It?s been a long time since we last saw anything of the Spec Ops series. Ten years since the last instalment in fact. That?s ten years in which the license has been shuffled between game studios like an unwanted foster child, until it finally found a loving home with 2K Games.
Which brings us to Spec Ops: The Line
. It's potentially a clean slate for the series to rebuild from. Can this new instalment live up to the popularity of the earliest games in the long-running series?
It?s the story of the game that?s being recognised as one of its strongest points, and rightfully so. Inspired heavily by the book Heart of Darkness
(okay, given how tedious Joseph Condrad's writing is, it's more likely that the the movie Apocalypse Now!
is the main influence), it throws you into the war-torn remains of Dubai as Captain Walker, the leader of an elite team of American soldiers searching for the survivors of the regiment previously stationed there. As you make your way further into the city the truths you uncover will take a drastic toll on Walker and his squad.
The derivative narrative really is where the game shines, with the character development your trio of would-be heroes goes through as they suffer the harsh realities of their situation. Spec Ops
is an unrelentingly bleak experience with moral choices worth agonising over.
The multiple endings that these decisions lead to really help in regards to replayability. You?ll definitely want to play through the campaign again to see how things could?ve been different if you?d taken some of the other options. It is an admittedly short campaign, but it?s fast-paced and involving enough that length doesn?t become a real issue.
The voice acting is consistently good across the board, and there are a lot of really nice touches to the dialogue that help convey the story brilliantly. As the game progresses and your soldiers grow increasingly angry and distrustful towards one another their in-game remarks grow increasingly hostile and emotional. Walker will snap orders at his men and swear whenever he has to reload. It really adds to the game?s story and helps keep your invested in Walker?s slowly changing outlook.
Graphically the game fares a little worse. It?s definitely not an ugly game and you?ll occasionally get to see some fantastic views of the sandy dunes that now cover most of Dubai, but there are a lot of rough patches and the character models don?t always hold up under close-up views. There?s nothing that?ll pull you out of the experience but it definitely doesn?t match up to some of its contemporaries.
The controls are fairly standard for the genre but good and responsive. They come with one significant difference. In a move that somewhat threw me - having gotten used to the control schemes of other recent third-person shooters - Spec Ops
actually utilises more than one button on the pad.
While disconcerting at first, this actually allows you to reliably perform the action you want in desperate moments. It?s ingenious really. Running and diving into cover are done with A while vaulting over cover is done with B. So you?ll never accidentally jump over a wall while trying to get into cover or heal your downed squad mate, though you might occasionally use a melee attack on thin air. I guess nothing?s perfect.
Combat?s nice and frantic. Most enemies don?t take a lot of bullets to put down but neither do you, so battles usually revolve around staying behind cover. Headshots take most enemies down in one hit and set off a nice little slow motion effect whenever you make one, unleashing a satisfying amount of the red stuff in the process. Spec Ops
is full of large scale shoot outs in which you have to contend with waves of enemies, with many segments simply serving as endurance tests to see if you can survive until incoming sandstorms finish the fight for you.