Spec Ops: The Line is a third person, cover-based shooter published and produced by 2K Games, developed by YAGER (with multiplayer developed by Darkside Game Studios) and released on June 26, 2012. The game is a reboot of Take-Two's Spec Ops series, originally a series of tactical shooters by Zombie Studios, and last seen as a series of budget squad-based shooters for the PlayStation.
While the basic tenets of gameplay should be familiar to anyone who's played Mass Effect, Gears of War or Army of Two, Spec Ops: The Line places a heavy emphasis on moral choices with a dark single-player story that forces players to make difficult decisions in a war-torn wasteland. Set in Dubai after a catastrophic series of sandstorms destroys the city, the game focuses on Delta Squad, an elite three-man team sent to investigate Dubai after the military discovers a distress call from Lt. Col. John Konrad, whose battalion abandoned their post to lead a failed evacuation of the city. Though sent only to perform reconnaissance, Capt. Martin Walker (played by Nolan North) leads his team - heavy weapons specialist Alphanso Adams and sniper/technician John Lugo - deeper into the ravaged city in search of Konrad, and into a war with the various factions of survivors. With no other options and no clear good guys, Walker and crew must fight their way through Dubai, forced to make choices that will bring their morality and sanity into question. The player witnesses the toll the events take on Delta Squad firsthand, as Walker, Lugo and Adams professional soldier veneer unravels as everything in Dubai goes wrong.
At its core, Spec Ops: The Line follows the examples of most cover-based shooters. Walker and his enemies can take very few hits so cover is essential to surviving attacks by survivors. Walker can sprint; slide into cover; blind-fire from behind cover; swap between cover points; and vault over certain barriers, which can be used to kill enemies on the opposite side of a cover point as Walker. The game offers several different weapon types including rifles, pistols, machine guns, and shotguns, many of which contain secondary functions and enhancements to increase the player's options (e.g., silencers, grenade launchers, and scopes). Walker is able to carry two weapons plus three of each of the game's three grenade types: frag, sticky and stun. Outside of cover, Walker also has a melee attack that can be used to stun enemies and execute stunned or heavily wounded enemies with a brutal up-close kill.
Walker is assisted by Adams and Lugo, controlled by AI. As the ranking officer of the squad, Walker can issue orders to his two squad-mates. Using a targeting system, the player can order their squadmates to focus attention on a specified target until said target is killed. Depending on the enemy targeted, the player can utilize their team's talents in various ways - Adams can throw grenades to take out crowds of enemies at closer range, while Lugo's sniping can be used to suppress enemy snipers, rocket launchers and other insurgents just out of reach. Additionally, context-sensitive prompts allow the player to order their squad to throw flashbangs to blind enemies, as well as revive a downed squadmate.
Sand plays a huge role in The Line's combat. Certain barriers, usually windows and vents with sand seeping through, can be destroyed to dump sand on enemies, the effects of which can range from a small blinding cloud that stuns a few to a torrential downpour that kills several. Grenades thrown into sand will kick up a large dust cloud around the blast radius for several seconds, blinding foes not close enough to be killed by the explosion and giving the player an opening to take them out. Explosive containers can also be found throughout the battlefield, and like grenades, serve a double use as explosive weapons and makeshift stun grenades. At predetermined points in the story, the player will do battle with the elements and be forced to brave the violent sandstorms that destroyed Dubai. Walker can still engage in combat during sandstorms, but orders to Lugo and Adams are drowned out by the storm.
Collectibles appear in the form of intel, namely audio-logs and reflections by Walker that provide extra backstory on the events leading up to the storm, the culture of destroyed Dubai and characters central to the plot.
The multiplayer features the same cover based combat as players choose one of two factions. Players can expect sandstorms to play a prominent role during multiplayer matches, blinding the player but also blinding their opponents. Players can choose from a multitude of classes that can be customized to the player's liking with various weapons available for use.
When word first started getting out that Dubai was under threat of being destroyed by catastrophic sandstorms, it was already too late. The government had long since abandoned the people when evacuation was necessary. United States Army Lt. Col. John Konrad, fresh off a tour in Afghanistan with his 33rd Battalion, disobeyed orders to return home and volunteered his battalion to lead the evacuation effort. Some labeled them traitors; others proclaimed them heroes. Nevertheless, the Damned 33rd headed for Dubai and orchestrated a convoy to take people out of the city. But then the storms hit. Furious sandstorms with wind speeds over 80 mph ravaged the Persian Gulf surrounding Dubai, essentially creating a wall around the city. No radio signal could get in or out of the city and no vehicle could get close enough to provide aid. Worst of all, Konrad, the Damned 33rd and the convoy had vanished, never surfacing from the sandstorms.
