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Spec Ops: The Line Review

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Spec Ops: The Line is a mostly standard shooter with its share of rough edges, but it handles the subject matter of armed conflict in some extremely interesting ways.

In a city full of tall buildings, you'll have to find new ways to get around.

Spec Ops: The Line is a standard cover-based shooter with a modern military theme. You hide behind stuff, do a little blind-firing, toss a grenade or two, and shoot tons of enemy soldiers in their faces. The campaign gameplay is functional, if a bit clunky, and it has many of the features you'd expect a shooter of this type to have. It's a bit dull to play, with most of its differences coming as a result of enemies (and players) not taking too many hits to drop. But that's probably not why you should care about The Line. Because behind its generic look and feel is a storyline that puts you into some really interesting situations that put the simple act of trudging across the desert and gunning down anyone who gets in your way into a very different context than the average shooter. Add to that some interesting moral decisions and multiple endings and you've got... well, you've got a collection of really cool things that would be a lot easier to recommend if the game surrounding those things wasn't so drab.

The setup is that you're a Delta Force operator named Walker, and you, along with two squadmates, have been dropped into Dubai. Dubai has been cut off for six months due to extreme sandstorms, and a US battalion that went in to gather up and extract survivors has seemingly been swallowed up by the sand. When you head to find out what happened, you discover that a conflict between the seemingly rogue battalion and the locals has erupted. Has the 33rd battalion and its commander, John Konrad, gone crazy? Who's inciting the locals to rise up and fight? As your rescue mission quickly falls apart, you'll find the answers to these questions and others. What's more, those answers are actually quite interesting, making the back third of the game--which is where most of the moral choices and important reveals lie--a collection of fascinating sequences that make the game's displays of abject brutality more meaningful than in something like, say, Homefront. The Line is more about showing you the horrible things that come about as a result of good-intentioned people going too far.

You'll start the game as a three-man crew.

It's a seemingly minor thing, but the way the game handles player and squad dialogue creates one of those headslapping moments where you wonder why it's taken so long for someone to do this. As the story escalates, your soldiers get more harried and haggard, leading to shifts in their dialogue. At the outset, they sound like soldiers, calling out targets, kills, and reloads like you'd expect from a modern military game. At a specific point in the game, they switch, getting angrier. The squadmates get shorter with each other, and the jokes cracked at beginning of the game are replaced with curse-filled tirades as they question each others' actions. Reloading dialogue gets rougher. It happens again even later in the game, and by that point things have turned so bad that Walker is just swearing at his gun every time he needs to reload it. It isn't perfect by any means--the dialogue repeats itself too frequently and you'll occasionally hear one line of "professional soldier" dialogue immediately followed by "completely unraveled" dialogue, but make a note. You'll probably see games employ this style of adaptive recurring dialogue in more games in the future.

It's a shame that these tactics didn't find their way into a better game. Spec Ops: The Line is a stock third-person shooter with its share of turret sequences and cover-vaulting mechanics. You can deliver orders to your two allies, but this consists of little more than being able to say "shoot that guy first." There's no cooperative play in there, though that probably benefits the campaign a bit by letting it remove your squad to increase tension in a couple of spots. It's also not very long, though a few spots could have used an additional checkpoint or two, as it's easy to get careless during some of the longer battles and die, forcing you to replay a bit more than you'd like.

There's also a competitive multiplayer mode, complete with all of the loadout options and perks you'd expect. It gets a little shifty by offering slight differences between the two factions and each class offers different bonuses to nearby teammates, but beyond that it's the same sort of treadmill you've gotten on a million times before. Again, this is a case where that treadmill would be a lot more palatable if the action was more satisfying. Despite colorful names like "Chaos" and "Mutiny," most of the multiplayer modes are pretty standard. The first on-screen bullet points for those two modes are just "Deathmatch" and "Team Deathmatch," which makes you wonder why they bothered to name them something different in the first place. In addition to those combat modes, there are also a few objective-based types, but the action feels really off compared to other games of this type. It feels like the players skitter around a little too much, even when the network connections appear to be good. The other twist Spec Ops puts on things is that levels are occasionally hit with a sandstorm, taking out your radar and making visibility poor for a little bit. It doesn't really add much to the experience.

There are plenty of indoor areas to explore along with the sandstorm-filled exteriors.

