An American flag hangs tattered and torn in the sand dunes of Dubai. The city is now a shadow of its former self, beaten into the ground by relentless sandstorms. A booming voice asks, "Do you still intend to rescue me captain, now that you have seen what I have done?" As the sun rises in the sky, the voice calmly declares, "You must think I'm a monster, that I've gone insane. Come find us captain; we're waiting." This is the auspicious opening to Spec Ops: The Line, and it sets a dark tone for the game. "We intend to make The Line the most provocative shooter you've ever played," proclaimed lead designer Cory Davis on our recent visit to developer Yager's studios in Berlin. Can Spec Ops deliver on such a bold statement? Our first look suggests that Yager is well on its way to creating something just a bit different.
Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person shooter that tells the story of Captain Walker, the leader of an elite military outfit known as Delta Force. Walker is sent to the heart of the once-wealthy Dubai, which has been ravaged by vicious sandstorms, leaving the city in ruins. Your mission is to rescue the well-respected Army Colonel John Konrad, whose squad is declared MIA after staying in Dubai to aid civilians that could not escape the sandstorms. The twist to the tale comes from Konrad himself, who is a take on Colonel Kurtz from the film Apocalypse Now. Far from needing to be rescued, Walker discovers Konrad has gone insane from his time in the ruined city, which he now declares his home.
We were able to watch a short live demo of Spec Ops in action, which showed off a mission that took place one-third of the way through the game. The voice we heard at the beginning was that of Konrad, who was taunting Walker to come find him. Just after Konrad finished his speech, Walker and his squad were ambushed by a group of soldiers while scouting the desert. A rock soundtrack started playing to signal the start of battle--an interesting change from the usual orchestral fare that has scored many recent shooters. Taking cover behind a piece of concrete, Walker started blind firing at enemies and popping his head over the concrete to target them. However, his shooting was short lived because a rocket-propelled grenade missile destroyed the ground he was standing on, causing him to fall through the ground and into a concealed hotel lobby below.
Once indoors, we were treated to some great-looking interior environments, showcasing the modified Unreal engine that powers the game. Though everything had been destroyed, the lighting and reflection effects made it clear that the hotel was once a high-class establishment. We were unable to admire the scenery for too long, though, because Walker was ambushed again. This time, soldiers appeared from above, dropping in C4 charges before abseiling down to attack him. In addition to using cover, Walker commanded his squad. He was able to tell them to flank the enemies, hold back, and cover him in battle. We also caught a glimpse of a few weapons, including such shooter staples as the M16 rifle and the AA-12 auto shotgun, which laid waste to a group of enemies in seconds.
Our demo showed several of these battles taking place as Walker made his way through Dubai. One of these battles showed us how sand was used to kill enemies and change the environment. Walker entered a large room full of soldiers, as well as several civilians, and just above the soldiers was a set of large glass windows covered by sand. Walker was able to shoot out the glass windows, causing the sand to pile into the room. This killed the soldiers, but it was at the expense of civilian lives. We were told that it was possible to kill the soldiers without shooting out the glass, thus saving the civilians. Lead designer Cory Davis explained that there will be many situations in the game where the player has to make decisions between "what is morally justified" and the mission. It seems as though game is intending to delve into the gray area of morals, rather than the simple black and white of good versus evil.
On as dark a note as the mission began, it ended with Walker discovering a torched corpse dangling from some gallows, as the insane Konrad taunted him again. The inspirations from Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness, the book upon which the movie is based, were clearly present in our short demo. It will be interesting to see where Yager takes the story and just how deep the moral implications of the game go. We'll have to wait for a full hands-on to see how well the cover system and squad commands work, which are integral to the gameplay. Keep your eyes on GameSpot for more on Spec Ops: The Line in the lead-up to its release.