Review — Spec Ops: The Line
Pack your bags for Dubai!
Fantastic storyline; Brilliantly captures brutality of war; Looks gorgeous; Co-op DLC to come.
Idiotic control scheme; Multiplayer is almost non-existent; AI is rather dumb.
Spec Ops: The Line
Developer: YAGER Development
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Action \ Third-Person Shooter
Platforms: PC, PS3, X360
MRP: Rs 700 (Store Locator)
Street Price (As On 13-Aug-2012): Rs 650 (Flipkart.com; Game4u.com); Rs 700 (HomeShop18.com)
Most modern-day war shooters seem to be caught in a power struggle between innovative gameplay and stellar visuals, while narrative and emotional connect take a backseat. Many gamers seem to be content with settling for satisfying combat with a lacklustre storyline. However, I firmly believe that a game that tells a meaningful, gripping story, and casts the protagonist as something more than a piece of meat with a machinegun, offers more value. Spec Ops: The Line is that kind of game. It truly captures the emotional cost of killing human beings, but a few nagging issues hold it back from being a great shooter.
There's A Storm Coming, Mr Walker
The game is played from over the shoulders of Delta Force Captain Martin Walker, who is sent in to Dubai with his loudmouth sergeants Adams and Lugo on a rescue mission in the aftermath of a massive sandstorm that has ravaged the city. I see you contemplating this strange scenario and waving your finger at me saying, "Hey, I thought you said this game tells a good story!". Sure, the premise of a megapolis turning into a desert overnight seems far-fetched, but the manner in which events unfold makes the plot seem quite believable.
The backstory here is that a certain Colonel John Konrad was sent in to protect the survivors of the storm, but failed (stampede in the Duty Free area, maybe?), leaving behind no more than a radio transmission conceding defeat. You are then sent in to investigate how this happened and locate the Colonel. That's as far as I can go without letting out spoilers, but rest assured that there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. Certain moments in the game will make you stare at the screen in wide-eyed disbelief, as you slowly understand the gravity of the situation and the cost of your actions. The emotional effect can be downright brutal at times, and you'll feel a connection to not just Walker, but also his cohorts, who have deep, relatable, and humane characteristics.
Several scenarios within the game will force you to make a moral choice — do you shoot a man through the head or let him burn to death? Kill a soldier or a civilian? One such choice determines how your game will end (there are four possible endings), so choose wisely.
Welcome To Dubai, Gentlemen!
The Line's rendition of a post-apocalyptic Dubai looks spectacular. The art design is rich and colourful, with the abundance of sand contrasting hauntingly against smoking skyscrapers and blue skies. Character models are well detailed, getting darker and bloodier as the game progresses, and the PC version's high-resolution textures look stellar. The game is well-optimized, churning out smooth framerates with all visual settings turned up to the maximum (1920x1080) on my Palit GeForce GTX 550 Ti. On the flip side, the cutscenes have not been similarly upscaled, looking pixellated and shabby on a large screen. The character physics are rather average, and there's none of Max Payne 3's Euphoria engine panache to be found here.
The scripting and dialogues are great for the most part. Lugo's lines in the initial levels are forgettable and cheesy, but there are no complaints about the voice acting once the intensity picks up. Additionally, guns sound suitably punchy, while firefights are loud and immersive — just what the General ordered.
Cover Me Bad
Gameplay is possibly The Line's weakest point, but that's not to say it's bad. The action is thoroughly enjoyable, but plagued by two primary problems: lack of originality and a poorly thought out control scheme.
The game feels pretty much like any other third-person, cover-based shooter you've played. The cover mechanic is solid and works well, combat is satisfying, and the guns, while limited in range, pack the requisite punch. You're faced with endless waves of enemies in between cutscenes that develop the story — a formula that's been done to death. A couple of vehicle levels provide a bit of variety, but there isn't anything in the gameplay that makes the title particularly stand out.
A more pressing issue however is the control scheme. For some reason, sprinting, ducking behind cover, and interacting with your surroundings are all mapped to the same effing key, and there is no way to change this. It may not seem problematic in the early stages, but there are too many moments later on when you find yourself trying to sprint away from a grenade, only to see your character ludicrously taking cover next to an adjacent wall before getting blown to hell. It's incredibly frustrating to have to replay intense firefights because of a flawed control scheme, and I find this unforgivable.
With A Little Help From My Friends
As mentioned earlier, you have two sidekicks who can be ordered around using a basic squad command mechanic. You can have them throw flash-bangs to blind enemies when you're pinned down, or get them to advance upon specific targets. Their unwavering support means they may exit cover to do your bidding, which often results in them being incapacitated in the process. In this case, you must get to them and administer a healing shot of adrenaline within a certain timeframe. The mission fails if you leave them for dead. That being said, the sergeants can take a fair amount of punishment before you need to step in and save the day.
On the whole, the in-game action is satisfying and incredibly intense, especially at the Suicide Mission difficulty level. You'll find yourself pinned behind cover for a large part of the game, desperately trying to pick out your enemies with a minimum of shooting. It doesn't take much to kill you, so there's a certain tension attached to every move you make. However, the AI is rather dumb. Enemy soldiers move out into the open far too often in feeble attempts to flank you, and this detracts from the immersion.
The single-player campaign lasts around seven hours, but the bad news is that there are absolutely no takers for the PC version's multiplayer in India. Unless you have a bunch of friends who also play the game, expect your experience to end the moment the credits roll, or become fragbait on international servers due to the unacceptable lag. There is a silver lining, though. At the time of release, the developer announced a co-op campaign as free download, expected to release in mid-August. The game will be an interesting proposition with two human counterparts, and the add-on could potentially add a lot of value to the package.
Grit And Grime
As a single-player experience, Spec Ops: The Line delivers a solid, if unoriginal shooter with fantastic visuals and a great story to tell. Putting aside the frustration born from the moronic control scheme, there's an exciting intensity all through a plot that packs a few gut-wrenching twists. The title effectively captures the strife and misery that goes with killing human beings, leaving you to reflect on the havoc you wreak with each battle. At a street price of Rs 650 (don't you love being a PC gamer in India?) this visit to Dubai is well worth your while. Check out the gallery below for additional screenshots.
Gameplay And Design: 3.5/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
Played On: AMD Phenom II X6 1090T, Palit GeForce GTX 550 Ti, G-Skill Ripjaw Series 4 GB RAM, ASUS Xonar Essence STX sound card.
Minimum Requirements: Intel Core 2 Duo 2 GHz \ AMD Athlon 64 X2, 2 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 8600 \ ATI Radeon HD 2600XT, 6 GB HDD space, Windows XP SP3, DirectX 9.0.
Recommended Requirements: 2.4 GHz quad-core CPU, 3 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GTX \ ATI Radeon HD 4850, 10 GB GB HDD space.