Making difficult decisions in Spec Ops: The Line’s war-torn Dubai

spec ops the line gd impressions

It’s no big secret that I lean away from realistic military-driven shooters, with the last one I gave a shot–pun intended–being Battlefield 3, of which I only experienced the bombastic single player campaign and removed the game from my PlayStation 3’s internal hard-drive without even giving its online multiplayer a kick. I’m not into the competitiveness of war, but generally curious to see a, hopefully, captivating story spun around tank battles, sniping, and yelling commands at comrades. A good story can generally carry a stinky load.

Progress is being made to clear out some space on my PlayStation 3. I recently finished up and uninstalled Prototype 2; afterwards, I took another scroll through my PlayStation Plus-heavy list and saw another title that called out to me…for a number of reasons. Spec Ops: The Line is, a first glance, a typical cover-based shooter, and it really isn’t the sort of game, based on its premise, I would drift towards. However, I remember the reviews for the game being fairly positive, praising its story above all else, that there was a narrative here worth seeing, even if it meant playing a perfunctory take on the genre.

Here’s the gist: Captain Martin Walker, Lieutenant Alphanso Adams, and Staff Sergeant John Lugo are traversing, on foot, through a storm wall on the outskirts of a mostly-buried Dubai. They come into contact with a group of armed survivors speaking in Farsi, referred to as “insurgents,” who have captured a squad of 33rd soldiers. Contradicting his orders, Walker decides to follow the insurgents and find out what has happened in the city. The story twists and turns from there, rather darkly, and to say any more would ruin its impact, but it often presents Walker with a moral choice, many of which result in dire consequences.

Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person action game, or, as the kids call them these days, a cover-based shooter. You move forward, you find cover, you hide behind it, and then you pop out to shoot human enemies in the head, dropping back safely when the going gets rough. I’m sure some people don’t even use cover, but I never found that a feasible option for surviving. In fact, I played the game on its standard difficulty up to the third chapter, eventually getting stuck in a tricky hallway and bumping it down to its easiest of difficulties, which, in a few spots, still gave me grief. You can laugh all you want, but I wasn’t really here for the perfunctory gameplay, so playing on easy was not one of the more difficult choices placed upon me.

Unfortunately, due to all its hype and praise, I knew to expect something narrative-wise as I gunned down human after human, and so the big reveal was not that big of a reveal to me. Still, it’s pretty good and more risky than you’d expect to see in a, from the outside looking in, straightforward war simulator, but I wasn’t blown away. I did, however, love hearing the voice actors change dramatically from beginning to end, at first being stern and ordering commands to ragged shouting and fuck protocol, save yourself attitudes. Honestly, Captain Walker’s voice was so strained by the end that I couldn’t believe it was Nolan North and not Troy Barker.

I will say this: the setting of Dubai made each checkpoint worth getting. Almost like with a point-and-click adventure game, I desperately wanted to see the next area, and most of them, especially those set inside a building or near the city limits, are astoundingly unique. I wish there had been more ways to use sand in battle, or, at the very least, more opportunities to use it, as sandstorms and dropping sand on an enemy soldier’s head grants Walker and his partners more strategic options than simply zooming in and firing until they stop moving.

After completing the game, I loaded up the final chapter to see a few of the alternate endings and earn a couple more Trophies. I also popped back to chapter 3 and beat it on the normal difficulty, putting all my hardened skills to use. That said, I have no interest in playing the full game a second time, nor do I need to go back and see how every other choice would play out. Just like with Battlefield 3, I won’t be even giving the online multiplayer a chance, as the main gameplay of hiding and shooting did little to excite me throughout Spec Ops: The Line‘s campaign; at least games like Mass Effect 2 and The Last of Us give me powers or other options for taking out enemies.

At least now I know what Spec Ops: The Line was all about: the tough calls.

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3 responses to “Making difficult decisions in Spec Ops: The Line’s war-torn Dubai

  1. lewispackwood

    I loved this game so much – like you, I’m not generally a fan of military shooters, but this one was, as you say, “astoundingly unique” in places. Did you notice how the loading screen messages change subtly as you progress further into the game, even breaking the fourth wall at some points? Very clever, and a nice touch.

    • I often check my email during loading screens so probably missed a bunch, but I did catch one or two odder-than-usual loading screen “tips” and thought that maybe I was going crazy for a second!!

  2. lewispackwood

    Yeah, I thought that too – I think I did an actual double take when the first one popped up!

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