August 16, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Yager Development, Darkside Game Studios
Publisher(s): 2K Games
Platform(s): Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: June 26, 2012

First, let me start by saying that if you’re expecting a Call of Duty or Medal of Honor style shooter - where you spend the majority of your time gunning down mass amounts of enemies, followed by lots of explosions and tank fighting - you'll be disappointed. Spec Ops: The Line is a different kind of shooter. Whilst other protagonists kill with no remorse and no feelings, Captain Martin Walker (expertly voiced by Nolan North) and his squad sneak up on you, with a huge wave of emotion and bags of style yet to be seen in any other title on any format. And if you think that's a bold statement, keep reading, it only gets bolder…

Six months ago, the worst series of sandstorms in recorded history began across the country. Dubai's major leaders and hierarchy downplayed the situation before evacuating, leaving hundreds of civilians behind. Colonel John Konrad, the decorated, troubled commander of the elite 33RD Battalion US Army, was returning home with his unit from Afghanistan when the storms struck. Konrad volunteered the 33RD to help the relief efforts, and then deserted with the entire unit when ordered to abandon the city by the U.S top brass. As the weather intensified, a massive storm suffocated Dubai for miles, disrupting any satellite surveillance and communication. The unit declared martial law and struggled to maintain order amid storms, riots, and a scarce supply of food and water. The last communication from Dubai stated that the 33rd was going to lead a convoy of more than a thousand civilians out of the city. The rescue attempt never materialised. Two weeks prior, a mysterious radio signal was found by U.S intelligence, reporting that the rescue attempt by Konrad and his team was unsuccessful. Captain Martin Walker and his two-man team were sent in and soon discover that the city has become a shell of its former glamorous self -  filled with death, darkness and desperation. A crumbling battlefield, which anyone who has dared to enter, has been chewed up, spat out and left for dead.

The Line kicks off in frantic fashion, with Walker and his team being chased through the stunning skyline of Dubai, desperately trying to shoot down the pursuing choppers. Every bullet you fire counts, as every miss brings you nearer and nearer to an explosive and grisly death. Your two man team of Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo quickly pipe up in your ear, with some choice words for the gunned down choppers. The message is clear, fast and hard. Welcome to Dubai, enjoy your stay! After waking up from the apparent dream, you and your team deploy on foot to find the elusive Konrad, to confirm the statuses of him and any survivors, then radio for extraction. Sounds simple right? What could possibly go wrong.....

The first thing you notice as you're making your way into Dubai is the eerie silence that seems to follow your every step. Every inch closer towards the breath-taking skyscrapers and monumental, imposing centre of Dubai you take, feels as if something is around every corner, behind every piece of cover, and the only distraction is your team’s pessimistic, nervy banter commenting on the depleted, baron outskirts of a washed out, but somehow mesmerizing,city. You soon come in contact with a group of hostile armed survivors, referred to as the Insurgents, who are in conflict with the 33rd and have captured a squad of their soldiers. That’s when walker and his team start to uncover what's really been happening since Konrad and his battalion entered Dubai. Destruction and murder are lurking in every corner of this once elitist country, and it isn’t long until the initial shock and disgust that Walker and his team feel turns into numbness and paranoia, as they rapidly start to question why they are there, and how are they going to escape the clutches of the sun-soaked warzone.

You are here for reconnaissance, but your objective promptly broadens to rescue as you encounter perplexing devastation- stacks of soldiers from the lost 33rd Infantry, executed almost everywhere you turn; the desiccated remains of innocent civilians hanging beneath road signs; bodies scorched by white phosphorus. These are not the signs of an evacuation. No one wants you here: not the opposing force, not your superiors back home, not the people you’re trying to help, and not even your team, whose reaction to your command slides from apprehension to resentment with alarming speed.

No sooner have you had your first contact and discovered the charred remains of your former allies turned adversaries, do you have to make your first choice. You have saved a CIA agent from dying at the hands of insurgent forces, who then turns on you, do you let him live or kill him? Your team want him to live; after all he is an American soldier. But on the other hand, he could run and give away your position to enemy soldiers if you let him go. If you kill him, your team are visibly shaken, and question your morals behind the killing of a fellow American soldier. If you don’t, you could end up having one of your men killed by enemy forces having found out your position from the agent. It is this decision making where Spec Ops is a different cut from the aforementioned Moh and Cod. Every decision you make is greeted with discontent by your men, as they chime in and argue either side of the toss, and you feel yourself becoming increasingly alienated from them as you battle your way through the title. Much of the campaign is inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness, in which a man journeys upriver into the jungle to seek a powerful and enigmatic character that may or may not have lost perspective and touch on reality with himself and everything around him. It is this expressionism that makes you want to bond with Adams and Lugo, the moral dilemmas which you and your team face, add to the ever mounting unease and dubious reasoning of your presence in this hostile land.

