Due to licensing issues with the music, Spec Ops: The Line has been delisted from several platforms, including Steam. I happened to have it in my library already, so I figured it was a good time to give it a full playthrough.
Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person cover-based rail shooter set in a ruined Dubai. You play as Walker, leader of the 3-man Delta Squad, sent in to locate and evacuate any survivor of the sandstorm that destroyed the city. The mission quickly goes south, as Delta Squad realise they are actually walking into a warzone.
The visual design in Spec Ops consists of buildings made of glass and concrete, contrasted with the mountains of sand that have blasted their way through the city. While still standing, every building has been damaged to some extent, and sand covers everything. The background story of the game is a little unclear, you know you are going in to evacuate civilians, but the sand covered destruction makes it clear what happened to the city.
The levels take advantage of the environment well. When you are low to the ground you are fighting through sand as much as you are fighting enemy combatants. Many levels have you progressing up and down buildings, adding a vertical component to the game. Sometimes your team will be split across buildings and you will have to cover each other from afar.
The camera work in the game adds to the feeling of chaos and war. Often relying on shaky cam during cutscenes, it makes it feel almost as if you are watching found footage. This camera extends into gameplay – when you are injured or running, the camera will move more erratically.
The weapons in the game are well suited to the scenario. We have a combination of US military weapons and the likes of the AK47. Every weapon feels unique in its operation, with several modes of fire depending up the weapon. You have shotguns, pistols, automatic rifles, sniper rifles, and several grenades all at your disposal. Even a rocket launcher or two.
You will find ammo to be sparse. It’s very easy to run out of bullets, so you will be constantly switching weapons as you scavenge whatever weapons your opponents were carrying.
As you play through the game you will play through several set pieces and scenarios. From destroying windows to drown your enemies in sand, dodging helicopters, climbing up and down skyscrapers, to rushing through enemies in a sandstorm. These set pieces are fantastically constructed and really make you feel the danger and chaos of being in a warzone.
Your squad will also get injured and hurt as you progress through Dubai. These injuries aren’t forgotten, and are reflected on your characters for the rest of the game. It reminds you that these characters are human, and feel pain as they push through Hell.
As the story progresses, you will be faced with moral dilemmas. You will be forced to take actions that make you question your own sanity. During the later parts of the game I found myself feeling uneasy as I progressed. It’s a game that sticks its landing perfectly. It’s a great story, at many points making me think of Apocalypse: Now in video game form, and the game is well worth playing through just for this.
Unfortunately the downside of the game is its gameplay. There were points that I found it hard to play because the controls are set up in a strange way. The same button is used for melee attacks as it is for hopping over cover, and the same button is used for sprinting and taking a cover position. This would lead to Walker performing the wrong action several times – he’d start running instead of ducking into cover, or he’d attack a piece of cover instead of hopping over it.
It’s also not always clear what counts as cover. This led to several frustrating deaths, where it felt like the controls were at fault rather than my own skill at the game. However, I was playing on PC and this game is designed primarily for console. So it’s possible the gameplay feels better on console, but my experience was a little tainted by this.
Still, I’d say that overall I’d recommend the game. The set pieces and story alone are worth playing the game for. It’s a shame that licensing issues have caused the game to be removed from many places, and a definite indication that we need to rethink how licensing works in general. In this case people who already own the game get to keep it, but it’s not a great indication for the future of digital products.