One thing I am very well aware of regarding my reviews, apart from them being long enough to earn them doorstopper status, is that they come out a bit after the subject matter does in the same way a restaurant meal comes out a bit after you order. Let's put that aside for now because I recently finished Spec Ops: The Line and I need to talk about it. You see, Spec Ops: The Line is not just a game that I think is absolutely amazing; Spec Ops: The Line has reignited the hope in my heart that AAA games are finally getting their act together. This might be a bit of a stretch but my hope is that this game has been played by virtually everyone who calls themselves a "gamer" so that they may have their eyes opened. In fact, you know what? If you haven't played this game, stop reading this review right now and get the game. In fact, stop reading this review even if you don't intend on getting the game. No, this review does not have spoilers but I don't care. If you're reading about Spec Ops: The Line without having played it, you're only hurting yourself. What are you still doing here? Shoo! Shoo!
... Are they gone? Good, let's get on with it. Now, let's cover the negative points first and quickly. Gameplay is rather substandard, which is to be expected from a cover-based shooter. Now, I didn't mind the cover-based shooting in Sleeping Dogs, problematic as it was, because it was only part of the gameplay rather than the core of it. Guess where cover-based shooting fits in Spec Ops: The Line? At the very least, the controls could've been made the slightest bit friendly. Not only are the entering cover and sprint actions both assigned to the spacebar, vaulting over cover is assigned to left shift, which confuses me as most PC games I play have sprint assigned to left shift. It would've been much more intuitive as vaulting and sprinting are both about rapid movement and would click in the player's mind more than entering cover and sprinting. At the very least, however, I would have liked the controls to have at least worked. Sometimes, the game outright refuses to let you get into cover which screwed me over more than once in heavy firefights.
Get into that god damn cover!
For the sake of innovation rather than execution, the game also lets you use sand to your advantage. At various points, it will be possible to drop sand on your enemies to stun them. A very nifty feature if an unnecessary one; I kept forgetting it was there. At one point, I was cut off from progress by a waist-high fence of barb wire and other objects and I was very surprised when the context-sensitive sand poured in to make an improvised platform when I blew up its obstruction by complete accident. Also, it's possible to instruct your allies to attack enemy soldiers in your place. Again, I kept forgetting I could because you do this by holding down the button, moving your cursor over the enemy and then letting go of the button. Seeing as your guns work by moving the cursor over the enemy and pressing a button, you might as well cut out the middleman. Unfortunately, you may need to do this to get some sort of use our of your allies because they don't seem to do anything unless you ask them very nicely. Of course, depending on how good you are, you may not need their help ever.
Something you may pick up on is that ammo is actually kind of rare. At least early on, you're going to find your ammo depleting rather quickly with no refills in sight. The same applies to your grenades which can get a bit annoying when you're faced with heavily-armoured outhouses who refuse to die even when their visors are broken, allowing you to shoot them right in the face. However, I actually quite like this. You see, the thing about most war shooters is that you have virtually unlimited ammo, meaning you can point and click on enemies with abandon without a worry in the world. Here? No. My hypothesis is that the sandstorms which destroyed Dubai were conjured by some warlock because Dubai forces you to practice the long-forgotten art of (please insert a drumroll here) resource management, an aspect that most recent games feel is ridiculous. Also, the game gets extra points for making ammo and grenades infrequent enough to make you think wisely before using them but frequent enough that you'll probably never run out if you're doing so.
A heavy! I'll use a sticky grenade to... I have no sticky grenades! I HAVE NO GRENADES AT ALL! DAAAAAMN IIIIIT!
Still, cover-based shooting is cover-based shooting which is eternally damned to be crappy. What's worse, the gameplay consists of nothing but cover-based shooting so the gameplay of Spec Ops: The Line is pretty much crappy. However, everything above is pretty much all there is to gameplay so let's move on to the chunky, meaty story. After Dubai has been destroyed by sandstorms, a military division led by a colonel named John Konrad who was trying to evacuate the citizens has released a distress signal, attracting the attention of a three-man Delta Force, comprised of Captain Walker, Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo, the leader, the black guy and the comic relief white guy respectively, who are going into Dubai to get him out. "Oh come on," I can hear you groan. "A group of American soldiers are going into hostile territory for the sake of no man being left behind and will generally get into a bunch of heroics and show everyone that America is awesome. You know, I'd probably complain about how cliché this is but that's supposed to be your job, so why aren't you doing it?" Well, I have no idea why you're saying this since I said that everyone who hasn't read this review must get lost but, anyway, if you played this game, you'd know that this is anything but cliché.