Six months later, the Pentagon picks up a distress beacon from just outside Dubai transmitting a message from Konrad declaring the evacuation a failure. Delta Squad, a three-man elite operatives team comprised of Capt. Martin Walker, 1st. Lt. Alphanso Adams and SSgt. John Lugo, is sent to Dubai to locate the source of the signal transmitting the first message out of the city since the storms hit. Their mission is to survey the damage done to the city and locate survivors, then leave the city and get to a location where contact can be made with headquarters. Walker has a special interest in locating survivors from the Damned 33rd - he served under and had his life saved by Konrad during a mission in Kabul that went awry.
Delta Squad pushes through the raging wall of sandstorms surrounding the city to find Dubai buried under sand, with buildings torn to shreds by the storms. After finding the beacon transmitting Konrad's message in the outskirts of the city, Walker and his team are attacked by insurgents, survivors of the storms that are killing soldiers on sight. Delta Squad fights their way through several insurgent attacks before picking up a message from a nearby group of 33rd troops under fire nearby. Walker decides to delay calling for backup briefly to respond to the cry for help. After a tense firefight with insurgents on a crashed airplane, Delta Squad finds all but one soldier dead. The badly wounded soldier asks them to save his squadmate who has been taken by the insurgents to their nest in an abandoned hotel, but dies before he is able to tell Walker where Konrad is. Agreeing that the soldier needs their help, Walker and his men venture after him.
Soon after, Walker, Adams and Lugo unwittingly find themselves caught in the crossfire of a civil war between the Damned 33rd - who turned on Konrad and themselves, and its remnants are now spoken for by a pirate radio DJ and former journalist known only as The Radioman - and an insurgent civilian uprising aided by the CIA. The two sides had previously agreed to a cease-fire that was broken as Delta Squad arrived. Delta Squad reluctantly sides with the CIA, believing that the Damned 33rd has gone rogue based on their rounding up citizens who surrender to them. (Walker fears, based on Delta Squad's observations at an emergency shelter known as The Nest, that the Damned 33rd will kill the rounded-up prisoners.) Though Lugo and Adams beg Walker to call for support, he takes them further into the city, convinced to find Konrad and evacuate the remaining survivors.
After surviving ambushes by the Damned 33rd and discovering plans found on a fallen CIA agent, Walker and his men reach a 33rd Outpost known as The Gate. Unable to fight their way to the heavily guarded entrance, Delta Squad discovers an abandoned mortar loaded with white phosphorus, a highly corrosive chemical compound that the 33rd has used on its enemies to burn them alive. Despite Lugo's objections, Walker and Adams posit that they have no choice but to use the weapon against the Damned 33rd. The attack obliterates the base and wipes out the company. However, Delta Squad woefully finds more victims among the charred remains of the base: 47 civilians taken by the Damned 33rd from The Nest to protect them during the battles against the insurgents. Lugo flies off the handle, damning Walker for making them murderers by refusing to leave Dubai. Walker seems unable to cope with what he's done at first before insisting they press onward. Seemingly blaming The Radioman and his control over the 33rd for necessitating the attack, Walker insists to make him pay.
Inside the Gate, Walker discovers a radio through which Konrad, seemingly waiting for them to find the corpses of his executed "loyalists," speaks to him. Konrad reveals to Walker that he has been in charge the entire time, using the Radioman as his mouthpiece. As Delta Squad presses forward, they learn more of Konrad's control over Dubai: after his evacuation failed, Konrad imposed martial law over the city, engaging in population control and death by torture for the smallest crimes. Though now wanted by the Damned 33rd for murdering the civilians at the Gate and in spite of Lugo and Adams' increasing concerns over his mental state, Walker urges his team towards the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in Dubai and Konrad's most logical vantage point.
