Spec Ops: The Line is the latest entry in the long running military shooter series, with the last game in the series having been released back in 2002. Spec Ops: The Line was announced nearly 3 years ago, and has gone through some lengthy periods of media silence after it was initially shown. It’s back in the public now, and its release of June 26 is fast approaching. I got a chance to try the game for myself at PAX East, and I am still not sure what to think.
The demo begins with your character in a helicopter flying over what appears to be a run-down middle eastern city. You then jump on a turret and begin shooting at other helicopters. An on-rails turret section isn’t the most compelling way to open a demo, and it sure didn’t give a good first impression. First of all, the aiming on for this turret was terrible. I felt like an idiot completely missing the other choppers with my minigun, but the aiming was just uncooperative. Now, I understand it is probably very difficult to aim a huge minigun in a helicopter moving very fast, weaving in an and out of skyscrapers, trying to hit other helicopters that are also moving very fast and weaving in and out of skyscrapers, but this is a video game. If I wanted to know how difficult it is to fire a mounted gun in a helicopter, I’d watch a military documentary. The bottom line is this section made for very frustrating and tedious gameplay, and I still don’t know why this is where they though they should begin a promotional demo.
After some helicopter crashing drama, we flashback to before this all happened, when our squad of soldiers is first arriving in what is revealed to be Dubai. After a lengthy cutscene, we get control of our hero, voiced by none other than Nolan North. There is an extended sequence of just walking through ruined cars and sand dunes, with no combat, where the soldiers talk amongst themselves. This is obviously to develop the characters, but I found myself having a hard paying attention or caring. Now to be fair, like I said in my Dragon’s Dogma write up, the loud and overcrowded show floor is not really the ideal place to judge the game’s character development and story elements. I know for a fact that if I was playing this game at home with a nice couch to sit, refreshments, and the ability to actually hear the game clearly, I would appreciate the character and story aspects of the game much more.
After a few minutes of dialogue and walking through deserted wreckage, we finally come up to some combat. You are immediately ambushed and pinned down by enemies, but there is some sort of glass tank filled with sand behind the enemies. By shooting the glass, the sand comes crashing down and engulfs the enemies. Now, before I played this game myself, the only things I had heard about it were “sand”, “morality”, and “third person shooter”. Now, I didn’t get much of a sense for the moral component, but there was plenty of third person shooting, and the sand dynamics were actually pretty cool. As for the actual shooting itself, it seemed perfectly serviceable, though there didn’t seem to be such to set it apart. You’ve got the standard third person shooter repertoire available to you, like sprinting, taking cover, vaulting over cover, sliding between cover, blind-firing, and so on. However, once again, the aiming just didn’t seem as good as it could have been. I hate to always compare third person shooters to Gears of War, but it is the best, and the aiming and shooting in Spec Ops just didn’t feel as good.
After spending about 10 minutes with Specs Ops: The Line, I didn’t really see anything to set it apart in the overcrowded shooter genre. I have personally had it with the modern military setting, but if the supposed morality element of Spec Ops can be done well, it could really make it stand out from the “WOOOO! America!” vibe of most modern military shooters. However, there is only the hope, as I didn’t really see a whole lot in the demo that played with morality. There is certainly the possibility, as some of the story elements do hint at moral ambiguity, but until I see the final product, I can’t really say how well that stuff will be done. From what I saw of it, Spec Ops: The Line seemed like a fairly standard third person shooter with decent enough gameplay, some admittedly cool though underutilized sand physics, and a terrible on-rails segment.