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Spec Ops: The Line Review (PS3)

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Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line

Image © 2K Games
The highly-anticipated "Spec Ops: The Line," released for the PS3 on June 26, 2012, is one of the most original, haunting, and intense wartime shooters in years. The multiplayer offering may be too generic for those woefully addicted to "Battlefield 3" or "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" but the campaign delivers with enough creative strength to offset the weaknesses in that department. Based on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," which was the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now," "Spec Ops: The Line" is a journey into the madness of war. It is incredibly violent, visceral, dark, and, at its best, unforgettable. It's also a bit uneven and the multiplayer portion is depressingly familiar but there's enough ambition and pulse-pounding action in the campaign to recommend it wholeheartedly.

Game Details

  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Developer: Yager
  • ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
  • Genre: War Action
  • Pros: Amazing Graphics, Solid Screenplay, Great Voice Work, Memorable Action
  • Cons: Unrefined Enemy A.I., Shooting Gallery Repetition, Generic Multiplayer

Set in the near future, "Spec Ops: The Line" takes place in a Dubai torn apart by war and buried in a vicious sandstorm. The attack by mother nature was so complete that American soldiers were sent into the wealthy city to try and help evacuate the people stuck there. The 33rd U.S. battalion never came home. Most assumed they had died but then transmissions started to come out of the city courtesy of Colonel John Konrad (a reference to the writer of the book and Colonel Kurtz from Coppola's landmark film). Was Konrad crazy? What was he doing to his people? What about his fellow soldiers? A Delta team made up of three of the best servicemen in the world (led by a fantastic character voiced by the legendary Nolan North of "Uncharted" fame) head into the city and discover a Hell on Earth.

Gameplay

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line

Image © 2K Games

"Spec Ops: The Line" will instantly draw comparisons to other wartime shooters or even stealth games like the recent "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier" but it actually has a lot in common with a classic Sony PS3 series, "Uncharted." Like those multi-award-winning games, this is a cinematic experience. Yes, there are choices to be made -- far more than in most modern shooters and detailed in this great interview with one of the game's developers -- but what's most stunning about "The Line" is the Hollywood-level production that it resembles. The game is not only stunningly beautiful but it's paced like a wartime action drama, not unlike "The Hurt Locker" or "The Kingdom." Story develops between bloodbath shoot-outs and you watch as your character descends into his own heart of darkness.

When you first get to Dubai, "Spec Ops: The Line" has a relatively straightforward feel. A strong cover system along with two weapons and a great melee system. This feels familiar. I know this. I've played this before. Sure, the allusions to "Apocalypse Now" are clever (Vietnam era music is being blasted from speakers during some of the more intense moments, adding a layer of creepiness to the entire affair) but "Spec Ops: The Line" starts off as a good-looking game that feels awfully familiar even if it is very well-made.

A couple hours into the game, the emotion of the piece starts to turn and it really separates itself from the wartime shooter pack. You're faced with a series of escalating nightmares. You come across dead men hanging from ropes like trophies. You see innocent women and children being murdered; others being tortured; others who need help you may not be able to give. And then it starts to sink in that you're going to have to join in on the travel along this morally difficult terrain. As the 33rd U.S. battalion fights back, you will have to shoot your own former soldiers. And it starts to wear down on your psyche and the teamwork between your fellow men. You start to see things. You start to cringe at the violence. You start to go a little mad.

It's in these moments that "Spec Ops: The Line" is at its best. I was in an intense firefight around halfway through the game and I could actually feel my heart racing, not only at the action of the piece but the fact that I had just punched a former U.S. soldier to the ground before shooting his head off. There is a lot of character-less violence in "The Line" -- enemies who blend into one another -- but the scenes that truly work are the ones that drive your character and maybe even yourself deeper into understanding the brutal cost of war and allow for multiple campaign playthroughs as you make different decisions with no easy answers.

It's that character-less violence that is the game's greatest weakness. There are a few times when the developers get a bit repetitive. Enter a room, take cover, eliminate the enemy. By the time the game had begun its emotional and psychological descent, I was ready to stop with these kind of generic shooter episodes. They get repetitive and they invoke what I like to call the "Shooting Gallery" effect: Take cover, spot the guys, and wait till they pop their heads up like ducks in a gallery. What really works about this game makes these kind of cliched sequences more disappointing, especially as it builds to its climax.

The multiplayer portion of "Spec Ops: The Line" is pretty straightforward although the sand elements that play a role in the campaign are often a part of it as well as sandstorms can pop up and you can sometimes blow out windows, dumping the stuff on your enemy. Other than the setting, it's boilerplate multiplayer and perhaps even a bit sub-par in its map design.

Graphics & Sound

"Spec Ops: The Line" looks absolutely stunning. The character design is strong, the enemy animation is consistent, but it's the environments that are the most accomplished. The way light and shadow plays through this decimated city -- it's going to be one of the most memorable game settings of the year. Of this I'm certain. And the voice work matches it. Sure, there's a bit too much generic soldier speak (I think my squad mates yelled "cover me" roughly 1,000 times) but North is a master at this kind of material and his contributions vocally can't be under-valued.

Bottom Line

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line

Image © 2K Games
There are definitely moments when "Spec Ops: The Line" is a 5-star game. When the game is truly clicking on all cylinders -- emotionally, viscerally, and as a pure action shooter -- it's one of the best games of its type in the last few years. It almost makes the few things that hold the title back from true greatness that much more disappointing. For the times that "Spec Ops: The Line" lives up to the book and film that inspired it, you should take this journey.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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