On top of all that, the multiplayer looks pretty terrible. The textures and objects in the maps look old, like they were originally designed for a different console and hastily pumped up to something more closely resembling today's standards. The multiplayer also shows off some of the worst Unreal Engine texture pop-in I've seen in a long, long time. The single-player looks a bit better than that and offers a bit of variety that actually manages to deliver a few well-put-together areas but the whole game is rife with jumpy animation and overall, Dubai never really feels like a place. It feels like a strung-together patch of levels of varying quality.

The story in Spec Ops: The Line isn't amazing, but the way that it's told really stands out and, in many ways, saves the entire project from being a complete waste of time. But that doesn't make it easy to recommend. It delivers some interesting ideas that approach the messed-up things that often happen in war-based video games in ways that actually make sense. It gives proper weight to the potential horrors of conflict instead of just throwing them in your face for mere shock value. If that interests you, The Line is worth seeing.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
71 Comments
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Posted by Fobwashed

A Shame, I really liked it.

Posted by CaptainTightPants

I may just end up getting this because of all the talk about the story. It is intriguing enough.

Posted by simkas

I really liked the campaign. The gameplay is as standard as it gets, but it works well enough, but this is pretty much the first game that actually made me feel really bad about something I had to do in the story.

Posted by DanTheGamer32

I wish the intelligent story would be something that's seen more in modern shooters...

Posted by Oldirtybearon

This review reads like a backhanded compliment.

Posted by leejunfan83

Fred Gasavian

Edited by Metalhead980

I try to explain to friends why I love this game so much and I have trouble putting it into words.

Spec Ops for me was more than its standard gun play. It left me with a feeling of confusion, remorse, this empty feeling while killing civilians and fellow soldiers.

Wondering if I really made the right decision on a few occasions and ultimately questioning everything.

Spec Ops is a hauntingly beautiful shooter and one that will stick with you long after its short campaign is over.

Personally I've played through the campaign three times. It was a must own for me.

Edit: I read that a Free Co-op mode is releasing this August, maybe that will add more replay value for some of you. Personally I don't partake in multiplayer so for me the game wasn't as bad as it was for this reviewer.

Edited by Trilogy

I'm confused. In the quicklook and on the bombcast, Jeff says that the heavy moments in the game fall flat and come across as the developers trying to hard to shock you, à la homefront, but here he says it does the opposite.

Either way, I'll end up playing it eventually. Perhaps on a steam/amazon sale.

Edited by thatdutchguy

dont like this game at all , the story may be interesting but the rest just seems dull to me.

Edited by CornBREDX

I actually whole heartedly agree with this review (I haven't played multiplayer- i'm not really into that so I take Jeff's word on that stuff anyway). 
 
Even though I love this game, how do you recommend a video game for it's story implementation alone? So, I totally get where Jeff is coming from here. I think he summed it up the best with this: 
 

The Line is more about showing you the horrible things that come about as a result of good-intentioned people going too far.

And it may come as shock (because I loved this game) but I also think this is apt: 
 

It's a shame that these tactics didn't find their way into a better game. Spec Ops: The Line is a stock third-person shooter with its share of turret sequences and cover-vaulting mechanics

I feel the same way. 
It's still worth it for the story, in my opinion, and I hope that developers take note of some of the things this game attempted.
Posted by Twinsun

@Trilogy said:

I'm confused. In the quicklook and on the bombcast, Jeff says that the heavy moments in the game fall flat and come across as the developers trying to hard to shock you, à la homefront, but here he says it does the opposite.

Either way, I'll end up playing it eventually. Perhaps on a steam/amazon sale.

To be fair he did say that the story might pay off later in the game.

Online
Edited by simkas

@Trilogy: No he didn't, he specifically said those moments are really good in the quick look.

Posted by TyCobb

@Fobwashed said:

A Shame, I really liked it.

Not to be an ass, but if you really liked, then what is the issue?

You enjoyed it and that is all that matters. Also, there's nothing really bad about 3 stars. 3 stars to me means a decent game. 4 is great and 5 is awesome.

Remember, a review is just one person's opinion. There are a lot of games that have gotten mediocre reviews that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Posted by CornBREDX
@Trilogy: He did say that, adding his concern was they were meant only for shock with no real point.  
 
He also had not finished the game yet- which does pay off and makes a very valid point which Homefront was to cheeky to make.
Posted by Roger778

Jeff's opinions on the Quick Look made it sound like he was not having much fun playing the game. This 3-star score for the reviews puts me at ease, in that the story is good, but it's just a standard cover-based shooter.

