Spec Ops is hardly the new kid on the block, gamers were first introduced to this third-person military shooter franchise way back in 1998. Since then there's been some sequels and spin offs but the series has effectively been on hiatus since 2002. At one point the recently shuttered Rockstar Vancouver was even at work on a Spec Ops game that was eventually canceled. It may have been a long time coming but the Spec Ops series has returned this time with Berlin's Yager Development at the helm. While the series may have been relegated to the “budget” category earlier in its lifespan, the same is hardly true for the series' latest entry Spec Ops: The Line. Set in post-apocalyptic Dubai, UAE, The Line is a dark and gritty journey into the city and also into the darkness that lies within the game's protagonist Capt. Martin Walker. Where other shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield tend to deal with a larger conflict, The Line tells a much more personal story and does it exceptionally well.
A Desert of Darkness
Six months before the beginning of the game the city Dubai was hit by cataclysmic sandstorms which effectively buried the city leaving behind the ruins of a once wealthy and opulent metropolis. In the wake of the disaster the wealthy and powerful have abandoned the city leaving the rest of the civilian population to fend for themselves. Then the the 33rd Infantry Division known as “ The Damned 33rd” assists in the evacuation of Dubai on their way home from fighting in Afghanistan. It's there that the details get a little fuzzy but what matters is the 33rd never made it out of Dubai. Six months later the US Military received a brief message from the commander of the 33rd. The message was brief and simply said “This is Colonel John Konrad, United States Army. Attempted evacuation of Dubai has ended in complete failure. Death toll: too many.” The message prompts the US Army to send in Capt. Walker and his fellow Delta operators on a simple mission: Determine if there are any survivors and then radio for Evac. This is where our story begins and what follows is a wonderfully crafted narrative which invokes comparisons to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and Joesph Conrad's Hearts of Darkness.
The Right Direction
Spec Ops: The Line is a tough game to judge, while I found the story and narrative design to be top notch, the overall gameplay did leave something to be desired. I would love to see more of these serious stories told in first or third person action games but there is hardly anything really innovative about The Line's gameplay. The sand mechanics were good but not enough to really jump up and shout about. I didn't have any serious problems with the visuals or gameplay I have a hard time raving about these elements. However I will praise the games story for many months to come. Walt Williams and the teams at Yager and 2K have really succeeded in creating a gritty and compelling experience and they should be commended for their excellent work on this title but at the end of the day it's gameplay that keeps players coming back. If you have any interest in games that tell a serious, evocative, compelling story than Spec Ops: The Line is a must play. However, I do feel that everything I enjoyed about the game will fly right over the heads of the “frat boy” Call of Duty crowd. The Line should be taken as an example as how to craft a serious and well written story in an action game. This is what modern military shooters need to do to evolve and stay relevant. Big scripted action scenes that are reminiscent of a Michael Bay film have been done to death by action games and it's time to move the genre into some more artistic territory. In my opinion The Line has not only succeeded in this regard, but excelled. It's time for games to tell the stories of the hell and drama that soldier experience on the battlefield rather than America being invaded by the Russia for the 900th time.
To read Tim's full review of Spec Ops: The Line pick up the August/September issue of Comics & Gaming Magazine coming soon to Zinio and a newsstand near you.