The action begins after a devastating sandstorm nearly wipes Dubai, United Arab Emirates, off the map. A U.S. military battalion, the “Dammed” 33rd, is sent in to help evacuate the city and lead survivors away from the windswept city.
The storm cuts off communications, and you, as Captain Martin Walker, now lead a small Delta Force into the remnants of the city, find anyone you can, and ultimately discover the fate of the 33rd‘s leader, Colonel John Konrad.
The game plays as a third-person shooter, with a wide variety of weapons and tactics typical to this genre. There is some squad-based action allowing the player to direct the other two members of Delta Force into position, fire on enemies, or heal an injured squadmate. Some weapons do have secondary modes, which come in handy for silent action (silencer) or taking out groups of enemies (grenade launcher).
But it is the story that drives this title. Walker (you) is presented with a series of choices throughout the game, some more obvious than others. The action twists and turns as your choices reveal new paths.
What makes this choice system unique is there is not necessarily a paragon/renegade decision to be made. Lead writer Walt Williams told CNN.com, “Sometimes there isn’t a right choice to be made, but you have to make one.”
Indeed, the options are less clear cut than in other games. Williams wanted players to experience the true feelings of helplessness that war presents soldiers in the field. Do you save the civilians from the firing squad or do you save the CIA agent who can possibly lead you to safety?
The tale is dark, foreboding and full of internal conflict. There were situations where I made a choice, saved the game, then reloaded before the choice to make a different selection because I didn’t know which one was “the right one.” But that’s what this is all about – it is the choice between lesser evils.
However, it was a situation where I wasn’t given a choice that affected me the most. While that speaks to the deep immersion of the game, it also flies in the face of what the game designers hoped players would feel by being in control.
Trying not to give away spoilers here, the ending left me frustrated and betrayed at the climax of the game. Many of the choices I made seemed to be irrelevant and the entire premise lead me to the story’s pinnacle whether I wanted to go there or not.
Also, the story also seemed to “rub my nose” in the choices I made, outright mocking them or showing me what could have been. I get this was done in an effort to break Walker’s will for story purposes, but as a player, this could have been handled differently without making me (the player) feel like an idiot.
The only choice that made any difference to me as a player was the last one – even though it was a very big one.
“Spec Ops: The Line” is a Hitchcock-like story, with twist, turns and double takes leaving your head spinning and questioning your own value system. Williams and his team should rightfully be praised for putting together a tale that does show the horrors and futility of war.
“Some people might not get it,” he said. “Even we might not get it right, but at least people will be thinking about making games this way. Someone might even do it better than we do in the future.”
The bar is high. While the action is solid, if unspectacular, the storyline will drive the player forward and keep them engaged throughout. How the game ultimately feels at the end will certainly vary from player to player.
It does succeed in showing the futility and helplessness soldiers are forced to deal with in combat situations. For that, it deserves high marks.
“Spec Ops: The Line” is available now in North America and Europe for Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. This review was done with a provided copy for the Xbox 360. No multiplayer action was available at the time of writing.