Before I go into detail with that, though, I'd like to talk about Dubai. I do not like to go further than half an hour on foot from my own home so I would never consider going to Dubai for a vacation but, even after the sandstorms, Dubai is very bloody pretty. Seriously; if someone decided to make a fantasy story of our time about finding the Seven Lawsuits to stop Activision from taking over the world, Dubai would be the ancient ruins that are beautiful to explore. The game uses contrast very well, meaning that the only thing that blends into the sand is other sand. Enemies, cover and relevant passageways are all very distinct, so you'll barely even register the sand (which might explain why I kept forgetting about the sand) and... Well, everything looks pretty. However, roses tend to have thorns and pretty games tends to drain my eyes of their blood. All it seems to take is for me to look at the sun for it to spontaneously expand. Sometimes, I'll have to look at the roof to shoot my enemies only to be unable to see them because of the bloody bloom.
I'd show you an example of the bloom but I'd much rather show you this amazingly sexy screenshot.
Back to the story. Yeah, it starts out rather standard and I'm not going to deny that. First, you trod through an uneventful path, then the characters talk about how it's an easy rescue mission, then you're ambushed by Fate's squad of angry gun-toting locals, then you're suddenly firing at American soldiers- "Wait, what?" I hear you splutter, unsure of what you just heard. "What's this about firing at American soldiers? I thought we were in Dubai." Dude, if you haven't played this game yet, I told you to get out of this review. Anyway, yeah; the American military division, known as the 33rd, has kind of gone rogue and most of the game is spent shooting them rather than the people of Dubai. This would have been a surprising twist if it weren't given away in the demo. I played the demo because I was unwilling to spend money on this game at first and, of the two levels that composed it, the second one took place a whole level after the Americans-are-enemies reveal. Also, when you quit the game, the game outright tells you that the 33rd has gone rogue and it's up to you to stop them. Then again, seeing as the game would be known by the public as just another jingoist war shooter without the twist, I guess making Spec Ops: The Line the Crying Game of video games was pretty much inevitable.
Okay, this is where I take off my joker hat and try to write this review seriously. You see, Spec Ops: The Line is not a cheery game. After finishing it and getting arguably the best ending- by that, I mean the ending that is the least of a downer- I was emotionally drained for the rest of the day. I tried to write my next review only to find myself without the energy to do so. How did the game do this to me? Well, the game knows you picked this game up to have some typical shooty fun Call of Duty style. Actually, that wasn't the case for me and mostly likely anyone reading this review who hasn't played the game yet (even though I told them to leave). I only picked up this game because I heard it wasn't typical and I thought "Well, okay, let's see what you've got". That, my readers, is how I learned that, even if you were expecting a massive deconstruction of AAA war shooters or not, this game will take any expectations you have or tropes you're familiar with, light them on fire and beat you with them until you're curled into a ball, crying into your knees.
Are you in the zone? Is the murder becoming fun?
I think the one thing everyone can agree on in regards to shooters is that you kill more people in five hours than you do in 40 of a JRPG. Spec Ops: The Line agrees with that and rubs it in your face. As you progress through the game, you are forced to commit many atrocities, which I'm not going to spoil or talk about any further. Instead, I want to talk about how the gameplay, mediocre as it is, is amazingly well detailed with small mechanics that really show you the horrors of what you're doing and how it affects Captain Walker and those under his command. Lethal headshots will take off an entire enemy's head (although, strangely enough, it looks like their heads imploded, leaving their necks looking like a deflated balloon like someone pressed the wrong button in some 3D Modelling software) and enemies will not drop their guns unless they're completely dead. Dying enemies can be executed with melee attacks that get increasingly brutal as the game goes on, also giving you free ammo and grenades. Here's a choice for you; do you kill them with a single bullet in the head or painfully snap their neck to get free goodies?
