Spec Ops: The Line – Spoilerfree PSA
I sat up all last night playing through Spec Ops: The Line. It took me a bit over 5 hours on normal difficulty, and I feel it was worth every moment and any sleepiness I suffered today. I will boldly claim this is the best modern military shooter I’ve played in many, many years, and I think this is a very important game.
The strength of the game is not its mechanics though. No, it lies with the narrative, of which I will not spoil a single thing, nor confirm or deny anything you might or might not have heard. All I will do is urge you to check it out. I can pretty much guarantee it will be an experience unlike anything you’ve seen before, at least in gaming.
If you have played the game, you should follow Desgardes’s advice and go read this week’s Extra Punctuation. Stay away from that link if you haven’t though, as you’ll be doing yourself a great disservice.
If you haven’t played the game, then Desgardes says you really should, and I would listen to that, because I did. If you are still not convinced, I will try to explain why you should play this game, so feel free to keep reading, but I won’t blame you if you’d rather go play right now.
FINAL EDIT: I was in an overly negative mood last time I attempted this, so I’ve tried to do a more balanced piece on what I thought about the whole thing, instead of just picking at the flaws like I usually do. Maybe I ended up being too gushing this time, but so be it.
Since I promised myself, despite my urges, to forego any and all spoilers for this one, I will do my best without. This is all in regard to the PC version.
The marketing for this game, mainly the trailers, did not do a good job at showcasing why this game is different. They made it seem like just another generic shooter, which is selling the game way short.
First off I’ll say that Dubai is a very interesting setting. Even with all the sand deposited on everything from the storms, it is a beautiful, distinct and almost mystical-looking place. I can’t remember who said it, but someone mentioned that Dubai is the closest thing we have to a real-world Rapture (of the Bioshock variety, not the biblical kind), and I have to say they have a point.
The shooting is not ground-breaking, but it is competent and the weapons feel satisfying to use. Since cover can be destroyed, you can’t take many hits and ammunition is relatively scarce compared to other shooters I’ve played, it encourages a greater emphasis on tactics, teaching you rather fast (the hard way) how to prioritise enemies, when to use grenades, making your shots count, and how to attempt flanking. While the game starts out relatively easy, it is not afraid to ramp up the difficulty and throw some proper challenge at you, even on Normal setting.
The developers also tried to make the sand itself into a mechanic, with mixed success. Getting caught in a sandstorm is quite the experience, and using a grenade to throw up a cloud of sand to provide a handy distraction feels neat. Shooting out windows to make sand rush in rarely feels essential (though it did occasionally help), but shooting out a window someone is standing on never fails to amuse me.
As I mentioned, I played through the game in a single sitting, and curiously enough I was not especially affected by shooting fatigue. They break up the action with setpieces now and again, and they do a good job of avoiding monotony with the weapon variety. If you come up on a group of enemies not yet aware of your presence, you might listen in on an interesting bit of dialogue, and then have the opportunity to try out a bit of stealth killing (or just interrupt and kill them right away). I usually fucked it up before long, but even just being able to even the odds a little and set up an ambush was nice. And of course the narrative keeps you engaged so you just want to see what happens next.
Speaking of the narrative, it is definitely the strongest point of the game. It came across as strongly focused and tightly directed. It kept taking me deeper down the rabbit hole, and threw surprises at me whenever I thought I had things figured out. The characters were well-written, I got a sense they all had their own agenda, motives and feelings, and I actually started to care about them. I really can’t say more without going into spoilers, so saving that for the next post.
So to conclude, Spec Ops: The Line is a game that is not afraid of challenging you (both gameplay-wise and thought-provokingly) and using its tight narrative to make you feel something that I would go so far as to claim is unique in gaming so far. It is not a perfect game, and they have messed up the marketing a bit, but I will say it’s a very important game. Possibly the most important one this year. If anyone wants to see gaming be more than simple entertainment, this game has made itself a prime example, which is quite rare in the AAA world.
So I’ll say it again that you should listen to Desgardes and go play Spec Ops: The Line.