What makes an indie game developer successful is their ability to create unique and interesting games, to make up for the lack of money and manpower that AAA companies possess. So when indie company Yager Development teamed up with 2K Games to reboot the long dead Spec Ops series with Spec Ops: The Line, we were faced with two very possible outcomes; a perfect storm, where the money tornado that is 2K helps carry Yager into the heavens, or a perfect cumberland sausage, where the interesting ideas aren’t heard for all the gunfire and explosions of AAA titles.
A first glance at Spec Ops: The Line won’t inspire a lot of hope into the average indie gamer. It’s a third person shooter, with cover based shooting and a small arsenal of guns and grenades to use. Another war game, to add to the mountains that are dominating the console market. Whereas those who enjoy the runny shooty hidey playstyle of standard war games will quickly find it to be so much more than what they bargained for. You see, one can never judge a video game by its cover, and no game made me realise this quite as much as Spec Ops: The Line did.
The game starts off pretty straight forward. Your muscular protagonist Captain Walker, and his team Delta Force, stop by in a sandstorm-struck and desolate Dubai to catch some rays, pick up ladies, and investigate a transmission about American survivors needing extraction. Surprisingly enough, the mission doesn’t go as smoothly as one might hope, and they find themselves shooting it out with enemy forces. It plays fairly well, the shooting mechanics feel as polished as any other war game, and despite only having a single button to control your team, it’s surprisingly effective. Select a distant enemy, your ranged weapons expert will take him down (after a lengthy wait). Select a group of close enemies, and your other team member will chuck in a grenade. Together, you kill a bunch of enemy soldiers, and enjoy your holiday in the sun.
It doesn’t last too long, however, before things start to go particularly poorly. Delta Force start to realise that, amazingly, war isn’t as fun and glamorous as they’d hoped. Of course, the theme “War is bad!” is quite common among war games these days; they’re like toddlers, who have finally developed a sense of awareness, and have to show it off to everyone they meet. It’s pretty easy to overlook a game telling you that killing people is bad, whilst having you kill hundreds of soldiers in every mission, so when Spec Ops: The Line forces you to look at all the death, and all the civilian casualties, it’s nothing spectacular for a seasoned gamer. However, it is something spectacular for Delta Force, and this is where Spec Ops: The Line truly begins to shine; the player is immersed into the experience of a soldier who is developing post-traumatic stress disorder. Or perhaps it could be called ‘currently-traumatic stress disorder’.
Throughout the narrative, the player gets to make a variety of choices. Moral choice systems are again quite common in games, but you quickly realise that good intentions aren’t everything, and some choices you make can go quite disastrously wrong. Your mistakes weigh heavily on Delta Force, and in turn, begin to weigh heavily on you. After one particular decision, I found myself wanting to just stop playing, for if the story doesn’t progress, at least nothing else can go wrong. That’s when you know a game has really gotten into your head, when you no longer trust yourself to do what’s right. Although that seems to be another theme of the game, when you’re killing people, there isn’t really a nice way to go about it. At least there’s some pretty scenery during your descent into moral nihilism.
There is a fair amount of replayability to the game. Immediately after finishing my first playthrough, I readily started a second, to see if I could do a better job the next time around. However, it could partially be due to the fact that my first playthrough only took 7 hours, (at a leisurely pace, no less). Yes, it turns out Spec Ops: The Line is a very short game, a second playthrough may be needed just to make it feel like a normal length for a AAA title. Although realistically, the length works in its favour. There is an excellent narrative to Spec Ops: The Line, which could have been dragged out over a longer game, but it would only water down the experience, an experience with which so few games can compete. For that, a short campaign mode can be forgiven.
It only seems fair to mention that Spec Ops: The Line also features a multiplayer mode. After a brief trial, however, it’s easy to tell that Spec Ops: The Line should probably not feature a multiplayer mode. The online versus mode is completely dead, and the free co-op DLC provides us with no more than 4 brief missions, which add nothing to the game as a whole. Although the fact that it was released as a free DLC should give that much away, it was literally tacked on at the end.
Overall, I really enjoyed Spec Ops: The Line. It’s a shame it presents itself as a generic third person shooter, but I suppose it can’t show off what it truly is without giving away the story. It would be great if it were more of a commercial success, and I would love to see more games follow suit and focus on having such a well presented and original narrative. Despite its short campaign mode, and incredibly uninspired gameplay, I would highly recommend it to any gamer who can tolerate cover based shooting, who wants to have their mind blown with more force than a shotgun.