A game with a bit of a cult following, 2012’s Spec Ops: The Line takes influences from Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness and the film Apocalypse Now and puts them into a third person military shooter set in Dubai. The game’s story has been widely praised for how it deals with violence and the impacts it has on the main characters and so I was keen to play it for myself.
The story of Spec Ops: The Line involves a team of Delta Force soldiers going into the city of Dubai to find out what has happened to the 33rd Battalion and its commander Colonel John Konrad. The city was consumed by a massive sandstorm months earlier which cut it off from the rest of the world so the team is going in blind with only themselves for support. The game’s presentation does well to drip feed the story at an appropriate pace through the game’s cutscenes, dialogue and intelligence found through levels. Much like the characters, you don’t have a lot to go by in the beginning but circumstance forces you to take actions that make you question what’s really going on. And a lot of messed up things take place too that can really make you question if anyone involved are good people, or what is the truth of everything the team goes through. It makes many of Call of Duty‘s controversial moments seem a little childish in comparison. The writing team was willing to go all the way with the story and that’s a major highlight.
Gameplay wise the third person shooting mechanics are fine but unfortunately don’t compare well to titles like Gears of War which has much tighter aim controls and better movement. For a game that really requires you to leverage all the cover you can, it’s quite easy to make a mess of it in Spec Ops and die cheaply by popping out of cover at the wrong time. Conserving ammo is a big factor in play and while you can pick up other weapons when you run out it’s not as easy to do in the middle of a big firefight. It works well enough, just feels like it could with a bit more polish. The game does offer multiplayer modes but that’s not what I was looking for with an old game like this so gave it a quick pass.
Visually the game does a great job of setting the scene of a Dubai almost completely covered in sand. The dilapidated state of all the buildings and the horrors you see within do a really effective job of making it feel like your characters just stepped into a post apocalyptic world. It doesn’t take much advantage of Series X/S but the frame rate is solid and Auto HDR does well with the contrasting light/dark areas. The audio is a real standout with some great voice acting where the team becomes noticeably more unhinged and aggressive over time. You really notice the difference toward the end during battles when the language gets really heated. Combined with character models showing the passage of time, and numerous wounds, really helps to reinforce the story of what the characters were going through.
If you’re looking for a military shooter that takes a slightly different path from the usual stories then take a look at Spec Ops: The Line. It’s a shame that its flaws turned a lot of people off the game, and any possible sequel, because I’d be fascinated to see what a follow up could be like if a similar approach were ever adopted again.
Spec Ops: The Line is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Played on an Xbox Series X via backward compatibility.