That's fine by me, and I plan to play this game.

Posted by HadesTimes

Judging by what I've heard from others this is probably the score Spec Ops deserves. Still psyched to play it.

Posted by Jimbo

Dear Games Industry, I'll just be over here with cash burning a hole in my pocket... you know, in case you'd like to maybe make something for me to spend it on. k, see you in September I guess, guys! thx! x
 
PS. The best game I've played all year is New Star Soccer on iPad and it cost 69p. Good job.

Posted by MrMazz

I was always more interested in how they told the story than anything else in the game. The controls sounds pretty derivative so guess I'll pick it up once it drops to half off.

Posted by Jackel2072

I will be comming to this game for the story. However I'll wait for a steam sale.

Posted by Napalm

@Oldirtybearon said:

This review reads like a backhanded compliment.

Posted by Trilogy

@simkas said:

@Trilogy: No he didn't, he specifically said those moments are really good in the quick look.

Go listen to this weeks podcast at 2 hours 9 minutes. I'll paraphrase.

"There are points where they are trying to be deliberately weighty and serious that I think don't work. Where it's like... Like oh man! We're walking through this fuckin' trench full of bodies! No impact, no impact...Yea some of that stuff feels really unearned. It's like the homefront syndrome where its like Oh look at how fucked up this is!".

Like somebody else said though, maybe it gets better later on with that stuff. Jeff was only half way through the game when they recorded the podcast so I'll give him a pass on that.

Edited by deathstriker666

One staple of Jeff's reviews is that they're super honest and not full of fluff. If it falls flat and doesn't live up to the quality of other contemporary shooters he's not afraid of giving it an appropriate, deserving score. Doesn't even matter if Greg Kasavin worked on it, he'll still call it mediocre.

When the price comes down, I'll look into buying this. For now $60 is too much to ask

Posted by simkas

@deathstriker666 said:

One staple of Jeff's reviews is that they're super honest and not full of fluff. If it falls flat and doesn't live up to the quality of other contemporary shooters he's not afraid of giving it an appropriate, deserving score. Doesn't even matter if Greg Kasavin worked on it, he'll still call it mediocre.

That reminds me, I was looking around in the game's files and found a package file titled "m02_SEQ_270_Kasavin". Thought it was weird and interesting.

Posted by leebmx

I am going to have to get this game, I am always looking for games which do interesting or innovative things with story and narrative and this sounds like one of those things.

I kind of thought it might not thrill Jeff all that much but that's cool - one of the great things about GB is that the guys taste's are so well defined that it is possible to look at a review and see how well I will enjoy the game because I understand how my preferences stack up against the Bombers'.

For example I know a 5* Jeff review will probably be something I enjoy, but I might find the narrative/characters/dialogue a bit weak wheras a 3* review will probably have good stuff outside of the gameplay which Jeff isn't that into.

Posted by chilipeppersman

@deathstriker666: yea jeff does great reviews. Keep it real dude!

Edited by Abendlaender

Just finished the game, holy crap.

The story is fantastic, shame the gameplay is just so average. Nevertheless I think you (yes you) should play this game at some point. Maybe not right now if you're not that interested but if you find this game for cheap somewhere: Go play it

The story and Walker's character ark are just....damn

Edited by Rmack

I rented it and though I sometimes disagree with Jeff when it comes to shooters, I think this review is spot on. If you're interested in playing it, I would say it's worth $25-30 for what you get out of it, depending on how much you like 3rd-person shooting. It's a shame, too, because the story is just so damn good. I wish I could recommend it at full price, but for the same reasons brought up in the review, I just can't.

I feel like if this had the gameplay of something like Rainbow Six: Vegas or something, I'd be telling everyone to buy it. Maybe they just picked the wrong time to put out a cover-based shooter.

Posted by Darkstorn

Prob won't get the game but the story sounds like something worth experiencing. Intriguing, to say the least.

Posted by aquamarin

Seems we have a divisive game here.

Posted by Absolute_Zero

@simkas:

That reminds me, I was looking around in the game's files and found a package file titled "m02_SEQ_270_Kasavin". Thought it was weird and interesting.

Sounds like it might be a video file. Did you learn anything more about it?

