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Spec Ops Walks The Line Between Good And Evil

War really is hell, and here's one shooter that seems unafraid to say so.

On paper, Spec Ops: The Line looks pretty similar to a lot of other recent action games. Third-person perspective, cover-based shooting mechanics, modern military setting. You've seen this stuff before. What 2K Games and Berlin-based developer Yager hope you haven't seen in this sort of shooter are the ragged psychological effects that accrue in a contested warzone, the raw darkness that can form in men's hearts when they cross, well, the line beyond which common morality begins to break down and the soldier's tattered psyche becomes capable of actions that in everyday circumstances would be considered unthinkable. Heavy stuff.

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You may have heard about The Line's Heart of Darkness-influenced premise, about a team of US military specialists gone rogue in a Dubai that's been nearly demolished by raging sandstorms. Naturally, you're part of the team sent in to find those turncoats, led by Colonel John Konrad, and figure out what drove them to abandon their mission and turn against their former allies. In a category full of alien worlds and nondescript Middle Eastern countries, this setting is enough to catch your eye. The game's Dubai is utterly ravaged by the elements, with sand drifted a dozen floors up in spots, skyscrapers listing perilously overhead, and a ghostly silence that lets you know most of the city's populace is now evacuated, or dead.

It seems like whoever's left in Dubai has a weapon and an agenda. Whatever pushed these guys over the edge must have been intense, because they're up to some ugly business. At one point in the demo, the protagonist Captain Walker and his crack team encountered a raft of dead American soldiers hung from lampposts along the city's ruined streets. Later, one of Konrad's men held a local woman to the ground and began firing his rifle closer and closer to her face, in an effort to make a captured member of Walker's squad divulge sensitive information. You can imagine what the eventual, awful outcome of that situation might be if the soldier didn't cough up what Konrad's men wanted to know.

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That's assuming you as the player didn't choose to directly intervene before the woman was killed. The Line will give you the chance to choose how some scenarios will play out, but not by handing you a UI prompt that asks you to press A for the good-guy choice or B for the bad one. Instead you'll make these choices with your actions, in real time as the story happens around you. In that scenario with the captured soldier, one of Walker's men had a sniper rifle trained on the shooter's head and exhorted Walker repeatedly to let him take the shot and prevent the woman from dying. How and when you interact with situations like this will determine how they play out, and that can have an effect on the overall course of the game's storyline.

Whatever path you choose, even the straight and narrow one, the nerves of Walker and his men are going to fray over the course of this mission. 2K is talking about how not only the soldiers' dialogue but even things like their contextual animations will become more raw and unhinged as the mission wears on them over the course of the plot. Even things like the ways the soldiers execute melee attacks are subject to becoming increasingly savage over time. Developing your characters through the sorts of technical aspects you usually take for granted in a video game sounds like an interesting technique that could be quite effective if used tastefully.

2K hasn't let the press touch The Line yet, so no early info on how it plays. But looking at it gives you the impression that you have a pretty good idea how it plays already. It's the narrative elements wrapped around that third-person core that piqued my interest during the brief demo I saw. Here's an interview with 2K producer Greg Kasavin with more firsthand detail on that stuff. 
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