Spec Ops: The Line Hands-On Preview – Shock and Awe
Written Monday, February 06, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
We don't know about you, but the toughest decisions we'll normally make during an average day is whether we want cereal or toast, or settling on a movie to watch. But in Spec Ops: The Line, you're faced with genuinely difficult decisions at every turn, even if sometimes you might not even realise it. Having been hands-on with Yager's straight-laced military shooter twice before, we've had a chance to dissect the game's moral centre and test out its prowess as a third-person shooter, and this time around, the shocks, tough calls and balls-to-the-wall action is still very much front and centre.
At face value, Spec Ops: The Line looks like your everyday, run-of-the-mill military action title, liberally borrowing its control system from Gears of War and other similar cover shooters, but we quickly discover that there's much more to it than meets the eye. Yes, The Line is a remarkably solid shooter that cribs from the best in the genre, but it treats its subject matter with a seriousness and sobriety that we've never witnessed in a game like this before. There are some aspects that could be seen as gratuitous out of context, but based upon the hour-long demo we play, spread across three pacey chapters, these moments seem to be handled in a wholly appropriate fashion.
Picking up partway through the story, we find protagonist Walker and his two AI buddies, Lugo and Adams in tow, sent into a Dubai that's being torn apart at the seams. Walker (voiced by the ever-reliable Nolan North) and his compadres run into their old squadron, the 'damned 33rd' while on a mission to track down Colonel John Konrad and soon find that the 33rd has gone rogue, slaughtering civilian survivors and attacking anyone on sight, meaning you're pressed into fighting against your fellow, now incredibly hostile countrymen.
In his quest to locate Konrad, Walker needs to first find Lt. McPherson at the beginning of our demo, which sees us descending into the 'deepest part of the nest', where rotting corpses line the tunnels, disturbing flies as we walk by. It's the first of many disturbing sights we behold as we make our way through a variety of dangerous open areas and smaller recesses, sprinting and pressing into cover while holding the A button. Weaving our way through a ramshackle marketplace, there's 33rd troops executing civilians and rounding up refugees in the distance, the sound of gargling death throes echoing between the stalls.
Walker's placatory bellowing to his former squadmates fall on deaf ears however, and we're forced into a firefight against the American soldiers, using what little ammunition we can lay our hands on. You can carry two weapons at a time with a limited amount of ammo, so we find ourselves regularly swapping rifles and rationing bullets. Adams and Lugo do their best to provide covering fire, and you can always check their position or issue context sensitive orders by pressing the right bumper. Holding the right bumper meanwhile, brings up a triangular red cursor that you can use for direct commands, like attacking a specific enemy or moving to a particular position. If the whole tactical, squad-based strategy stuff isn't your thing though, Adams and Lugo seem perfectly capable of looking after themselves.
Having found McPherson and survived a tense standoff, we press onwards through a strange blend of environments, as we rappel into a once opulent hotel lobby, signifying the more affluent side of Dubai. Sand leaks through the ceiling through a cracked circular window above, and a few bullets shatter the glass completely bringing a torrent of sand crashing down onto the enemy soldiers below. Shortly after, we find ourselves creeping into a besieged mall, where once again there's the reverberating yells of the 33rd, escorting civilians to their imminent deaths. Shimmying down the spiral staircase, we stick to cover and shoot our way down to the ground floor, replacing our sawn-off shotgun with a grenade launcher and our M16 with a more common and easier to resupply AK-47.
Avoiding shooting the screaming men and women as they flee, we arc a few grenades into the larger groups of hostiles, sending them hurtling through the air. The Line's story and subject matter might be sombre, but it still does action-packed set pieces and does them exceedingly well, based on the few we encounter. Tapping B to vault over cover, we send Adams in to revive a downed Lugo, then have the duo lay down covering fire as we flank a turret on the ground floor. Shooting red explosive crates, we thin the enemy reinforcements, then shoot out the vertiginous high glass window looming behind the turret, keeping a tidal wave of sand at bay. As the glass blows out, there's a landslide burying the final stragglers and forming a makeshift embankment out to the deserted streets above.
The moment we emerge blinking into the sun, a helicopter swoops over our heads before being shot down crashing into a building in a spectacular billowing ball of orange flame. Retreating to a claustrophobic, winding network of tall concrete walls covered in political graffiti and decaying body parts, we exit onto another sandy road where defaced corpses hang from the streetlights. The silence is deafening as we make our way towards the City Gate, stumbling straight into a 33rd encampment and another fraught struggle against a stronghold guarded by a turret inside an abandoned bus. Making our shots count, we soon wander headlong into a bombardment of white phosphorous. A short pause ensues and an eerie atmosphere descends as the area glows bright white and a heavily armed soldier carrying a M249 SAW comes stomping out of the acrid smoke, in a surreal scene.
A couple of grenades and one dead heavy trooper later, and we come upon Walker's next lead towards finding Konrad; another captive Lieutenant called Gould. Grabbing a sniper rifle and a vantage point, we have a perfect view of an innocent woman being tortured in front of Gould, presenting Walker with a decision: save the civilians and sacrifice Gould, losing the lead in the process, or rescue Gould and leave the innocents to die. We choose to save Gould, gaining a map of his operation plan and the next clue Walker requires, as well as an uneasy feeling having let the prisoners die.
By this point, Walker and his fellow Delta operators have really been put through the wringer, and it shows in the cuts, wounds and threadbare patches on their combat gear. The final area of our hands-on looks like an insurmountable ordeal, but stealthily slitting the throat of a lone guard grants us access to a mortar cannon that we use to wipe out the entire camp below our positions without a seconds thought. What follows is a genuine shock and an unexpected twist - that we won't spoil here – after we're made to slowly walk through and contemplate the grisly devastation we've just caused.
Spec Ops: The Line promises to deliver more gut-wrenching moments like these, with gritty, unflinching scenes and decisions that'll make you think twice about your actions. And nothing is black and white either, so your choices won't always be straightforward or merely binary. Spec Ops: The Line is not only shaping up to be a well-made shooter then, but also one that has a brain and treats its subject with a bold maturity seldom seen in video games of its ilk.
Spec Ops: The Line is out in spring 2012. Check out 19 new screenshots in the gallery.