Spec Ops: The Line Hands-On Preview – Do The Right Thing
Written Monday, May 28, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
There are no tough moral choices at the beginning of Spec Ops: The Line. Just a lot of helicopters to shoot down with a blazing minigun. It's all-out action that sets the scene, before the game flashes back to how you got yourself into this whole sorry mess to begin with. Picking up with Captain Martin Walker and his Delta Force squad – Sergeant Lugo and Lieutenant Adams – slap-bang in the middle of the ruins of Dubai in the aftermath of a cataclysmic sandstorm, there's an introduction to the various cover shooter mechanics and the sandy stuff, but it's the atmosphere of Spec Ops that hits you first.
Surrounded by swirling sand, there's a strange ethereal beauty to Spec Ops: The Line's realisation of Dubai, as well as an air of all-pervading menace as the sun beats down on Walker and his buddies plodding through the sand, leaving their footprints behind as they search for the errant Colonel John Konrad. And of course it's not long before Walker's attracting unwanted attention from the hostile forces of the Damned 33rd, a rogue unit of American soldiers running amok through Dubai, executing civilians and taunting Walker, Adams and Lugo as they progress.
Stalking through buried cars, billboards and buses, Dubai is an eerie place, completely deserted save for rotting corpses slumped in the seats of buses and people's personal effects scattered across the sand. As you'd expect, The Line's opening moments act as a straightforward tutorial, and your first encounter with the copious torrents of sand that you can use to your advantage to save on ammunition. In this initial instance, you can shoot out the windows of a teetering bus filled with the stuff to bring it cascading down on to the heads of your enemies, burying them in a second. That's nothing compared to what comes later though.
Early on in the game, the action heats up before you really even understand what's going on, and before long, you're falling into a gaping sinkhole and descending deeper into the sandy hell beneath Dubai. Landing in an incredible, gaudy hotel, decorated in lustrous gold and blue, The Line's Dubai is an environment of extreme contrasts, although pretty much anywhere you go, you can count on there being plenty of sand. And death. Once again, sand comes into play during a shootout in the hotel's bar, where we're flanked from either side by AK47-toting bad guys rappelling through the huge skylight above.
Sections of the glass ceiling that remain intact can be shot out, killing two birds with one stone if you're lucky. You can shoot the glass from underneath the enemy above, and hopefully drop the sand resting on the glass onto anyone hiding behind cover below. The gunfight soon concludes when one of the enemy soldiers lobs some C4 explosive our way, forcing us to head down an elevator shaft on the trail of Lt. McPherson, who we encountered during our last hands-on with Spec Ops: The Line.
Down below, there's surreal murals painted onto the walls along with the graffiti that's been daubed all over the place, hundreds of lit candles placed all over the floors marking out the path ahead and massacred soldiers line the corridors. There's something truly rotten afoot, as we soon find out when we run into McPherson once more. It's here that we're presented with our first moral dilemma, although it's not immediately apparent. There's no indication that there's even a choice to make. You're just there and you're pointing your gun. What you do with it is entirely your call. Whether you're prepared for the consequences of your actions is another kettle of fish entirely.
Our first decision made, and the die is cast. Did we make the right choice? You'll ask yourself the same question, as Walker vocally strives to rationalise his actions to Adams and Lugo. Sometimes, they might not be all that convinced. “I trust you, I just don't agree with you,” Adams tells Walker at one point. Still, they'll never question your orders, and you can use Adams and Lugo to your advantage, ordering them by holding the right bumper and releasing it over the targeted objective or enemy. You can exploit this a bit, as enemies are marked out as red silhouettes wherever you point the triangular command cursor, which helps draw a bead on hidden troops, but then Spec Ops is a fairly tough game even on the easiest difficulty, so any help is welcome.
Ammo is especially scarce and even a few bullets will put you down quickly if you're not careful. The 33rd don't take any prisoners, and will even send a guy running at you brandishing a combat knife just to get the jump on you. Suffice to say, the standard rules of engagement have gone right out of the window. Pressing on, there are more set-pieces and another, more pertinent decision to make that threatens to divide your squad. Spec Ops: The Line is a military shooter that demands you engage your brain before blindly pulling the trigger, although there's more than enough of that too. Pulling the trigger, that is.
A month away from launch, and Spec Ops: The Line has everything in place to be more than just your average military shooter, with some real substance to its narrative along with the usual array of action-packed set-pieces. The sand mechanics are well-implemented, but seem mostly prescribed at present, while an interesting use of music lends the game the feel of a Vietnam war movie. Inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the Apocalypse Now influence is also clear in the ten chapters we've played through so far, and that can only be considered a good thing from a story perspective. With the gameplay in place, Spec Ops: The Line looks set to be every bit the fantastic shooter we're hoping it'll be.
Spec Ops: The Line is out on June 26th in North America and June 29th in Europe. You can read our multiplayer preview here.