So, Spec Ops: The Line. You see, it’s a very, very good game. I often rant about how much military shooters such as Battlefield, Medal of Honor, and Call of Duty bore me, but Spec Ops is different. Maybe it’s because it’s third person, and the mechanics are different – but it’s probably the simple fact that it portrays war as the terrible thing that it really is, rather than romanticizing it.
Spec Ops does a great job of creating an extremely dark, violent experience. Yes, it’s still really fun, but there’s almost a sense of guilt that comes with it. The story is so gripping because of how well it showcases the psychological effect that war has on those involved. Throughout the game, how characters interact with one another changes significantly based on the choices that you’ve made. For instance, there comes a point when the player is asked to choose between saving a CIA agent and saving a group of civilians. I chose to save the CIA agent – and the civilians all ended up dead. It left my squad devastated and questioning their choices.
There are numerous additional examples that I could give, but that is probably the one that had the greatest impact on me. After that sequence, and many others like it, I was left emotionally drained – and you should expect that. The game does an excellent job of making players question themselves, and beating up on their emotions. It may seem a bit silly to question yourself over a decision you made in a video game, but the decisions are very real. There’s a sort of cognitive dissonance that arises here, and that’s really a testament to the game’s stellar writing.
Despite putting so much care into a fleshed out, functioning moral choice system, Spec Ops seems to mock the concept of morality throughout its run time. It illustrates to the player how flawed morality is, and there are no black & white choices when it comes to war, not really. Spec Ops, unlike most shooters, shows us that gray area in between, as we follow a squad of elite soldiers through a devastated Dubai, which makes for a very interesting story.
After an apocalyptic sand storm ravages Dubai, a battalion of US soldiers are dispatched to provide humanitarian aid and assistance. However, poor conditions cause the soldiers to turn on one another, and this conflict quickly draws in civilians, creating a landscape that is dystopic. The 33rd Battalion (or what remains of it, at least) wasted no time instituting and enforcing martial law, oppressing all that attempt to oppose them. At first glance, your team’s mission is to provide aid to the survivors, but this quickly degrades into a desperate fight for survival.
When all’s said and done, the campaign lasts between 10 and 15 hours, which is a decent run time.
Though the gameplay is pretty standard third person shooter fare, it still manages to be a great experience. I found the control to be very fluid, and the firefights are fast paced and extremely intense. The weapons all handle well, but praising this, of all games, for making the slaughter of hordes of enemies fun seems counter intuitive.
Furthermore, the game comes with your typical squad shooter mechanics. These are pretty simple, and could have been used to better effect. That said, it’s hard to complain about what’s there. Even though it’s simple, these elements are intuitive and add an additional level of complexity to the game.
It certainly helps that the level design consists of more than running through a narrow hallway, coming out in a large room, killing everyone, and repeating. There are a variety of environments, each of which can be handled in a multitude of ways, each totally valid. This part of the game invokes the Halo franchise in the best way possible, making each and every firefight a puzzle that has to be solved.
Spec Ops adds additional levels of complexity by introducing environmental hazards. Sandstorms will come and go, reducing visibility and cranking up the difficulty of the game. Though these encounters are exceptionally challenging, making it through feels rewarding. There’s a sense of accomplishment at the end of each of these instances, which arises from their intensity.
Finally, there are the graphics. By traditional standards, Spec Ops looks great. I don’t much care for photo-realism in my video games, but this doesn’t go to the same extent as some of its competition does. Regardless of my subjective thoughts on the graphics, Spec Ops is a technically impressive games.
All in all, Spec Ops: The Line is probably the best military shooter I have ever played. It combines third person shooter gameplay (which I love) with the graphics of a military shooter, and it has a well written story and fleshed out characters to boot. The fact that it doesn’t glorify war is refreshing, especially since it portrays it for what it actually is: a moral conundrum in which there are no rights and wrongs. Spec Ops is a game that we will be talking about for years to come.