War is not a pretty thing. We see movies and TV shows that speak of heroes and the glamour of battle, but what is it really? Even video games often play out war in a positive or at least ‘fun’ light and it can really start to affect the overall view of a society. For the first time in a long time, a game tries to show just how brutal it can be and shows just how far one can go before crossing the line.
Spec Ops the Line is a third person shooter developed by Yager Development and published by 2K games. Though there is a series, this game does not relate in any way to previous Spec Ops titles but instead sets out to make a point and send a message.
The game opens up in a war torn and post catastrophic Dubai where everything is falling apart and the remaining survivors are giving their all just to hold on for one more day. You lead a group of three Delta Force operators as Captain Walker on a reconnaissance mission to the area. As the situation becomes more dangerous and things escalate, the simple recon mission turns into a hunt for colonel Konrad, an army officer said to have stayed behind with the 33rd Battalion to aid the evacuation mission. You come across a group of insurgents that have captured and killed members of the 33rd and have become hostile towards you. As you make your way into city, you start to become aware of how torn the city has become as well as starting to see the aftermath of the failed evacuation. It becomes evident that members of the 33rd returned to the city and harshly tried to regain control and order within the city. They have since turned rogue and will do anything to stop you from reaching your destination.
You come across a group of 33rd soldiers rounding up civilians but they mistake you for CIA agents and open fire. The first of many uncomfortable moments comes when you realize that you are forced to shoot American soldiers. This weighs on you more and more as you are forced to kill or be killed as well as make some heavy life or death decisions along the way. The story progresses as you fight your way to the command center located in the center of the city and the story of the 33rds and Konrad’s wrath are more and more evident. As you are forced to do some things that you would not which to, you start to feel like a monster yourself. Once you make it to the tower you confront Konrad but not everything is as it seems in Dubai and the game has one of the better twist endings that I have seen in a game, especially a shooter.
As I said, the game is in the third person so it uses an element of cover and moving in and out of cover, etc. Though I usually enjoy a good cover based shooter and this game definitely required you to use cover, I was not a huge fan of the controls. The button to run and to dive into cover is the same and the button used to melee is also the same button used to leap over cover. These pairings can be rebinded to other keys but cannot be split. That was little a weird but it was not too bad to deal with. I thought that the actual shooting was pretty good and the aiming accurate and have little complaint about that. The enemies started off really simple but got to the point where it was often ridiculous. The heavy soldiers, like the famous Juggernaut in CoD, took a lot of damage to bring down and sometimes two 40mm grenades to the face was not enough. Basically some of the armored soldiers were a little too strong but I felt like the noral enemies were tough but not too much so. This game honestly had some of the most intense firefights I've played in a game and they always kept me on my toes with the limited ammunition.
What I loved about the game was the limited ammunition. When you start the game you are given an M4A1 rifle and an M9 pistol with relatively limited ammo. There are ammo boxes here and there but you cannot always count on them. In many games I feel like I never need my sidearm but I constantly would have to switch to a pistol after using all of my rifle ammunition. There were even times when I ran out completely and had to melee a nearby enemy and grab his rifle with very little ammunition in it. There are a fair number of weapons to be used but not an overwhelming amount which is a little more realistic for the game. There were probably about 3-4 rifles, 2 pistols, 2 sniper rifles, an RPG, a grenade launcher and some other ordinance that I am forgetting. Overall a decent amount for the game. You could pick up ammo from fallen enemies so you were never completely out of luck but it paid to be accurate and efficient.
Beyond the shooter element of the game lies a very powerful and sometimes haunting storyline. There are a few instances in the game where you are asked to make a choice between two options. Neither one will greatly affect the story or the end but more in the dialogue and the reactions. Honestly most of the decisions are ones that will not reflect in the game, but in you as the player. Some of them ask you to make decisions based on your morals and it can be a tough decision and you will find yourself thinking about it for a while afterwards. Without giving too much of the story away, there is a part where you are asked to make a choice between a man who stole water and a soldier who killed the man’s family because of it. You decided who lives and who dies. There are other similar decisions throughout but the real weight of each and every decision you make comes at the end, when everything clicks and makes sense. The choices hit me in a much different way after I finished the game. I guess I should clarify that choices do affect the ending slightly and there are four possible endings, but those branch from one choice at the end of the game.
Not only are you asked to make tough calls and do otherwise nasty things, you are forced to see it all around you. The game displays both beauty and disparity in Dubai, often side by side. The game uses the Unreal Engine 3 an even on my low end machine the game was beautiful. Among the dead and rotting bodies you find out what has really happened and get a sense of just how messed up everything about the situation is, including you. There is one part of the game that is one of the most visually striking though not in a pleasant way. Everything including the sights, sounds, actions, and dialogue comes together in what is essentially realization point for the player as to your true heart. I hate that I cannot be more specific but me describing it to you would kill the point and the impact of the moment. During that scene I just sat at my computer with my mouth hanging open and I literally had to get up and take a break for a while from the game. The game is somber and dark, and this scene pretty much sums it up entirely. If you want to know, then I highly recommend that you play the game, or go watch it on YouTube, but I do not think it will be the same. It is just something about the fact that you played a large role in what you are seeing that hits home.
I absolutely loved this game is a love-hate sort of way. It was dark and depressing but it really made me think. It makes you take a step back and really realize how brutal things can be. There was actually even a line in the game along the lines of ‘why so violent? It’s probably from playing all of those video games’ and while I would be the first to say that games do not make people violent, it is a commentary on how often we take serious matters and sugar coat them or make light of them. This game was relatively short given its story but I can definitely see one if not two replays in it, just to see how different actions affect the game. I would highly recommend this game to any fan of the shooter genre or even those that like a good story. I must warn you though, if you play this just as a shooter or a game and nothing else, you will get nothing out of it. You must envelop yourself into the game and its characters so that that messages it sends are all that more real to you. You must get attached to the game to fully experience what it has to offer. Honestly I would never recommend this game to kids because of a) the graphic elements, not just violence, but b) because they would not understand it. That being said, I think every one that is old enough should experience this, but that is just my opinion.