Game Review: Drawing on literary and cinema classics, this game could have been so much - instead, Spec Ops: The Line has only moments of greatness.
It's interesting timing that a game like Spec Ops: The Line should come out right in the middle of a period when the violence in games should be such a focus. At this year's E3 show in LA, more than one journalist noted the excessive violence on display in a lot of the game's being shown off.
This isn't the place to comment on that, but given the remarkable scenes of mass destruction, atrocities, and the possibility for questionable player actions in Spec Ops, it's worth considering.
The thing is, I don't think Spec Ops ever quite steps over the line, as it were. Much of the bad stuff that's happened in The Line's war-ravaged and sand-blasted Dubai has already happened by the time you get there - you're more of a witness than a participant. But, that said, there's also more than one instance where you, as the player, have a number of hard choices to make. The game is most definitely better for this kind of pacing, the way the game illustrates a world gone rather mad, and then places the same decisions before you; at the same time, though, it really is just another cover-based shooter; there are a mess of technical issues, and design flaws that take away from every great story-telling moment.
All up, Spec Ops: The Line becomes a strange brew of narrative brilliance and lowest-common-denominator action. And I'm still not sure which side wins out.
If you've been keeping your head in the sand over Spec Ops: The Line, it's a rather curious little title. Technically, it's one in a long line of average shooters in the Spec Ops franchise, a series which is largely best forgotten. It's also heavily inspired by Joseph Conrad's classic novel, Heart of Darkness, and the film it inspired, Apocalypse Now. The game wears that heart pretty proudly on its sleeve; as you explore a Dubai that's been hit by a sandstorm of biblical proportions, you discover a US military-led evacuation that's turned into a war-crime in the making. The CIA's mixed in, the local civilians don't seem too innocent, and the US military are pretty much perpertrators of an ongong series of atrocities against anyone who stands in the way of its survival.
So, you know, it's a pretty light and fluffy game... Not.
What the game does well is combine this amazingly exotic setting of a shattered, opulent city smothered with sand, but still colourful and vibrant (in the parts that aren’t either sand-blasted to ruin or covered with desiccated corpses), and balances that with a similarly complex and morally ambiguous storyline. Something very bad has happened here, and as you and your three man recon team discover, it’s still going on and actually getting even worse.