Spec Ops: The Line Review

Spec Ops: The Line is a thought-provoking and memorable title that’s worth playing, if only to see its narrative.

Oftentimes, we see the release of a new shooter that tries to emulate Call of Duty or Battlefield. These are games set in a real conflict that take place somewhere around the Middle East where there are usually two sides facing each other and while one side is shown as patriotic, heroic and easy to empathize with, the other is usually a portrayed as a monster who constantly performs acts of horror. As the leader of a squad of some likable soldiers, it’s your duty to liberate that country so that you can come back to yours and feel the sense of satisfaction for doing the right thing. Real-life is seldom that black and white and even though millions of people run to the shelves to consume those games on a regular basis, the people behind them are ignoring important issues and they are guilty of perpetuating some offensive and hurtful stereotypes. That’s not the case with Spec Ops: The Line.

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“Do you feel like a hero yet?”

Spec Ops: The Line starts like any other modern third-person shooter: there are spectacular explosions, carefully planned ambushes, flashy helicopter accidents and so on. But little by little, the game starts showing the horrors of war and constantly letting you know that in any armed conflict like the one portrayed in the game, no one wins. This is the first third-person shooter I’ve played in a long time that doesn’t glorify war and to me that’s admirable, especially taking into account the number of similar titles that focus on mindless shooting, loud setpieces and scripted cutscenes.

In Spec Ops: The Line, a game that was inspired by novel Heart of Darkness and cinematic masterpiece Apocalypse Now, you assume the role of Captain Martin Walker, the commander of a Delta Force evacuation team of three that’s sent to a post-apocalyptic Dubai in what appears to be a reconnaissance mission. Little did they know that the war isn’t over and on top of fighting against the enemy, they’ll have to fight themselves.

In this third-person shooter, two vistas clash: one of a modern metropolis surrounded by golden sand (the game’s set in Dubai) and one filled with the corpses of soldiers who died believing that what they were doing what’s right. The world of Spec Ops: The Line is a bleak one which means that this game isn’t for everyone. The violent imagery, shocking moments and cringe-inducing setpieces will definitely shock some people, but I think every single one of those parts are necessary to tell the kind of story that this is game is trying to tell. This is a thought-provoking and memorable title that’s worth playing, if only to see its narrative.

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“To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for your government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless.”

The way in which Spec Ops: The Line deals with some thought-provoking themes might be notable, but the shooting is everything but. In terms of gameplay, there are some fresh ideas here and there: your teammates are competent during combat and you can tell them to attack certain enemies and you can use part of your environments to your advantage (sandstorms, explosive barrels, bunkers and so on.) But the rest of the game’s pretty unremarkable when it comes to shooting enemies and on top of that, the cover mechanic is imprecise when you most need to depend on it.

Despite its praiseworthy story, Spec Ops: The Line isn’t without some issues, most of them technical. The cover mechanic doesn’t always work as intended, especially in the middle of firefights. This mechanic tends to be capricious, leaving you completely unprotected when you most need it: you’ll get stuck on cover when someone throws a grenade right next to you or you’ll have problems leaving cover when an enemy flanks you and it’s shooting at you from the sides. Apart from the already mentioned problems, there are long loading times that take place when you launch the game for the first time or when you die.

It’s worth pointing out that the game has an online multiplayer mode and this is unfortunate. On the one hand, Spec Ops: The Line wants to be different to all the other shooters in the market, but the inclusion of a generic multiplayer feels unnecessary and goes against the spirit of this game. As you’d expect, there are a handful of competitive and cooperative missions where you level up, unlock more weapons and complete challenges, but none of those elements stand out in a meaningful way.

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“We cannot escape anguish. It is what we are.”

It’s hard to say what some of the best parts of Spec Ops: The Line are without ruining its narrative, but let me tell you that by the end of the game, everything will make sense. This is the kind of game that will often be mentioned in opinion articles, one that will be compared to other media (particularly films) and one that will remain in the memory of players for years to come. Despite being disguised as a traditional third-person shooter, this is the story of one’s person’s descent into madness and a story of how war ruins the human condition. And that’s a story worth experiencing.