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The overall idea since Spec Ops was re-announced in 2009 was to deliver you a hard-hitting third person action experience but with an intriguing storytelling twist. Achieving one of the two isn’t all that bad. The storytelling twist ultimately boils down to simple moral choices, minus the moral part. There never seems to be a right or wrong choice no matter what the situation. It always boils down to how bad do you want mess things up in the crumbling city of Dubai? The actual goal for Spec Ops: The Line seems to be to make you feel like complete shit by the time the credits roll. It succeeds.
Spec Ops forcefully inserts you into this terrifying world by introducing you through a rather lackluster controlled helicopter/turret sequence, from there the main character through this journey, Walker (voiced by the always excellent Nolan North), and his two squad mates set out on a journey into the heart of Dubai just to find out what is going on there. The 33rd, a group of American soldiers, has been silent for a while now and it’s your job to find out the details behind it all. From there, Spec Ops breaks the early boredom from the turret sequence by beginning a rather intriguing story, filled with questions as to who is actually doing right here, who’s wrong, who’s alive, and really, what the hell is happening?
One of the things you quickly pick up on is the fact that Spec Ops looks rather bland. Nothing pops apart from the huge amount of sand, and sand isn’t necessarily the most beautiful piece of art on the planet. Every texture looks like it needed a bit more work and the animations for sprinting and getting in and out of cover are just way too slow. It deadens the attempt at some excitement during the combat. The slight bright spot is the attention to detail on the characters. Throughout the game, some pretty rough things happen to you and your squad, which is clearly reflected by the look on one another’s faces and your actual appearance. Your suit gets torn up, your face bleeds and the blood dries, and most importantly, as your sanity decreases, you can tell just by facial expressions.
The previously mentioned combat is similar to the looks of the game; it leaves quite a bit to be desired. While the actual mechanics aren’t too bad (apart from the aforementioned animation issues), the sound of the weapons and the lack of kick you experience when using them really dampens the whole experience. There is also some lazily introduced squad mechanics such as marking a target for your squad mates to take out. Apart from that, the squad mechanics are non-existent. While this is definitely not the case, it seems as if the guys at Yager (developers of Spec-Ops) forgot the squad mechanics were even implemented and never attempted fleshed them out further. The combat is not awful, nor is it bad. It’s mostly there with the sole purpose of continuing an expanding story.
Spec Ops, like it or not, has multiplayer in it. The mediocrity of the combat and overall ugly design (for some reason, the game looks even worse in multiplayer) makes for one mess of a multiplayer experience. The level design is disjointed and confusing, the modes are generic, and you have about as high of chances of finding someone online to play with as you do actually having fun when you do find a few people. It’s clear that multiplayer was far from Yager’s mind as they went through the development process. Plain and simple, multiplayer should have been cut from Spec-Ops all together.
The “not great but not bad” mantra is something that applies to almost (with the exception of the multiplayer) every inch of Spec Ops.. It’s the storytelling and the unique story itself that made me actually enjoy my time with Spec Ops. It makes you constantly feel a sense of regret and sadness that no other game, let a long a shooter, can make you feel. While you won’t be technically impressed with Spec Ops, it deserves to be played just to experience the emotional rollercoaster that is the campaign. In a world filled with boring, mindless shooters that simply rely on getting to the next combat encounter, Spec Ops is just what the doctor ordered to garner some more interest in the genre.
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