While seemingly generic, Spec Ops surprises in a lot of ways
If you're looking for a new game to sate your thirst for something seminal, you'd surely laugh at the notion of a third-person military shooter being pushed toward you - I know I would. Yager Development's Spec Ops: The Line is a game that looks and feels like the competition, but instead of following the safe and derivative path that's usually carved out for the genre, forges its own dark and gritty route that contemporary games hardly use. If, by year's end, people still aren't talking about the narrative this game yields, some of the magic of the gaming industry will have surely faded.
It's tough to advertise, let alone sell someone on a game that puts 'military' and 'shooter' in today's market. Literally polluted with a deluge of games sharing the same ideas and gameplay, gamer's like myself turn a blind-eye to these games without giving it a second thought. It's this reason that I fear Spec Ops won't get the attention it deserves and, I assure you, it definitely warrants some attention.
By skipping out on this game, you're missing one of the single most important tales a game has told since the original Half-Life. Bold as that statement may be, it's as real as it can get. Half-Life's opening scenes were revolutionary and turned the gaming world on its head. Spec Ops won't have that same effect as a whole since the industry has evolved, but the narrative it weaves is one that simply has not been done nor explored by anybody. Over the course of the game you'll ask yourself what you're doing, maybe even why and then when you approach the game's conclusion you'll be simply blown away.
Yager was nice enough to include me in the game! Wait...
To give it a premise, you control Captain Martin Walker of Delta Force with his two comrades-in-arms, Sergeant Lugo and Lieutenant Adams. The trio has been tasked with tracking down Colonel John Konrad of the 33rd Infantry, whose last known location was the annihilated city of Dubai. Having volunteered the 33rd to evacuate the people from encroaching cataclysmic sandstorms, Konrad and company failed the evacuation process and have yet to be heard from. While you don't know what to expect from the decimated city, it's obvious that everything isn't as it seems.
Incredible and emotional as the story is, Spec Ops really shines by allowing the player to make moral decisions that aren't black and white, Paragon or Renegade, good or evil. Regardless of what you choose, somebody somewhere will be hurt by your choice and sometimes you might not even fully understand what's going on around you. While that might seem upsetting to some, having moral ambiguity in serious situations, especially while under duress, is refreshing and potent. Every situation where you're presented with a choice weighs heavy on the conscience, making it quite a memorable scenario.
This is a pretty spooky scene.
The situations where you have to make a choice are fantastic, but regardless of your decision, the game will still progress down the same road. You might get a semi-different cut-scene or skip an area that would normally be full of enemies, but that's the extent of differentiating factors within choice. While I agree that it would have been awesome to have more variety in the pathways, it still doesn't take anything away from the narrative or the emotion of the moment.
Speaking of emotion, the atmosphere Spec Ops provides is superb. Dubai is an original setting with flowing sands and bright colors that are all surrounded by the dilapidated structures of the once great city. It's all appealing to the eye, in a destroyed beauty kind of way and your squad-mates will let you know how they're feeling as well. It's not one of those contrived conversations that you feel forced into, but rather a more organic advance. Basically, as the game progresses and choices are made, Lugo and Adams will bicker, fight and even question your decision making process. It gets to the point where what they're saying can be straight up offensive, but the delivery is so genuine it hits you hard.
The environments are refreshing to behold. Also, sand.
Gamers familiar with the Gears of War series will find Spec Ops combat system familiar and satisfying. Unlike Gears, Walker can only take a few hits before he bites the big one, making cover play a bigger role in every fight and often a requirement. The cover system works well, but it'll take some getting used to since the melee button is tied to the vault button. Sometimes you might find yourself taking a swing at that cement wall instead of jumping it, but with a small amount of time you shouldn't have any further issues.
Being in the desert, sand plays a significant role in combat. Throwing grenades kicks up a dust cloud that gives you some extra cover and shooting certain areas reveal billions of tons of sand that can either aid you into getting to the next area, or smothering your enemies. Weapons feel great to fire and give off some very satisfying sounds when they hit home. There's a good variety of different weapons to choose from and they all come equipped with a unique secondary fire, such as the M4A1 which sports a silencer for a less noisy solution.
They might not seem like much, but you'll become attached to these dudes by game end.
The melee attacks are especially vicious, more so when you hit an enemy so hard, his helmet flies off as he goes airborne. You can also execute enemies who are bleeding out with an assortment of brutal moves and that's actually something else Spec Ops does very well. To tie in with the emotion the game is trying to convey, oftentimes when you shoot an enemy they won't die immediately. They'll crawl around begging for help or groaning in immense pain as the last breaths of life leave their body. While it doesn't affect the overall game or the choices you're presented with, it's almost like a soft-choice; what kind of monster are you?
Something I found woefully absent was the usual feature of co-op. Being a three-man squad, I couldn't help but think Spec Ops would be that much better with two of your good friends helping you unravel Dubai's mysteries. I spoke to Cory Davis about why they omitted co-operative play at E3 and it makes sense, but I still feel that option should have been there. At least a co-operative, prequel-esque mode is in the works and will be available free to those who bought the game very soon.
You'll be seeing a lot of this.
To compensate for the lack of a buddy helping out, you can control Lugo and Adams in a simplified manner. By tapping or holding a button, both your dudes will focus on a target and pay attention to the situation they're in. That means if someone's extremely far away, Lugo sets up his sniper and goes to town while Adams is more close-ranged and might chuck a grenade in for style-points. They'll even attack two different targets if two are in the vicinity or even attach silencers to their weapons if the situation calls for it. It's nice to have decent AI, but I still would've had a friend with me in the trenches.
Once you're done with the story, multiplayer does allow for some extra fun, but it's definitely not the main focus of Spec Ops. There's some cool ideas nestled within, but for a game that's so original it's surprising to see the multiplayer fall right into the conventional multiplayer mechanics we always see. Perks, loadouts all that stuff you can liken to Call of Duty is present, but multiplayer still has some charm to it with Battlefield-esque team abilities and some modes that are better than the usual team deathmatch. It's not great, but it can provide a decent distraction if you really need it.
The atmosphere is incredible.
Spec Ops is one of those games that's going to fly under the radar of most gamers and that's not acceptable. While it ostensibly appears to be your typical generic military shooter, within a short period of time it becomes much, much more than that. The single-player will take you around eight hours to complete, but it's an experience you won't soon forget. The events that unfold in Spec Ops are horrifyingly fantastic and if you care about originality within a genre full of trite and predictable material, you'll help by giving it a chance.
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