grumbel's Spec Ops: The Line (PC) review

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A mediocre shooter with a twist that doesn't work

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

First of let me state that I didn't actually mind the core gameplay of Spec Ops: The Line. The shooting, while nothing new, was competently executed and reasonably fun, aside from a few cases where I ended up stuck to cover. My only real problem with it was how cartoony it would get in it's enemy placement and design. The knife wielding crazy guys that would run at you, the almost indestructible heavy enemies, the exploding crates and just the shear number of enemies seemed out of place for a game that tried to establish some realism/authenticity in it's narrative. The sand mechanic, kind of presented as some core gameplay feature in early previews, is also nothing special, as it's limited to a tiny few places and completely prescripted, so it's really not even much of a mechanic to begin with, just a script trigger to kill enemies quicker. But either way, none of those problems really harmed the experience, they just ensured that the gameplay failed to stand out as anything remarkable.

My biggest problem with the game is actually the narrative, the very thing for which the game received a lot of praise from other reviewers. The narrative starts out interesting enough with you and your two comrades entering Dubai after some apocalyptic sandstorm catastrophe. But instead of following the orders and calling for backup on the first contact with survivors, your character just continues walking his way and shooting through hordes of enemies without much explanation. The situation in Dubai itself is never really clear. There is a platoon of soldiers that have gone rogue, some CIA guys and a bunch of locals, but it's never exactly clear who fights for what or why nobody bothered to call the outside world in the six month that whole thing has been going on for. So you just march on trying to figure out what is going on while at the same time shooting everybody that could answer the question.

In all that fighting you end up accidentally bombing some civilians with white phosphor which the game seems to want to make up as a central turning point in your characters development, but it's completely overplayed in a highly melodramatic fashion and just doesn't seem like much of a big deal to begin with giving all the random killing you have done prior to that point. From that point on you march one do some more killing to finally reach the man you were hunting for only to find out that he was already long dead.

My problem with the whole story is that it fails to establish the very things it's trying to critique. The game critiques how you, both as the player and the character, wanted to "be a hero" and caused all that havoc on your way, but the problem is that the game never ever makes you want to be the hero. The game fails to properly establish what you are fighting for or what you are fighting against. You are shooting people because they shoot you. The whole plot is centered around investigation what is happening, while the gameplay completely contradicts that by never actually letting you talk with anybody.

Some reviewers also commented on how the game is somehow addressing PTSD issues the commander has, but again, I fail to see that. Your squad is just going around killing everybody in their sight right from the beginning. They are never in fear, never isolated, never out of water and never in any danger that they cann't handle. All that happens is that the commander happens to get a little more angry as the game progresses, but that's not PTSD, that's just what every random action hero goes through.

Long story short, my issue with the game is that the actual events of the story contradict the very thing that it wants to establish with it's shooter critical meta-narrative. For that meta-narrative to work the game would have needed to actually give me a reason to fight and commit morally questionable acts, but it never does that. Your commander starts to act irrationally long before the white phosphor incident happens and never really has much reason to fight to begin with. The shooting doesn't happen because your character wants to or because he had orders, but simply seems to happen because shooting happens in shooters.

It also feels that the story the game is actually about is a far less interesting story then that which happened six month earlier when they tried to evacuate Dubai. That earlier story might have provided far more moral gray area to walk and it would have been far more interesting to find out why that platoon has gone rogue. But the game never really  covers that, instead the game feels like you are some tourist rambo'ing your way through the ruins of a much more interesting story.

Overall this simply felt like a mediocre shooter with a nonsensical story. The meta-narrative that it tries to do pretty much fell flat for me as it just didn't make a whole lot of sense in the context of it's plot. That all the bad decisions are forced on you doesn't help either. The game does give you some choices at times, but never in the important moments. Playing the game I kind of waited for that twist that would make everything make sense and blow my mind, but that never happened. It started as a mediocre shooter and ended as one.

For a far more interesting take on white phosphor see Homefront, while that game doesn't try any kind of meta-narrative trickery, the phosphor incident in there feels much more like a natural result of the conflict and not something that is forced on you by contrived scripted meassures in an unrealistic story.

Other reviews for Spec Ops: The Line (PC)

    Excellent storytelling compels familiar gameplay 0

    Spec Ops: The Line is unabashed in its Heart of Darkness influences. Joseph Conrad’s classic journey upriver through the Congo, and later Vietnam and Cambodia in Apocalypse Now, replaced with the golden sand dunes of a desolate Dubai. The once oil rich metropolis reduced to hell on earth as a series of historic and apocalyptic sandstorms ravage the Middle Eastern paradise and its towering landmarks. This is not a venue normally befitting of a modern military shooter, but then Spec Ops: The Line ...

    29 out of 30 found this review helpful.

    While seemingly generic, Spec Ops surprises in a lot of ways 0

    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 t...

    6 out of 6 found this review helpful.

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