epicsteve's Spec Ops: The Line (Xbox 360) review

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  • epicsteve has written a total of 84 reviews. The last one was for Outlast
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Cool narative elements don't excuse uninspired gameplay

Spec Ops: The Line aims to be thought provoking and mature. Clearly drawing inspiration from works such as Apocalypse Now. It’s easy to turn this shooter into something pretentious. Here we have a game that takes the mass-murder we conduct in every game without much thought and puts the morality of that on center stage. The game often asks the player if it was right gunning down the rouge American soldiers and at many times questions if the main cast are the heroes or villains. There are a lot of especially dark moments in Spec Ops and developer, Yager, crafted a script that does a great job at making you feel like dirt for morally gray (mostly black) decisions. However, Spec Ops is still a videogame, and that part of the product is by the numbers.

A lot of videogame stories eclipse the actual videogame part. Not many people go into Mass Effect looking for a great shooter experience, but that element plays a major role and manages to be a great time. However, after the credits rolled Spec Ops I had to remind myself I just played a game. This can be traced to a powerful plot but on the flip side is also due to weak mechanics. The gameplay doesn’t pull any surprises. Spec Ops is a third-person shooter and takes the definition of the genre literally. You will spend a lot of time moving from cover point to cover point while taking out guys with standard weaponry. However, the gunplay isn’t especially satisfying and is often bogged down by poor control. There were many times that I would simply stop dead in my tracks while running through enemy fire, or fail to take cover. It was too often the game mechanics failed to work, as they should. Whether you’re up for another shooter or not will gauge a lot of your enjoyment of the game. But after playing a billion games of this nature, I don’t have much tolerance for weak combat.

Dubai has been the victim of vicious sandstorms that have isolated the massive city. An American Infantry Division was sent in as a rescue effort, but went rouge at some point and has seemingly taken hostile control over the city. A small Delta Force element, lead by protagonist, Walker, has been tasked with going into Dubai and figure out exactly what is going on. The mission goes from bad to worse and eventually leads the Delta team into a downward spiral into madness. The macabre they have to witness and often participate in slowly breaks the team from a cliché military squad into broken men forced into aggressive self-defense. Most conflicts end with the team regretting what they had to do, but unlike GTA IV’s protagonist, the team is actually forced into a lot of killing and difficult situations.

You won’t find a contrived morality meter in Spec Ops, nor are there any noticeable mechanics upfront. However, there are many precarious positions the game puts you in. One event, the game’s villain forces you to choose who lives and dies between a civilian who stole scarce water or a soldier sent to apprehend the criminal, but killed his wife and kids in the process. Not a lot of moments like these are as upfront with “choosing”, but are instead subtler. Will you show mercy to a villain trapped under debris with a quick death or let him burn? Regardless, the game is slowly painting you as the villain but a lot of the plot points are a matter of perspective. Walker will try his hardest to be a hero, but the game will constantly make you feel terrible about it. Whether your deeds are helping anyone or causing more harm is constantly in the air.

From a distance, Spec Ops is the game we all wanted. One of my biggest creative issues with videogames is the lack of consequence or discussion about casually killing people in mass, whether it’s for self-defense or not. Here’s a game that asks the question, “why”. It successfully makes moral choices matter without a meter going up or handing out contrived awards. But while Spec Ops has strong plot elements, it isn’t enough to carry the weight of the thoughtlessly constructed game. Everything from the moody acoustic riffs to the bickering among characters is interesting and successfully establishes tone and atmosphere. However, the videogame part is mediocre at best and actively playing makes up 95% of the experience. A lot of people have shooter fatigue but I’m not faulting Spec Ops for the genre it was chosen to be. But the gameplay doesn’t offer anything interesting and the basic elements of shooting and taking cover are either broken or uninteresting, which makes recommending this game difficult.

Posted by Phatmac

Yeah, I disliked the gameplay but loved the story so we're in the same camp. I liked it more than you though.

Other reviews for Spec Ops: The Line (Xbox 360)

    A call to discuss the role of the video game shooter 0

    The US 33rd Infantry Battalion, led by Colonel John Konrad arrives in Dubai to assist in the evacuation effort before giant sand storms can bury the city whole. In defiance of orders from his superiors to leave the city, Konrad and the 33rd remain behind to lead a caravan of refugees out of Dubai. The evacuation is a failure. In the storm’s aftermath, Dubai is declared a no-man's-land and the 33rd are branded as traitors.In Spec Ops: The Line, you assume the role of Captain Walker, who is ...

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