Roaming deeper into the city, Delta Squad finds a CIA stronghold and Agent Riggs, the last surviving operative. Riggs convinces Delta to help in his mission to steal Dubai's remaining water from the Aquatic Colosseum, a maneuver he assures them will cripple the 33rd's power and bring peace to the city. Delta handily subdues the forces protecting the Colosseum, but the trucks with the stolen water remain under constant retaliation from the Damned 33rd. With the escape failing, Riggs intentionally crashes the truck, knocking Walker unconscious. When he awakens, he sees the charred wreck of the trucks pouring water into the sands, and Riggs mortally wounded under the wreckage. Though he dies, his mission was a success: with no water, the residents of Dubai will soon die of dehydration and all witnesses of Konrad and the 33rd's war crimes erased, thus preventing an international relations disaster that would lead to, in Riggs' words, the entire Arab world declaring war on the United States. Thanks to Walker, Dubai has less than four days left before everyone dies.
Walker reunites with Lugo and Adams in a mall, where the Damned 33rd attempt to take them captive before Walker intervenes. The trio, much worse for the wear after everything that has happened, battles their way out of the mall while the Radioman eggs on the 33rd and chastises Delta Squad at every turn, damning them for the murders at the Gate while defeding Konrad's actions as doing "what he had to do." Delta's new objective becomes clear: Take out the Radioman and use his makeshift radio tower in the Trans-Emirates Building to broadcast an evacuation plan to the remaining survivors. Fighting through scores of soldiers and a couple inexplicable hallucinations, Walker leads the storming of the radio tower where a calm, collected Radioman surrenders and offers to help set up the signal for the 33rd. Lugo then shoots the Radioman several times, killing him, as retribution for sending endless soldiers in pursuit of them. As Walker begins broadcasting his evacuation notice - while Konrad mocks him for thinking his evacuation attempts would go any differently - reinforcements arrive via Black Hawk. Adams commandeers the Black Hawk and the trio use it to kill the remaining attackers, destroying the radio tower in the process. Under pursuit by the 33rd's remaining squadron of attack helicopters, Walker orders them to fly into a sandstorm for cover, where a 33rd helicopter collides with them.
A disoriented, hallucinating Walker wakes up some distance from the crash site, separated from his team. He reconvenes with Adams at the crash site, and the two fight their way behind enemy lines to rescue Lugo. But they are too late - Lugo is lynched by a civilian mob furious over the Americans destroying the water. Though Adams blames Walker for Lugo's death, the duo presses onwards in one final push towards Konrad's headquarters, vowing that Konrad must be killed. Their suicide mission into the Damned 33rd's last remaining stronghold goes well until Delta Squad is surrounded. Walker attempts to surrender but Adams, having lost the will to live, pushes Walker towards escape and makes one final stand against the Damned 33rd. Walker runs away towards the Burj Khalifa when an explosion from behind him, one that presumably kills Adams, knocks him unconscious.
Walker awakens outside the Burj Khalifa. Inside, a team of soldiers who claims to be the last of the 33rd (and wearing similar uniforms as the dead soldiers found inside the Gate) surrenders Dubai to Walker and tells him that Konrad is where he has always been: upstairs, waiting for Walker. Upon reaching Konrad's penthouse, Walker has a disturbing revelation - Konrad has been dead the entire time. Walker, desperate to be a hero and unable to cope with the events at the Gate, hallucinated Konrad speaking to him through a broken radio and several other events; his refusal to obey orders has cost him the lives of Dubai's 5,000 survivors and his two partners in Delta Squad. Konrad gives Walker one final choice: shoot Konrad, and continue to blame him for the events, or turn the gun on himself and pay for his crimes.
Spec Ops: The Line was first revealed in an exclusive trailer aired during the 2009 Spike Video Game Awards. The evocative trailer, which gave the first glimpses of the game's premise set to Bjork's "Storm," received plenty of positive buzz and was considered one of the highlights of the show. The Line was first announced for a 2010 release, but was ultimately delayed several times, first being pushed back to 2011 and then to June 26, 2012. In 2010 beta invitations went out to fans around the world featuring several multiplayer maps and modes. The Multiplayer Only beta received an update midway through that added a few extra modes and various gameplay and graphics improvements. The beta has since been discontinued and simply gives an error message upon startup. The beta was an Xbox 360 exclusive, no PS3 or PC betas were offered.
Incidentally, this was not the first time a Spec Ops reboot has seen multiple delays. In 2003, Rockstar Games was producing a Spec Ops title in development at Rockstar Vancouver. However, their Spec Ops was never revealed to the public or even officially announced (all proof that the title was in development came from parent company Take-Two's investor calls) and is believed to have been cancelled in 2005.