Spec Ops: The Line Hands-On Preview – Moral and Mardy
Written Monday, December 12, 2011 By Dan WebbView author's profile
I am a soldier of fortune, apparently, and if our latest hands-on with Spec Ops: The Line is anything to go by, I’m also a cold callous killer who disregards life like I do an X-Factor contestant’s chances of ever being a success. 2K and Yager’s third-person shooter not only throws you into a conflict in Dubai’s now-decimated, once-tropical paradise, but it makes you think. It puts your sense of morality on the line and asks you to make some rather startling choices, and while these choices do call into question the ability to refer to yourself as a human-being, I found that it was best to pull the trigger first and then work out the implications later. That’s the point though, after the trigger has been pulled, they’re decisions you’ll play over, and over, and over again in your head. A powerful by-product of a video game if you ask us.
Spec Ops: The Line takes you and an elite squad of soldiers into the now decimated Dubai to find the whereabouts of a US Army Colonel, John Konrad – a nod to Joseph Conrad whose novella Heart of Darkness is an inspiration for the game. The once great city has become engulfed in sandstorms and the affluent culture that once ran through its streets is now a distant memory as brutal killings and death now rule supreme. You take control of the Nolan North voiced John Walker and it’s your job to infiltrate Dubai to find Konrad and discover the truth behind the horrific goings-on in the once buzzing city.
During our hands-on we managed to play through three sequences, both a couple of chapters long, in which we started our infiltration of Dubai, gunned down choppers in an on-rails section, attempted to diffuse a difficult hostage situation, fought through enemy strongholds and dug a little deeper into the Konrad conspiracy and the hostility of the 33rd squadron – the original team sent into Dubai to bring order to the city.
One of the main and unique mechanics of Spec Ops is its use of sand, and we’re not just talking sandstorms here which are a prevalent part of the Dubai city life, but using it as an environmental hazard too. In the space of our 90 minute hands-on, glass floors gave way under the weight of the sand on its surface – as well as having them shot from underneath us too – and we also used it to our advantage, shooting weak structures and letting the sand obliterate our enemies. It’s not a mechanic that’s over-used either and in our hands-on, if anything, it was probably a tad underused, but we fully expect it to play more of a part the further into Dubai you get and the closer you get to uncovering the conspiracy at hand.
The cover and shooter mechanics in Spec Ops: The Line are competent enough, if not a little too unwieldy at times, being more reminiscent to what you’d expect in Army of Two than something a lot more refined like Gears of War. Considering we were playing on a medium difficulty, there were a few difficulty spikes, but some well-placed checkpoints made those seem rather inconsequential. Spec Ops, however, is not a run and gun shooter, so sticking to cover is a must, and seeing as ammunition is hard to come by, you’ve got to be rather tactical too. Being able to command your squad members to take down certain foes certainly helps. Spec Ops is all about the nitty gritty side of war though and Yager intends to make you scrap your way to the finish line.
Okay, so you probably get why the game’s called Spec Ops, but what the hell is “The Line” part of the title? Well, that line is the line of morality and the game questions how far you want to go. The big moment of the hands-on came towards the end for us and after spilling out from the dimly lit environments onto the golden sands of Dubai’s streets we were faced with a dilemma. In front of us were two people – still alive – strung up from a sign with two snipers targeting each of them. The chap on the right was a civilian who stole some water, while the chap on the left was a soldier that was sent into arrest the civilian and ended up killing 5 innocents in the process; both guilty parties then. In order to progress you have to make a choice: which one do you kill – there is plot relevance here, but the less you know the better… let’s just say it makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things. Someone is trying to prove a point.
Without a care in the world and not even a pause for intense thought, we turned the gun on the soldier and pulled the trigger. Why? Because soldiers are meant to be in a position of power and maintain order, not cause the death of innocents. It’s only after the fact that you truly think about your actions… “But wait, if the chap stealing the water hadn’t have stolen it, then this would never have happened in the first place”… “Then again, stealing water is like stealing a loaf to feed your family, is that really so bad?”… “Then again, stealing is stealing in the eyes of the law… if you discount stealing water as a real crime, then there’d be anarchy on the streets.” The mind boggles at the implications and outcomes that arise as a result of one small question: “Who do you kill?” You in fact start to draw your own figurative line in the sand as a result. How far will you go? The implications of such a decision are yet to be seen, but if Yager can cram more moments like this into the game, then it’ll make Spec Ops a much richer experience because of it.
Incidentally, there are multiple outcomes in this situation so it really is your choice of where you want to draw the line – players can either shoot the thief, not make the decision and walk on (although, there will be consequences for your inability to follow orders) or shoot the snipers (again, there will be consequences for your insubordination), and there are other options to consider too. The game also throws up an interesting scenario if you wait too long to make your decision, so you’ve been warned.
What makes Spec Ops so unique, along with its inherent morality, is its environment and mood of the game. After setting eyes on Spec Ops for the first time you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a colourful and tongue-in-cheek shooter, but that couldn’t be further from the truth – don’t let the vibrant and iconic locations throw you. It shows you a brutal and grotesque side of war that other games seem to gloss over and throughout our hands-on we stumbled into gruesome death chambers with excrement, blood and cockroaches littering the halls, as well as scarred and mutilated corpses hung from the rafters and tied to chairs… it’s completely brutal and often rather shocking stuff. It’s as edgy as a dodecahedron and makes the game a much more appealing prospect because of it.
The defining moment of our hands-on was easily the morality showdown though. Sure, we might not have given it that much thought at the time, but it’s one that sticks with you for quite some time… “Did I make the right decision?” “Did I do enough?” “Am I a bad man?” “AM I GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL!?” If Spec Ops: The Line can deliver more moments like this in the final product then it looks certain to separate itself from the pack. I mean, they’ve nailed the vibe and contrast of the Dubai-paradise’s blue skies and exotic buildings with the sick and twisted harsh realities of war, making it a refreshing take on a genre saturated with brown and grey shooters. Yager is on the right track to creating a third-person shooter that is more than just plugging wave after wave of foes… although there’s lots of that too. Remember though, morality can be a bitch!
Spec Ops: The Line is scheduled for a 2012 release.