For gamers with long memories, the Spec Ops series of games in the late 90s were middle of the road military simulators. Now, after a decade of Call of Duty and Battlefield games, 2K Games is reviving the franchise, and after a short hands on last week, I for one am glad they are.
Set in a sandstorm ravaged modern-day Dubai, Spec Ops: The Line tells the story of 33rd Infantry Captain Martin Walker, charged with rescuing soldiers from the Middle-Eastern city. Once he arrives though, he discovers that the opulent city has been turned into a battleground, with the military forces who had attempted an exodus mission for civilians going rogue. As Walker, you’re charged with finding the battalion’s Colonel John Konrad in an attempt to discover exactly what happened in the devastated city.
The Dubai setting is crucial to both the game’s narrative and gameplay. In the few levels that I played through, it was evident that the stunningly accurate recreation of one of the world’s most opulent cities brings life to a dark and dangerous story. The fact that the city has been overrun by wild sandstorms adds to the drama and tension, with sinkholes and sandstorms changing the way a battle can be fought and won.
But even more impressive is the sand as a gameplay device. Throw a grenade at a group of enemies in sand and the sand will explode into their eyes, leaving them sitting ducks for your squad. Another battle sees you shoot out the glass entrance of a skyscraper’s lobby to bury soldiers in the cascading sand from outside. The fully destructible environments make for a truly engaging way to fight the soldiers trying to kill you.
In a world where most war games are played in the first person, it’s refreshing to experience a third person perspective. The cover system feels more than just reminiscent of Gears of War, but that’s a good thing. You can hide behind almost anything, jump from one cover to the next, climb over the top of cover or shoot blindly from your position. Where Gears of War is almost a parody of human war, The Line feels like an accurate representation of the hardships of battle told from a third person perspective largely helped by the realistic setting and weaponry.
Also striking is the setting. The insanely opulent Dubai provides a colourful setting for a war game – in the literal sense. In addition to the copious amounts of sand, the vistas are lined with huge skyscrapers covered in glass, colourful murals and tapestries inside buildings and the hazy red sun shining on the desert setting. It makes for quite the change from traditional war games, and the experience is better for it.
At the centre of the game is a compelling narrative, with moral choices affecting how the game plays out (although there is only one ending, regardless of your choices). The choices you make do influence how NPCs interact with you, and add tension to the story. Captain Walker, who is voiced by Nolan North (the man behind Nathan Drake in the Uncharted Series and Desmond in Assassin’s Creed), who lends the character a real humanity despite being faced with incredibly tough choices.
Set to launch in the first half of this year, Spec Ops: The Line will be available for Xbox, PS3 and PC. If you like your games to involve a dark, detailed narrative with plenty of intense gunfights in a gorgeous setting, you’ll definitely want to check it out.
Web: Spec Ops: The Line