Back on-topic, I'm looking forward to playing this soon. For the story at least, and the multiplayer was fun enough. I haven't had anything to play since Black Ops. Though it sounds like their previous promise of doing something interesting in MP didn't come to fruition, which is a shame.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

Needs more humor in the picture captions. Too serious, maaaaaan.

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

@familyphotoshoot: That...was pretty fucked up.

I want this game

Posted by paulosaurus

@familyphotoshoot: Please put a spoiler tag on that. It's one of the most important sequences in the game, and it is far more impactful when you play through it yourself.

Posted by billyhoush

I just beat the game and honestly Spec Ops: The Line's story and big twist seem very similar to what I imagine Far Cry 3 will be like from the E3 previews. However, I'm sure Far Cry 3 will be a better game overall.

Posted by jmood88
@Oldirtybearon

This review reads like a backhanded compliment.

Not really, it just sounds like the game has an interesting story but boring gameplay.
Posted by Agent47

@TyCobb said:

@Fobwashed said:

A Shame, I really liked it.

Not to be an ass, but if you really liked, then what is the issue?

You enjoyed it and that is all that matters. Also, there's nothing really bad about 3 stars. 3 stars to me means a decent game. 4 is great and 5 is awesome.

Remember, a review is just one person's opinion. There are a lot of games that have gotten mediocre reviews that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Yeah it always bothers me how people see a 3 star review and immediantly their reaction is "Oh, it's shit. Well forget that game then." a 3 is a solid game people, Jeff has said it time and time again.

Edited by bybeach

I like Jeff''s written review for this game. Got a solid ring to it. I'm going to play it on PC, and I don't do MP, so maybe improve a few things there i saw in the review and heard on the Bombast..

Yes I am determined to get this game, though time can vary. It has my interest, at least Jeff is I believe describing a competent effort gameplay wise, if not above average. And thanks a lot to the guys that pointed out the spoiler post, gave me a chance to avoid it.

Posted by Floppypants

I enjoyed the 8-9 hours it took me to beat it. Sure, the combat is by the numbers, but the story made the game worth it. Nolan North is easily going to win a Northie for his performance; it's one of his best.

Posted by Chris2KLee

Might give it a try after it hits the bin. Story seems worth a look, but I don't have the motivation to play another cover based shooter at the moment.

Posted by iAmJohn

@Trilogy said:

@simkas said:

@Trilogy: No he didn't, he specifically said those moments are really good in the quick look.

Go listen to this weeks podcast at 2 hours 9 minutes. I'll paraphrase.

"There are points where they are trying to be deliberately weighty and serious that I think don't work. Where it's like... Like oh man! We're walking through this fuckin' trench full of bodies! No impact, no impact...Yea some of that stuff feels really unearned. It's like the homefront syndrome where its like Oh look at how fucked up this is!".

Like somebody else said though, maybe it gets better later on with that stuff. Jeff was only half way through the game when they recorded the podcast so I'll give him a pass on that.

He's right, though. They did the Quick Look on Tuesday evening (the day after they record the podcast) and he was more upbeat on the story beats. Pretty sure he talks about what he said on the bombcast, too.

Apparently this game is going to be half-off during an Amazon sale this weekend. $25 for a Steam copy of this? Fuck it man, I'm in. Story sounds like they delivered well enough.

Posted by Minion101

Colorblind Jeff mentions nothing about the interesting use of color,

Posted by Oldirtybearon

@jmood88 said:

@Oldirtybearon

This review reads like a backhanded compliment.

Not really, it just sounds like the game has an interesting story but boring gameplay.

Except that it doesn't have boring gameplay. It has standard third person shooter gameplay. Whether you find it boring or not is determined by whether you like third person shooters or not. Jeff wants to praise the story and its implementation, and then laments that it's not "in a better game." What exactly constitutes a "better game?"

Spec Ops: the Line is a third person shooter with a fantastic narrative that seamlessly blends choice, consequence, and gameplay to tell a gut-wrenching story about war and what it does to people. Not only that, it succeeds and places you in this squad's position like no other medium ever could. Yager have leveraged the interactive nature of video games and made me empathize with fucking war criminals. That's an achievement, and it's something this review fails to underscore.

I mean really, if we're still slobbing all over Ken Levine's knob for taking shots at Objectivism philosophy and we're failing to recognize this game, then we don't deserve more games like Spec Ops. We don't deserve characters and narratives with real depth and real humanity, because we'll be too goddamn busy bitching about the textures looking shoddy to notice.

