Spec Ops: The Line takes place in the sand storm ravaged city of Dubai, which has since become a derelict, damaged and worn down shadow of its former self due to the constant sandstorms that forced the citizens of Dubai to evacuate, some didn’t make it out in time. For some reason the U.S Army’s 33rd Battalion, led by Colonel, John Konrad, defied their orders to evacuate the city so they could help those in need, after a few weeks of no contact from Dubai, the Army picks up a weak signal from a distress beacon, It’s here where you get to take control of Captain Walker a friend of the Colonels who gets sent in to investigate what happened to the 33rd. Walker is determined to find Konrad alive and to also find out what has been going on.
When you start the single player campaign you’re given the option to choose one of four difficulty settings, with the hardest setting ‘Fubar’ being locked until you have completed a play through on the second hardest setting of “Suicide Mission”. Having chosen the “suicide mission” setting I got stuck in.
Once you arrive on the outskirts of the sandy city there’s a short tutorial to let players get to grips with the controls for Captain Walker as you descend into the desert landscape where a wealthy city once stood, moving past abandoned vehicles and checkpoints while chatting with your two AI team mates Sergeant Lugo (a young sniper with a good sense of humour) and Lieutenant Adams (a more experienced soldier & the teams heavy weapons expert) in what feels like a natural and non forced conversations, These two (Lugo & Adams) also bicker like an old married couple, and at times question your decisions as squad leader. On the subject of squads, it would have been nice to have seen co-op included in the game modes, even if it was at the expense of multiplayer.
During the campaign you’ll have to make some decisions, and the outcome of these decisions may not make an immediate change in the game, but regardless of what you choose somebody somewhere will be impacted by your choices and initially you might not be aware of what’s going. The situations where you have to make these decisions are superb, you may be given a slightly different cut-scene or in some cases avoid an area that would normally be occupied by enemies.
Dubai is both a very interesting and an original setting, with sandstorms, dust and wind that all add to player engagement with the game, in contrast to all of the sand you’ll find brightly coloured building interiors littered with adequate cover to engage the enemy from, Walker can only take a few hits before he’s dead, thus making use of cover essential during play. The cover system generally works sometimes, although it does take a bit of getting used to because the melee button is also the vault button, which does lead to moments where you’ll find yourself melee’ing a concrete partition instead of vaulting over it.
As well as being the main back piece to most settings sand also plays a big part in combat, shooting at an area that’s holding back a barrage of sand will see the sand covering your enemies and in some cases aiding you in moving onto another area, grenades will also kick up a mini sandstorm which can aide you in moving to better cover. The cover system is quite good and really is the key to completing the game, without using cover you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of a barrage of hot lead and constantly having to restart from the last checkpoint. Pressing A near a wall or structure will make Walker take cover, and in what is fast becoming the staple feature of shooters nowadays is the ability to switch between cover that’s close by.
Most weapons you find feel great to fire and give off some nice sounds. There is a good variety of weapons to choose from considering that you’re mainly relying on picking up those left by dead enemies as you progress. All weapons have a unique secondary fire, such as the M4A1 that you start off with, that has a silencer for less noisy take-downs. There’s also the ability to take out close enemies with melee attacks, that can be fairly brutal, again with the use of the B button you can also execute enemies who are bleeding out with an assortment of kill moves, or you can choose to let them crawl around begging for help or moaning with immense pain.
As you’re the commander of a small squad its only natural that you get to issue a small amount of simple commands to your squad, such as throw flashbang, take out an enemy you specify or healing a downed team mate, When tasked with taking out an enemy the best squad member is automatically chosen to attack the enemy, i.e. long range enemies will be dealt with by Lugo, while closer range targets will be usually dealt with by Adams, although I have seen him try to take out targets that I assumed were too far away.
Squad AI in Spec Ops is slightly better the average, although at times I would still end up shooting them as they crossed my line of fire, this is something that they must have missed in basic training. One annoying feature of enemy AI is that as soon as they have you in line of sight they start shooting at you and you alone, and after a couple of hits your history, as these AI’s simply do not miss whether firing bullets or in what reminded me of the auto aiming grenades of Call of Duty 4′s multiplayer, their grenades will aim for you, and that can become annoying after a while, Hit detection in campaign can become annoying at times, I found that several times whilst behind the cover of a solid bow of a boat for example a Heavy would still be able to take me out with no line of sight.
There are checkpoints available through the campaign, each triggering an auto-save, In addition to these four separate slots can be used for saving/loading at different points, which as always helps those (myself included) who like to hunt down as many achievements/trophies as possible, such as those pesky intel collectables
The enemies found in Dubai come in a small variety of guises ranging from your standard grunt who will take cover, shoot and occasionally throw one of the afore mentioned aimed grenades, then there’s RPG, Snipers, Shotgun and Heavy Troopers who lay down constant LMG fire on you whilst calmly moving in on your position. Also thrown in the mix is the very rare edged-weapon experts who run towards you with the intention of taking you out with one swing of their blade.
[Taking the fight online]
In what should be a common practice in all but the most popular online titles there are no achievements or trophies tied into the multiplayer of Spec Ops: The Line, Why’s this a good thing I hear you ask? Well, contrary to common belief not all gamers enjoy playing every single game online, The lack of multiplayer tied achievements & trophies also means that there is no reason for anyone in the lobby to play like a possessed 12 year old with a passion for throwing random grenades, it also removes the need to for gamers to boost so therefore, in theory at least you should get a better online experience.
Spec Ops: The line’s online action doesn’t feel as addictive as most of the titles competition. There are a few game modes on offer including industry standard Deathmatch & Team Deathmatch modes, along with a mode called Buried and variants of these game modes that unlock between Ranks 8 to 23. One feature that makes a nice addition is the ability to see who the host is, as this helps you to identify who has a lag free session.
Hit detection can make or break a gamers experience, And I’m glad to say that Spec Ops has good hit detection, that unlike BF3 will see a head shot kill someone with just the one round.
The maps I played a few games on didn’t lack detail or playable area, and at times I found that some were maybe a bit too large for just eight players, although the use of ziplines makes it nice and easy to reach different parts of the maps, and the campers among you will love some of the high vantage points, such as the one on the ‘Crow’s Nest’ map where any grunt silly enough to find themselves out in the open would soon find themselves as cannon fodder.
Although I only played a few matches, I cannot fault the mainly lag free connection, and the customisation options will keep the multiplayer fans happy along with the option to host and set-up private matches, for some small bursts of fun, as it’s hard to imagine anyone playing the online modes for more than a couple of hours.
Spec Ops: The Line has a superb and solid campaign story that has enough of a pull to keep players engaged to the end with its incredible atmosphere , The Online modes don’t offer much of an alternative to other games in the same genre, and there’s a distinct lack of co-op in what would of made the perfect game to play with your friends.
[An Immersive and action packed game that looks like it will shamefully be destined to fly under the radar.]
Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars
The reviewer spent over 22 hours in the dust filled city of Dubai completing two playthroughs on both Suicide Mission and FUBAR difficulties and playing online, and had access to shop bought retail copies of both Xbox 360 & PS3 versions.