through the demo, I had one of these “in the moment” type of choices.
The person I was supposed to capture and interrogate was already being brutally tortured. However, nearby civilians where being slammed into the ground and having bullets shot next to their face while they squirmed in fear. I had to make a choice. Save the civilians and lose my target, or get to my target by any means necessary. Being the asshole that I am, I said fuck the civilians, popped the guys in the head and captured my target, which then lead to a giant battle scene. However, the developer then told me, that had I chosen to save the civilians, I would have avoided that battle entirely. These choices will surely add replay value to the single player.
As I mentioned before, an engaging and memorable story is hard to find in modern military games. However, thinking back on my time with Spec Ops: The Line, I vividly remember many moments I experienced, compared to other games in which I had a hard time even remembering my character’s name or even where the hell I was at.
There were two scenes, in particular, that really stood out to me and made for true “oh shit” moments. The first one came as I was walking through the dunes of Dubai, only to see dozens of bodies hung from telephone poles, swaying in the breeze. I found myself slowly walking through the area, just taking time to absorb what had happened and to understand what the player character and his team are going through.
Now, if you know what White Phosphorus is, you know just how much damage it can do. At the end of the demo, I was faced with 200+ “enemy” soldiers. My only option of survival was using the mortar turret armed with White Phosphorus. As my squad mates are yelling “Are you fucking crazy, don’t you know what that shit does?!”. I’m thinking “Fuck yeah, and I’m going to use the hell out of it”. So, after nearly five minutes of raining hell down upon hundreds of soldiers and vehicles, I was left with nothing but a giant cloud of fumes and dust.
After hopping down out of the turret, the game forced me to walk slowly through the wreckage I’d caused . This is where the emotional part kicked in. As I’m walking though hell, I see soldiers that are still alive, burning, crawling and begging for help. Through the dust particles, I see flames, fumes, charred bodies and hear sounds of desperation. It was a powerful scene to say the least. As I reached the end of the carnage, a soldier fell to his knees in front of me. He was still on fire. With his dying breath he said, “We we’re trying to help you.”
Then my demo ended.
Looking back at my time, I wish I could experience it all over again. Yager has made great progress with the game, and I believe re-writing the entire script was a very wise decision. Not only did the story keep my attention, but it was dark, mature, emotional and left me wanting more. Pile that on top of some great action, gun play, varied enemy types and weapons, and you have one hell of a game. Unfortunately, those looking for multiplayer details will be disappointed. While Yager did say they’ve made great progress and can’t wait to show it off, it’s just not the right time yet.
I did, however, notice an option for downloadable content at the main menu, which is pretty standard these days (especially for 2K). Whether it will expand upon the single player, or just be simple multiplayer map packs is yet to be revealed.
What you should know, is that it would be a mistake to write off Spec Ops: The Line as just another military shooter with a forgettable story and tacked on multiplayer. It’s much more than that, and Yager made damn well sure I saw it.