Imagine this: somewhere in the seemingly endless sands of Dubai, two innocent civilians are being held at gunpoint, along with an informant holding delicate information that you desperately need. But you’re not the only one in pursuit of this vital data, and the hostages’ lives are being bartered for it. Looking through the scope of your sniper rifle, the tension builds. The next bullet you fire will have repercussions – you can’t save them all. Do you sacrifice the informant in order to save the civilians, or pray the informant’s info saves even more? In Spec Ops: The Line, there’s no time to think, and the decisions you make will challenge every fibre of your being.
At first glance, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Spec Ops is just a third-person rendition of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The desert setting and timeframe all hit familiar notes, but those who carelessly wander in thinking it’s just another shooter will be in for a real shock.
The game’s set in present day Dubai, where devastating sandstorms have ravaged the once luxurious city. The intolerable turmoil has forced even the government to abandon the forsaken place, leaving its citizens to die. Hope arrives in the form of the U.S. 33rd Battalion which, fresh from fighting in Afghanistan, takes a detour through the storm wall in order to help with an evacuation effort. But communication is promptly lost, and months pass without a word from the squad. That is, until a scratchy radio message hurriedly relays: “This is Colonel John Konrad, United States Army. Attempted evacuation of Dubai ended in complete failure. Death toll — too many.”
You, as Captain Martin Walker, and your two squad mates are the first living souls to successfully penetrate the thick storm wall in over six months. The desolation is immediately apparent: Dubai is now a tattered wasteland half buried in the sand. All is eerily quiet until you reach a bloodied Humvee with mutilated corpses from the 33rd Battalion inside. It only takes moments for the madness of an ambush to ensue.
PlayStation fans have grown to love cinematic shooters, thanks in part to the success of the Uncharted series. Nathan Drake fans will find a familiar voice in Captain Walker, as they’re both brought to life by Nolan North. But while the action-packed gameplay is similar, the narratives are far apart. Storyline twists begin within the first hour of the game — we’ll let you experience them for yourself — and from this point on, every shot and life you take adds to the growing weight of emotional unrest placed upon you.
While the majority of shooters transform you into a super soldier, here you have to face the consequences. See, the constant chatter between your squad mates makes them believable. At times, the immersion is so deep that you forget that you’re even playing a game. War is hell, and you’re right in the middle of the flames. As your orders become ever more questionable, your squad will begin to hate you for what you’re forcing them to do. At your behest, you’ll witness events that will churn your stomach. But you’ll probably want to revisit the campaign anyway, in order to see the different outcomes that stem from the critical decision points.
From a technical standpoint, The Line is a solid cover based third-person shooter. By default the controls are overly sensitive and take some time to get used to, but there are sensitivity options available. For the most part, the cover system works well, with few niggles discovered during our playtime. The action's varied, too. One minute you're sniping heads from afar, the next you're blindly wandering through violent dust storms seeking shelter.
The gunplay is consistently intense due to a stiff degree of difficulty, but is further intensified in several on-rails and placed turret sections that have you spewing hot lead across the battlefield. The ability to use sand as a strategic element and being able to quickly issue commands to your squad mates are nice additions as well. While the gameplay doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking, it does a great job of keeping the immersion level high and most importantly, pushing the emotional storyline forward.
For those who enjoy a good online multiplayer match, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a robust online multiplayer component to settle down with after the long, disturbing campaign has come to an end. Everything that’s expected in today’s shooters is present and accounted for, and the sand effects found in the campaign carry over to the multiplayer mode as well. A few well-placed shots at a wall leaking sand will result in a multi-kill to be proud of; at times sandstorms invade multiplayer maps to create even more chaos. Much like the single player campaign, the online multiplayer doesn’t break any new ground, but there’s still plenty here to enjoy.
Spec Ops: The Line is a solid, action packed shooter that sets itself apart by demonstrating the brutal realities of war. The fragile lines of morality are easily blurred, and sometimes, only visible when crossed. When lives are at stake, and choices have to be made – can you make the right ones? Not only is your life and sanity at stake, but those of your squad mates are too. One thing is for certain: when you cross The Line, you’ll never return the same.