Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spec Ops: The Line

Developed by Yager Development
Published by 2K Games

            The military shooter has been done to death at this point.  There’s only so many times you can run around, hiding behind cover, and shooting foreigners.  And indeed, this comprises the first level of Spec Ops: The Line.  But things go awry fast, and it becomes clear this is not your standard shooter.
            The game has Dubai being hit by a terrible sandstorm, with the 33rd helping with relief efforts.  Only the 33rd never came out, and they’ve sent out a distress message, leading Captain Walker (Nolan North) and his two Delta Force squadmates to get sent on a recon message.  Until things go wrong.
            Minimal time can be spent on the gameplay.  It is a standard cover-based shooter, and that’s about all it sets out to do, for reasons that may be intentional or not.  Some parts must be applauded, though.  For one, your squadmates are chatterboxes…who are actually useful.  Too often in cover-based shooters, you end up surprised by suddenly finding that a shotgun guy has snuck up behind you, or you pop out and suddenly get hit with an RPG and die.  Delta Force points these out to you.  They point out shotgun guys moving forward, enemies out in the open, and a command that lets them use a stun grenade even pops up if you’re stuck.  They’re so useful, it’s actually harder when there’s segments where you’re by yourself.  The other part I want to point out is the environment.  The sandstorm-decimated buildings are perfectly implemented in the gameplay.  If you see a window with sand pushed against it, you can shoot out the window and drop the sand on your enemies.  And it also provides an interesting level of confusion.  You think you’re on the ground, only to suddenly have enemies appear, shoot out the ground, and you’re crashing through a window into a building.
            And this is a confusion that winds into the game’s actual story.  Up until the very end, you don’t know what’s going on.  It’s just clear, especially early on, that something’s wrong.  You start out playing a standard game of Americans vs. foreigners…until it becomes Americans vs. Americans.  And it’s hard to tell who’s in the right, who’s in the wrong.  The game has several moral decisions, and none of them are clear-cut.  There is no “This is good, this is bad”, it’s simply up to whatever you think is right at the time.  And then once you get to The Gate…well, this is a much talked-about scene, but let’s not spoil it here and just say that, from that point on, you’ve started on a different path.  And it’s a path that reflects itself throughout the game.  The standard “I’m reloading!” from Walker turns into a string of expletives.  F-bombs begin dropping every sentence.  Executions of enemies on the ground turn from simple to unnecessarily violent.  And this is a gory game, but never gory without meaning.  You’re not meant to enjoy the gore.  In fact, at a certain point, there’s very little that you’re meant to enjoy, and anything that you do enjoy will quickly be torn apart.
            Spec Ops: The Line is another in the trend of 2012 games: not necessarily the best at gameplay, but incredible as an experience.  A masterpiece of story that deconstructs what you think you know when you start the game.

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