Dubai, playground of the world’s rich elite and stopover destination for anyone wanting a glimpse of this extravagant lifestyle. Once hailed an emerging business hub in finance and real-estate and number one tourist destination for many, now a literal desert wasteland and a buried city.
Continued catastrophic sandstorms, bringing millions of tons of sand into Dubai city, have forced anyone with a means out and far away and left those remaining with little hope. Efforts to evacuate are coming to an end, but one has refused to wind this up, staying on to continue, US Army Col. John Konrad with his Damned 33rd.
This is where you come in. Captain Martin Walker is called upon, with two others from his Delta Force team, in a last ditch search and rescue effort mission for Konrad, who, until the recent discovery of a distress signal, was perceived dead.
Seems pretty straight-forward for someone of your capabilities and experience, get in with your team of two, find Konrad and any of his remaining team then get out.
Dropping in on the outskirts of the city, you come across the obvious onslaught of what appears to be outlaws, probably forced to attack as a means to survive. You also unexpectedly find some of Konrad’s Damned 33rd, slaughtered and left to rot.
At very first glimpse controls, cover and shoot mechanics seem pretty standard. But this first skirmish proves Spec Ops offers somewhat more dynamic controls as well as interaction and utilisation of your now sand-weighted environment. Prompted from the get-go to use this altered environment in combat over individual takedowns, you are then thrown into the dynamic run, vault, slide-cover and slide-out controls. Not to mention an iron-sightt mechanic that is intuitive to maneuver, with minimal tweaking, even on long distance targets.
This opening segment also sets a tone for some of the environments you’ll come across, but is still merely a taste. A bright, sand covered expanse, vehicle ruins peppered along what perhaps used to be a highway. Either way it leads you into Dubai, and closer to Konrad’s distress signal - you’re only objective.
As you progress closer to the signal and uncover more objectives, it becomes clear this isn’t going to be a simple search and rescue mission. CIA involvement creates more confusion and Konrad’s motives to stay behind as well as his mortal state come into question.
Progressing through a range of modern day accurate weaponry gives you a wide choice of assault rifles, SMGs, light machine guns, sniper rifles and hand pistols as well as some turret interaction. And although ammunition is scattered strategically, it still remains scarce throughout, so use wisely.
As you close in on Dubai city the environment progressively becomes more and more impressive. Due to sand piling you may enter a building not knowing what level you are on, only to come out the other side into a huge expanse with massive drops, overlooking parts of the remaining city. This not only looks amazing, but provides a wide diversity in battle scenes, from hotel lobbies to rooftops, bars and gymnasiums, all before you reach the old ground level of Dubai, cluttered with a range of sports cars, buses, trucks, army vehicles and containers. At any given time this sand build up creates pressure points you can burst and windows can offer additional damage. Visually this creates some amazing scenes, through destructions and light flares, making positioning combat ever more important.
The environment is also often times quite open, but in a thoughtful way, giving you plenty of options for attack and to experiment with cover and progressing forwards, or flanking - a big component when with faced with a turret or bombarder. And be sure to look for any environmental elements that may be destructible, it may not be clear but if you can hit this it could save you a lot of anguish (and precious ammo).
Grenade throwing proved to be a hit and miss for me. While the mechanic works well when in cover, I didn’t find it transferable to non-cover combat, which is possible on a minor scale. Considering how dynamic other movements are, it would have been nice to see a dynamic grenade action, with a cooking possibility. The crouch mechanic also unfortunately seemed redundant and only there for show, as seen when you crouch behind cover as opposed to still having to get into into cover by tapping A and didn’t really serve any sneak or stealth purpose.
Combat difficulty edges more towards realistic, where any prolonged exposure puts you at risk of an instant death, either from a gun burst or from flanking. Calculated shots are a necessity all throughout the game and enemy grenade barraging forces swift cover change as well as accurate enemy disposal.
Unfortunately at close range the enemy AI seems to respond quite differently, giving you a lot of time to take out a close range enemy. This is somewhat offset by the unbalanced hip fire accuracy, both a bit frustrating, but definitely not a major downside, where so much else is done right.
Commanding your team adds possibilities such as direct and synchronised take-outs or flash bang deployment, giving you more depth in attack styles. You are also faced with the choice of acting yourself or to command your other team member when one of them is injured, sometimes forcing you to change cover and react with precision in battle.
While a Spec Ops game, The Line is independent of previous storylines. As you get deeper into Dubai, and the story unfolds, you really see this game offers much more than a glorified kill fest. Inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
novella, the game progressively explores “The Line”, that fine line in war between a mission and duty. Your actions begin to be questioned by your team and sometimes yourself, where the importance of the mission and the depth you’ve reached are the only factors keeping anyone going. At times you are even given a choice of what “path” to take, bearing moral implication and sparking disagreements within your team to arise more and more. The devastation reaped by sticking to the mission comes up again and again, at times giving you such an uneasy feeling you almost want to change what you’ve done.
With obvious nods to Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now (another interpretation of Heart of Darkness), propaganda is also tapped into occasional radio broadcasts, clearly from someone sympathetic to whoever you’re after, directed at you and your team in an attempt to constantly demoralise and mess with you. An impressive soundtrack is also picked up when passing radio setups, with the likes of Deep Purple’s Hush
and Jimi Hendrick’s Star Spangled Banner
both making appearances.
All of the aforementioned is a welcome addition to both fans of the genre and those new to it. With a shift away from clear-cut good and bad, Spec Ops challenges the sympathetic grey-matter with highlighted gaps between ‘killing machine’ and morality lessened as you tread “the line”.
Online multiplayer will offer team-focused traditional matches as well as a unique mode, all in the desert environment featuring sandstorms and sand build up environment interaction - all of which we’ve covered previously, but was unfortunately locked out of our review sessions.
Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC June 29.