The game gives you choices—difficult ones—that affect the outcome and story in minor ways. It has more effect on you, as the player and as Captain Walker and his team.  Do you save the civilians, or do you save the informant vital to your mission? Whichever one you do decide to save, better be worth the weight of the other deaths that weigh heavily on the team. The strain soon begins to tell as, bloodied and battered the questionable ethics you have shown to your team, as well as the means not justifying the end; start to disintegrate the bond you once had. Emotions run high as Hugo shouts at Walker that he’s turned the team into murders, before Adams and Hugo fight in the wake of another draining fire-fight. This insight into the mind-set of the main protagonists is rare and makes the story very absorbing, thrilling and breath-taking.

The question is, does the game really live up to the story? The answer is a resounding yes! Gunplay is enthralling and the cover system is excellent. It’s not simply duck and shoot. Vaulting over a wall with a dropkick to your enemies is extremely satisfying, but wait too long behind cover and the incoming enemy bullets will reduce a seemingly steady stronghold to dust, exposing you to the onslaught. Weapons vary enough, feel weighty and punchy, and must be used down to the last round due to the overwhelming advance of enemy soldiers. Sand and sandstorms play the supporting role, changing the flow of battle at any given moment - becoming both an obstacle and an opportunity. At times, the blowing sand, coupled with intense glare of the beating sun, can reduce visibility to a mere few feet—all while in the midst of sprawling battlefields and gunfire. These lengthy battles can be enduring and draining, step out of cover for more than a few seconds, and you will be cut down by your unforgiving enemy. There's  something special about being left with nothing but a few rounds in your silenced pistol as you clear a ruined, crumbling, dimly-lit hotel full of defected 33rd operatives. It’s almost 24-esque in its delivery, and just as un-nerving.

However, the real star of the show is Dubai; it is a fascinating setting for the game. While the outdoor sections deal mostly in various sand dunes and wrecked vehicles interspersed with the occasional breath-taking panorama, once you venture inside you're confronted with stunning visions of Dubai's luxurious past. Trapped by the swirling debris, the citizens are forced to create makeshift shelters amid the towering skyscrapers, carving out settlements in the luxurious wreckage. Walk just past the glittering statues and extravagant fountains to
find rickety beds, shabby walls, and dirty sheets. These striking scenes are punctuated by the politically charged graffiti that some stranded civilian artists have created around the city - the anonymous accusations that target you and your men, along with every other soldier who has dared to step foot in Dubai, portraying it as a opulent paradox, where you can find yourself mesmerized by the portrayal of the city’s stunning skyline. The Line’s visual brilliance is expertly accompanied with an ever present humorous homage to the similarly inspired movie Apocalypse Now, and a number of well known, classic songs are piped in to the battlefield to set an appealing fatalistic tone. Both of these examples are the work of the ever present Radio Man emanating from speakers rigged throughout the city, whose constant antagonistic tone and words, are a work of complete genius and help set the atmosphere beautifully throughout the campaign.

Spec Ops: The Line is a masterpiece from start to finish. From taking your first steps through the depleted, dilapidated outskirts of the city, to the extravagant, prosperous gyms and lavish monuments in the heart of Dubai; it is absorbing, hypnotic and thrilling. This is not a game for your run-of-the-mill COD fan who wants to feel like a superhero. It is for a gamer who wants a story that has genuine impact and meaning. Yager should be commended for what it achieved here, a third-person shooter packed with thrilling set-pieces that make you think about why you are doing the shooting. It's utterly bleak, occasionally gruelling, and incredibly engrossing throughout. This is an essential game for any platform, Konrad is waiting……..

Review by Jon Hall

Final Score “One of the Year's Best” 9.0
Exceptional visuals. Dubai is spell binding, character models are perfect, and every grisly detail is captured with perfection.
Thrilling, tense and dramatic. Firefights are brutal, and the excellence of the story sucks you in and won’t let go.
The campaign can be completed in 8-10 hours, but with 4 different endings, and some masterful set pieces, Spec ops is well worth a re-play, if you can stomach it.
Some expert voice acting. The radio man is an elusive and intelligent character who adds to the captivating atmosphere. Brilliant choice of music should be commended.
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  1. wow.....this looks epic. Definitely want to pick it up now.

  2. wow this review was amazing made me go out and buy it yesterday best money ive ever spent. Thanks :)

  3. they really should have advertised this game differently. Everyone seems to say it's deep and story driven, yet the ads make it feel like a typical shooter. I really want to try this now. great review.

  4. This is probably one of the most underrated games of the year. And definitely the biggest surprise.

  5. Shaun/Justin: you should definitely buy this. It is a must buy and quite possibly the best game of the year so far, (and thanks for the positive feedback Justin). Thanks very much Rachael, its why i do this job :). Phil: I agree with you completely, cant understand the negative reviews,and personally think that theres to much comparison with COD and Moh, when Spec ops is a entirely different games.

  6. I just tried the demo on PS3. Really liked it. But after reading this, I'm going out to buy it asap.


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