Spec Ops: The Line explores the ugly side of war
Deception is something Spec Ops: The Line is very good at. We’re not talking about calculating characters in the game or the underhanded tactics employed by them — it’s the game itself. For the first hour and a half, Spec Ops: The Line is as generic a third-person shooter you will come across. But subsequently, you, the player, are put in one morally ambiguous situation after another, making you question the conventions of not just video games, but the purpose of war itself. Yager and 2K Games can be proud of this achievement if nothing else.
In the near-fictitious future of Spec Ops: The Line, Dubai is hit by the worst sandstorm in history, and naturally, the United States steps in to rescue its oil-rich ‘ally’ in this time of need. John Konrad, a decorated colonel in the U.S. Army, commander of the 33rd Battalion and veteran of the Afghan war volunteers his regiment to aid in rescue efforts. However, the storm is much too severe, and Konrad is ordered to abandon the city by his superiors. Naturally, he disobeys this order, and after an evacuation attempt ends in utter failure, declares martial law, taking control of the city. On account of this insubordination, Konrad and the entire 33rd Battalion are branded traitors and when a leaked audio signal (in which Konrad talks about the failure of the rescue mission) reaches the outside world, the U.S. sends in a small team of three soldiers to investigate — this is where you come in. Playing as Captain Martin Walker (voice by the ubiquitous Nolan North), you are accompanied by Lt. Adams and Sgt. Lugo during the course of the bumpy ride that is Spec Ops: The Line’s campaign mode.
Initially, a lot of the violence feels pointless. You’re mowing down waves of enemies for no apparent reason — the characters themselves rationalise their actions (they are “following orders”, after all). The enemy types gradually change from insurgents to American soldiers, but at this point it’s still clear who the bad guys are. But somewhere around the hour mark, there’s a metamorphosis in Spec Ops: The Line which catches the player completely off-guard. You really can’t prepare yourself for whatever happens over the next few hours — you’re presented with some shocking visuals, morally ambiguous choices and left wondering who you’re rooting for in all of this. Even if you were expecting a shooter with a dark and gritty story, nothing’s ever going to prepare you for what’s going to happen here, because you’re taking the game in directions that seemingly lack alternatives — even when there are alternatives. Somehow, the story told here of war, its consequences and man’s role in it is a game changer, and it single-handedly carries Spec Ops: The Line despite a few hiccups in the gameplay department.
If one were to bafflingly ignore Spec Ops: The Line’s reason to exist (its incredible narrative), as a generic third-person shooter, it remains fairly competent. There’s a bit of weapon variety with several firearms sporting secondary fire modes or attachments that come in handy in certain situations. Ammo is hard to come by, and with your favourite weapon sure to run out, the game forces you to experiment with all the guns. The shotguns (the AA-12 in particular) pack a bit of a punch and are probably the most satisfying of all the weapons to shoot in the game. However, sniper rifles are very difficult to aim when zoomed in, while the sprint and cover controls are pretty poor. Bullet hits on enemies at long range don’t seem to register as well. Unfortunately, the much touted sand-based gameplay exists merely for shock value. There’s a lot of polishing that could have been done, and it feels like the developers treated the core gameplay as the story’s stepchild at times. But these are mere annoyances and there’s nothing here that’s game-breaking.
Spec Ops: The Line is the ‘Full Metal Jacket’ of video games. The dark, unconventional narrative overshadows the barely competent third-person shooter gameplay, so if you’re looking for a shooter, look elsewhere, because Spec Ops: The Line is a game about war — the ugly side of it.