Written By: Paul

It’s been a long time since I sat down and plowed through a game, start to finish. It doesn’t happen too often, considering how many titles have come out this summer alone, but sometimes a game just grabs you; it grabs you by the collar and screams directly into your face making for a very awkward conversation.

 2K’s latest third-person action game is an exercise in a story-focused military shooter with some seriously twisted plot elements that come out of nowhere. However there are some issues that keep it from being a perfect endeavor. First though, the good stuff.

Spec Ops: The Line is a perfect example of what I call an “Onion Game.” A title that starts off in the same direction you’ve seen a million times within a genre and then changes over time. In this case a small Delta Force team sent into Dubai to rescue an American Colonel in the wake of a sand storm that crippled the city.

But as you put some time into the game, the layers peel away and slowly the game begins to take on a whole other form all together. In this case, the “Modern Warfare” setting mixed with “Gears of War” cover-based shooting began to make me wonder if I was in for another clone of popular AAA game titles. But then around two and half hours in something weird happened.

A character was introduced and built up as a sort of primary antagonist. A CIA operative who appeared to be in control of the local militia that had taken the Colonel’s men hostage, but he didn’t stay for long. Several cutscenes later and he’s dead on the floor, the captive American solider he was interrogating shot him and ran off.

“So who’s the bad guy now?” I asked as I continued on through the game. Surely, two hours and change isn’t a good running time for a game like this. As it turns out my question was answered a few minutes later, and I was disturbed to find out who was the game’s replacement bad guy or guys in this case.

As it turns out, the very men you are sent to rescue are gunning down the civilians of Dubai, or are they? It appears that way when you arrive and they (being the US soldiers of the “Damned” 33rd Battalion) immediately open fire on you even after your character Captain Walker explicitly communicates you’re American. So you’re forced to return fire, and before you know it you’re in a shootout with your own men of the United States Army, and this is where the game begins to spiral into darkness. 

That isn’t even spoiling the games main twists it has in store for you. Of the short seven hour running time, this game packs in a lot of story, and that story is changing from scene to scene. As you press on you wonder what you are actually doing in Dubai still or why you’re there. Even the loading screens have it out for you, with phrases like “How many Americans have you killed today?” or “You’re the good guys right?”

All of this, plus some seriously twisted moments that you initiate around the middle of the game make for a truly different experience. It’s the first game in a long time that actually got to me, giving me feelings of guilt and at one point the thought crossed my mind that I didn’t want to Walker to keep going.

Before I get to controls I should at least mention how the game looks, which is to say, it looks great. While there are some loading issues I will mention further down, the overall look of the game is crisp and epic. As the game presses on you venture deeper and deeper into Dubai’s slowly rotting core and the collapsing skyscrapers of the city serve as a fitting backdrop to the mayhem unfolding.

Friends of mine have suggested the idea of The Line being a horror game, and I can agree on many levels. The storyline alone is engaging and messed up if you can really get into it, and there are at least two scenes in the game that will disturb almost anyone.

However, before I can recommend this game there are some issues that have to be addressed. Playing my version on the PC created some issues, mainly with the controls. The fact that the sprint key was a toggle key, that didn’t want to stop the character’s full sprint even when I mashed it mid-firefight was a contributing factor to many level restarts.

Also the sand mechanic, where you shoot out some windows that have sand built up on them causing sand to flood onto of unsuspecting enemies, doesn’t show up enough. This element of the game is something that should have been implemented more often to shake up the cover-based shooting galleries that litter this game.

Also Captain Walker has a tendency to get attached to walls a little too easily. I found myself frantically mashing the movement keys when a heavily armored enemy was bearing down on me only to have Walker wiggle from left to right. While this was funny to watch the first or second time, it’s novelty waned by the twentieth chapter restart.

The final issue is more of a graphical one; the game’s environment seems to have a nasty habit of not loading entirely when a cutscene begins. So a gritty and emotional scene of Captain Walker and his men is cheapened somewhat when you notice the character models are morphing blobs of grey clay for several seconds.

Questionable controls however are not enough to put me off when it comes to this game. The storyline and character arches alone kept me engaged with up to the head-slapping twist ending that you might see coming if you pay really close attention to the plot.

I recommend this game if you’re looking for a shooter that surprises you with a unique story line, great action, and a rich detailed setting that looks gorgeous. Get swept up in the experience and check out a game that really gets to you, in a good way.

For more on Spec Ops and other game reviews check out the Archive section of Podfortress.com and listen to the Dispenser. I review Spec Ops: The Line during the July 21st episode of The Dispenser!