Edited by SaturdayNightSpecials

I just can't buy the idea that the dialog and character development are the draw, unless the dialog exhibited in the demo was supposed to be lame and make you dislike the characters. Which would take the edge off a bit when they go crazy or whatever.

But I will buy the game on sale for PC because I was pleased with how the shooting felt.

Edited by Grissefar

@Oldirtybearon said:

@jmood88 said:

@Oldirtybearon

This review reads like a backhanded compliment.

Not really, it just sounds like the game has an interesting story but boring gameplay.

Spec Ops: the Line is a third person shooter with a fantastic narrative that seamlessly blends choice, consequence, and gameplay to tell a gut-wrenching story about war and what it does to people. Not only that, it succeeds and places you in this squad's position like no other medium ever could. Yager have leveraged the interactive nature of video games.

Ha ! Ha ! I've no idea if what you say is true or not but it sure looks like you took it from the back of the box, or from some scripted PR speech, or from one of those dev-diaries: "So what we've really tried to is to make a world that the players can really believe in and really immerse themselves in, making for some truely unique...".

Posted by Oldirtybearon

@Grissefar said:

@Oldirtybearon said:

@jmood88 said:

@Oldirtybearon

This review reads like a backhanded compliment.

Not really, it just sounds like the game has an interesting story but boring gameplay.

Spec Ops: the Line is a third person shooter with a fantastic narrative that seamlessly blends choice, consequence, and gameplay to tell a gut-wrenching story about war and what it does to people. Not only that, it succeeds and places you in this squad's position like no other medium ever could. Yager have leveraged the interactive nature of video games.

Ha ! Ha ! I've no idea if what you say is true or not but it sure looks like you took it from the back of the box, or from some scripted PR speech, or from one of those dev-diaries: "So what we've really tried to is to make a world that the players can really believe in and really immerse themselves in, making for some truely unique...".

It does sound like PR, doesn't it? I'm gushing over this game and I know that, but try it yourself and you'll see where I'm coming from.

Posted by LiquidPrince

Never start a sentence with because Jeff! Because it's not professional! =P

Posted by Bones8677

Good review Jeff, I think I'll get this game when it hits the $20 range.

Posted by MEATBALL

Sounds like it's absolutely worth playing for the story, the combat and level design in the demo bored me to tears though (and I was disappointed in the rote way in which the sand gimmick had been implemented), so I'll most definitely be waiting for this one to go cheap.

Posted by Cirdain

I liked this game a lot. The gameplay may not be that great but I personally think that the story is excellent. Fortunately, being a PC gamer, I rarely ever play 3rd person games so I didn't really find it that bad. Apart from the multi-story car-park fight bit, fuck that. (Playing on Suicide difficulty cos' mouse-head-click is really really easy with one of the guns)

Posted by Trilogy

@iAmJohn said:

@Trilogy said:

@simkas said:

@Trilogy: No he didn't, he specifically said those moments are really good in the quick look.

Go listen to this weeks podcast at 2 hours 9 minutes. I'll paraphrase.

"There are points where they are trying to be deliberately weighty and serious that I think don't work. Where it's like... Like oh man! We're walking through this fuckin' trench full of bodies! No impact, no impact...Yea some of that stuff feels really unearned. It's like the homefront syndrome where its like Oh look at how fucked up this is!".

Like somebody else said though, maybe it gets better later on with that stuff. Jeff was only half way through the game when they recorded the podcast so I'll give him a pass on that.

He's right, though. They did the Quick Look on Tuesday evening (the day after they record the podcast) and he was more upbeat on the story beats. Pretty sure he talks about what he said on the bombcast, too.

Apparently this game is going to be half-off during an Amazon sale this weekend. $25 for a Steam copy of this? Fuck it man, I'm in. Story sounds like they delivered well enough.

Maybe he was more positive in the quicklook. I can't be bothered to go back and check at this point so I'll take your word for it. My point still stands and we can assume that at least the first half of the game falls a little flat with the weighty/serious moments and then picks up in the second half making that stuff more meaningful. Regardless of all that, he felt better about the story stuff after he had played the entire game so that's a good thing. I hate it when games have terrible resolutions. I know making an ending to a game or anything else for that matter is extremely difficult so I have some respect for a developer that does it well.

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