The character development is also nice and I don't mean the stupid kind of character development that establishes that one of your characters has a wife and daughter at home in the game's pathetic attempt to show the character as something other than the raving psychotic force of destruction that they are. For having virtually no backstory, your unit gets really fleshed out as the game goes on. Walker, Lugo and Adams start out really chummy (well, Walker's always the one with the professional demeanour) as is always the case with war shooters but, as the levels go on and the bodies pile up, the unit falls apart. Special mention goes to how Walker's dwindling mentality is reflected in gameplay; in addition to the melee kills of escalating violence, Walker's dialogue when issuing commands goes from "Focus on my target!" to "I want him dead!" As the game progresses, the damage only gets worse and worse, especially on your allies. Walker alone starts out looking alright but, by the end, half his face is burned.
A very good question.
This is an extremely confrontational game. There is no right answer to any of the choices you are presented with; everything is going downhill and the best you can do is roll in the path with the least bumps. All the while, the game observes you. It never says what you're doing is evil is not and it never acknowledges your actions directly. What it does is show you the consequences of your actions without saying a word and lets you face yourself and come up with your own conclusions. One of the loading screen messages is "The U.S military does not condone the shooting of unarmed combatants. But this isn't real, so why do you care?" Do you care? Did you, before reading that message, ever think about what you're doing? Some people say that the game hangs a mirror in front of you at times but I disagree; I feel that the game places smaller mirrors all over the place so that you may occasionally catch glimpses of yourself, perhaps even see your inner darkness. The game never does anything overtly. Even in the final confrontation where you can choose from multiple endings, the game refuses to judge you, regardless of what actions you choose to do.
While Walker is indeed a character in his own right, the game is indirectly speaking to you at all times. Make no mistake; you are an integral part of this game. I played this game on Steam because, gosh darn it, Steam is just a wonderful service where I can get magnificent games for low prices and one of the opening credits was "Special Guest: Porecomesis". It made me feel giddy that a game was acknowledging me for once and saw me as an active participant of the story rather than a nuisance it had to railroad so I wouldn't get in the way of its set pieces that I knew were very stupid. I actually find it kind of funny; Walker is a lens through which the player observes the game world and he has a greater character arc than the protagonists in most so-called "character-driven stories".
Hold on; I'm a guest? An actual guest?
As you may have picked up by now, I very much love the writing. Even though the game itself is shorter than an ant's leg and you're going to be massively ripped off if you're going by the one-dollar-for-every-hour rule, the story is very appropriately paced. It doesn't drag along nor does it rush anything. To make this game longer than it is would just make it tedious and boring if making your purchase for it more justifiable than it already is. Also, while most games try so damn hard to come across as "hardcore" and "mature" with all their swearing and gore, this is probably the first game I've played where all the swearing and gore actually work and make the game feel like a genuine experience rather than a try-hard twelve year-old in an online game. This is probably because the game is oppressive in atmosphere rather than how other games use tone and atmosphere as only labels to pull the wool over our eyes to distract us from the fact that they are nothing more than shooting galleries who only care to impress you with explosions and graphics and how the gunshots inexplicably sound conspicuously like popcorn.
If reviewing is like parenting, then I am spoiling my son who talks back to me in an aloof manner, indicating towards my failures and sins and puts me into a depressing spiral of madness and weariness while he gets out of doing the laundry... Actually, that's a bit grim, let's try something else: Spec Ops: The Line is a game- a very well-made game put together by extremely competent people who knew exactly what they were doing right down to the last screw- that I think everyone should play, not for fun but to have their eyes opened. People have gotten complacent with not just Call of Duty but the rest of the gaming industry that has turned killing our fellow man into a sport for the sake of points and achievements. Spec Ops: The Line realises this so it hops onto the bandwagon for the sole purpose of blowing it up. Then it commences the beatdown, punishing you for your casual attitude to murder and leaving you for dead, to rot in your pit of shame and despair. And you know what? I loved every second of it. Except for the shooting mechanics; those kind of sucked.
Here are the rest of my reviews.
I know, I know, I know: everything I just said has been said before and better. You know what? You're right. I didn't have a lot of time to write this review; I had another review ready but it's currently being looked at by someone who hasn't gotten back to me yet. I only had today and yesterday to write this review and compile the pictures. So, here it is. Sorry for its low quality and inability to bring anything new to the table.
See you all later.