Disclaimer: To all those who actually care about buying this game. The score will tell you nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. This game happens upon one of those rare occasions where there is so much to say, and so much that is left to the player’s interests that a score is meaningless . This is one of those occasions where games prove that scores don’t matter. I know, interesting already, right? You should keep reading. Oh! It’s also on sale for $25 on Amazon for the next 2 weeks.
I’m a very wordy guy. A very wordy guy with big large grown-up opinions on a lot of topics. Which is why it astounds me that I’ve taken a full day to take in what I went through in playing through Spec Ops: The Line and still can’t find the right words. And truth is, I really don’t know if I’ll ever find them. And I don’t know if there’ll ever be those words to describe what I felt, in the way that will stay true to how it left me in the end. The Line has its faults, there is no doubt about that. But there hasn’t been a game to leave me utterly speechless yet, or one that has left me with so many questions. The Line takes risks that other developers are too scared to take. And that’s both its rise and fall. Let’s begin.
The Line is a third-person shooter which follows Captain Martin Walker and his two squadmates Lugo and Adams on a recon mission to scout out a radio transmission from the 33rd led by a long time friend of Walker’s, Konrad. It opens with an on rails helicopter sequence and quickly flashes back to their entrance to the sand ridden city of Dubai. From there, the game becomes a mind-bending conglomeration of both intrigue and confusion as Delta squad attempts to figure out what has happened to the city of Dubai.
The gameplay is just as you’d probably expect it to be. The shooting is extremely tight, with each punch carrying weight from the sound of it to the animation. There’s no shortage of arsenal here either, the game is packed with tons of guns from the ones you’d expect in a shooter to a mortar. But from there, don’t expect anything too exciting. Now, that’s not to say that’s a bad thing, it just doesn’t take the risks or leaps that Uncharted might. There are some moments where you can shoot out windows or fans to create a sand diversion but it really doesn’t go anywhere else. Another problem with it is the difficulty. I consider myself a pretty hardcore gamer and even at medium, the hordes of enemies seemed to be a bit unfair to the player, especially since ammo is incredibly scarce. You will go from dying 12 times in a row to breezing through an hour. There is no rhyme or reason to the changes in difficulty. The gameplay is helped along by the storyline, easily the game’s strongest point. Walker is faced with several decisions throughout the game, none of which impact the final ending in more than a minor way, but all of which are mind-numbingly cruel. These two elements work so well together that I couldn’t stop playing, and after I had beat it I tuned in for a second go.
The graphics are actually pretty incredible. The art direction is phenomenal and helped along by a vast array of locations. The Line will take Walker across the barren sands and through strangely lit nightclubs. The variety in the locale really softens the blow of the same shooting mechanic for the 6 hours it take to do a run through. As the game progresses, Walker and his squad become increasingly battered, and their character models are wonderful in showing this (much like the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham City). The sand seems to stretch on forever, and boy is it beautiful.
The sound is really where the game takes off. From popular songs such as “Hush” blaring out of a radio tower, and the heavy tracks that accompany fighting, there is never a dull moment audio wise. This is propelled even further by some of the most fantastic vocal performances I have ever heard in a game. Nolan North voices the main Captain Walker, and as the game progresses, so does his character voice. In fact, every character’s voice actor transforms as the game progresses. It is truly amazing and astounding. Something you really need to hear to believe.
And now to the interesting part. I truly saved the best for last, because this is the part of the review I have been dreading and is also the part that will inevitably either make you go out and buy this game, or wait for the bargain bin. I have never, ever played a shooter that isn’t about the enemy. The Line takes the shooter genre and spins it on its head crafting a masterpiece of a story in which the player is entirely focused on the mental dehibilitation that fighting a war takes on a soldier. This is a rare game where the player will focus on who he is killing. We are riddled with a market filled with shooters in which every fight is a gallery and enemy soliders are just that. Enemies. They carry no weight, one headshot to the next they are ragdolls just waiting to be disposed in order for the player to move on. The Line takes away the heroics. Throughout the course of the games campaign, you go from self-proclaimed hero to…well I’m still not even sure. To be honest, the game’s storyline is intentionally and ridiculously vague. Almost to a fault. It walks the line (punny) between being just utterly confusing and making its point, and I’d say it does that quite well. This is the first game since Far Cry 2 to make me look at my actions as a person, and realize at the end of the day there are no good guys or bad guys, only murderers. There are no heroes in war.
The loading screens throughout the game change to reflect the bleakness that is this game, and at one point it flashes “Do you feel like a hero yet?”. And I didn’t, and I don’t think I ever will. The Line is mindblowing, and despite its faults, the game manages to prove what so many others seem to hide from. Glorified killing is still killing, and there is no difference between what is right and what is necessary.