Expect The Unexpected In This Interesting Criticism Of Heroism
Spec Ops: The Line is one of many games over the past few years that try to change the formula of it's genre. Many of those game have good ideas but fail to deliver, however Spec Ops delivers strongly on it's premise of a truly character driven narrative.
The general gameplay in Spec Ops isn't really different in any way to other third person shooters. It handles well, feels weighty and can appear brutal at times. One nifty feature is that after each head-shot you achieve the game slows down for a few seconds. At first this made the game feel choppy and it really annoyed me, about halfway through the game though something clicked and using the slow down I began to line up kill after kill in quick succession. It's a nice natural progression of power that came through me getting better rather than the game just giving me stronger weapons. In the combat the game also uses lots of licensed music while you fight through big set pieces, it really make you feel powerful in these parts and while at first it seems weird there is a narrative explanation for it. Overall the gameplay isn't anything new but it's really just a means to get from place to place.
Those places are mostly very impressive as ruined Dubai shows itself to be a great sandbox for an action game. With many recognizable landmarks appearing you fight through some really interesting places and the game almost never uses the same trick in several places. You may be fighting through expensive hotels one minute then an aquatic center the next and although it's painfully linear I never found myself bored.
The graphics themselves are serviceable but they could have used some more work on them. Sometimes textures took too long to load even on the main characters face during cut scenes. Overall the visuals seem to be screaming for more time to be spent on them and they ended up being the only disappointment for me.
The story however is really where the game excels and in the form of video games there is nothing like it I have played. However that doesn't mean it's completely original and for the most part it wears its influences on its sleeve with the obvious one being Apocalypse Now but there is a second that I wont reveal because it will spoil the ending. The story follows Captain Walker (Voiced by the always fantastic Nolan North) and his team as they try to find and evacuate survivors in Dubai while also finding out what happened to the 33rd Battalion that was previously sent to aid Dubai. It soon turns into a psychological nightmare for Walker however as it rips apart his psyche and his compulsive need to be a hero. Through this the game criticizes, quite rightly, the heroism that most mainstream games promote through extreme violence. By the end you and your squad hate each other and you have seen some shit, even the loading screens taunt you with lines like "Do you feel like a hero yet?". What's important to note is that this change is warranted and it doesn't feel contrived. Walker and his team start the game very clean and almost machine like in their approach to the mission. By the end though their speech becomes an endless tirade of swearing and exhaustion. It's gradual and subtle whilst still being noticeable and it's a fresh change from games that throw in unearned changes in character just to try and make their game interesting. It really goes a long way towards making the characters feel and act human.
What truly impresses me about the story is that I found myself changing along with Walker. For example at the start I made a key decision to save a bunch of civilians while sacrificing an important ally. However near the end I didn't hesitate to gun down a crowd of civilians after they attacked my squad. While the game gives you these decisions they do little to change the path of the game until the end where the choices you make have serious consequences for Captain Walker.
The game does also have multiplayer and while it's serviceable I can't see many people becoming addicted. While it handles well the framework does nothing new and for the most part the maps are a bit of a mess. I've also had trouble getting matches just a week after release which doesn't bode well for the future. There isn't really much more to say about it and it really isn't the reason you should buy the game.
Ultimately your enjoyment will come from how involved you allow yourself, I allowed myself to get involved as I believe that is the best way to enjoy any form of media. If you stay detached though you might find the story contrived and boring but I believe they give you several good reasons to become invested in the characters and story and enjoy a decent narrative that has a point to portray.