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Review

Spec Ops: The Line Review

  • First Released
  • Reviewed: June 27, 2012
  • PS3

A striking vision of a devastated Dubai plays host to murky morality and banal gunplay in Spec Ops: The Line.

Spec Ops: The Line is a game rife with contrast. In the sandstorm-wracked city of Dubai, refugees huddle in crude shanties erected in the opulent atriums of luxury hotels, and soldiers construct rough outposts in swanky rooftop clubs. On these makeshift battlefields, most of your time is spent casually gunning down hundreds of enemy combatants, but your squadmates still argue passionately over the value of one anonymous virtual life. Mechanically, Spec Ops is an utterly commonplace third-person shooter, but narratively, it strives to raise philosophical questions and put you outside of your comfort zone. These contrasts create some intriguing moments, but they are too often muddled by mediocre execution.

The environmental design is one of the highlights. A fierce sandstorm has left Dubai with an entirely new geography, one defined by sliding dunes and sandy canyons. Trapped by the swirling debris, the citizens are forced to create makeshift shelters amid the towering skyscrapers, carving out settlements in the luxurious wreckage. Walk just past the glittering peacock statues and extravagant mosaics to find rickety cots, shabby walls, and dirty sheets.

A battalion of American soldiers have taken up residence here too, following their failed evacuation attempt, and their military outposts add an ominous air of conflict to the landscape. The artifacts of the aborted exodus tell a story too; cars are abandoned, belongings have been left behind in a hurry, and desperate pleas for help adorn the walls.

These striking scenes are punctuated by the politically charged graffiti that some stranded artist has created around the city, anonymous accusations that target the suffering of the people (smiling images of hotel guests with their eyes hollowed out) and those who helped exacerbate an already bad situation (a skeletal news anchor holding a smiling yellow puppet). The disparate architectural and artistic threads intertwine to create a fascinating landscape, one that is a pleasure to explore despite the merely decent production values.

Spec Ops often uses color and light to great effect.

Unfortunately, no such creativity is found in the actual combat. Gunplay in Spec Ops: The Line is a simple matter of taking cover, popping out to shoot enemies, and advancing to more cover from where you will shoot more enemies. The guns you fire are a fine military array of assault rifles, shotguns, sidearms, and heavy weaponry. The enemies you fire them at return the favor vigorously but lack the kind of artificial intelligence that can liven up a firefight. There are a few neat opportunities to destroy barriers or ceilings and let the environment kill your foes, but the bulk of the time you're serving up headshots to anything that moves (and getting a nice slow-motion flourish for your troubles).

This humdrum gunplay is paired with slightly clunky movement mechanics, which might see you failing to sprint on cue or melee attacking a low barrier instead of vaulting over it. Spec Ops does not compare favorably to its genre peers when it comes to maneuvering around the battlefield, but these shortcomings are rarely an issue in the single-player campaign. In the competitive multiplayer modes, however, they become a hindrance exacerbated by your relative fragility. Some interesting map layouts, a light class system, and a nice array of objective-based modes can create some fun conflicts, but the creaky locomotion makes it unlikely you'll feel invested enough to make a significant dent in the bevy of unlockable weapons, perks, and gear options.

The campaign itself can be completed in under seven hours, and the journey you undertake is inspired by the novel Heart of Darkness, in which a man journeys upriver into the jungle to seek a powerful and enigmatic character who may or may not have gone off the deep end. In Spec Ops, you play as Walker, one of three Delta Force soldiers who arrive in search of Colonel Konrad, an American commander who took his battalion to Dubai against orders in hopes of saving the people trapped therein. It quickly becomes clear that the situation in the city has deteriorated drastically, and there are numerous factions struggling for survival.

Though your mission is to rescue survivors, the first humans you encounter are hostile. A failed attempt at communication leaves you no choice but to fight back, and this pattern repeats throughout much of the campaign, establishing one of the main narrative contrasts of Spec Ops. You're there on a rescue mission, but you just can't seem to stop killing people.

Enemy shotgunner, behind the jewel-encrusted peacock!

Sometimes, you are given a choice. Try to rescue the potentially friendly operative, or save two innocent civilians? Who is guilty, the man who stole water for his family, or the soldier who administered harsh justice? There are no right or wrong decisions, just a difference in who dies and how. These moments shine a spotlight on your squad chatter as Lugo and Adams chime in on the situation you are presented with. They generally argue different sides and react strongly to what you do, but your character's response is almost always to bully them with talk of "doing what's right" or "doing what you had to do." Then it's back shooting the guys who are shooting at you and exchanging profanity-laden victory shouts. The moments meant to encourage reflection fade to the background, drowned out by the overriding narrative justification of self-defense.

There are some story moments that make an impression, however. There's a humorous homage to the similarly inspired movie Apocalypse Now, and a number of licensed songs are piped in to the battlefield to set an appealing fatalistic tone. Both of these examples are the work of the mysterious Radio Man, a disembodied and incongruously jocular voice emanating from speakers rigged throughout the city. Other moments force you to look at the horrors you've wrought, but these often feel cheap because you so rarely have a choice in your action. It's not until late in the campaign that Spec Ops gets more daring and disruptive with its storytelling, but by then it feels like too little, too late.

The disconnect between the gameplay and the narrative elements of Spec Ops: The Line is numbing, which makes it more difficult to contemplate the murky morality of war in the way the game wants you to. There are some intriguing things to be teased out of your adventure through the lovely ruins of Dubai, but the contrast between ambition and execution makes the experience as unsteady as the shifting sands.

The Good
Engrossing amalgam of art and architecture
Memorable moments, both humorous and shocking
The Bad
Stiff movement mechanics
Relentless killing overrides moral dilemmas
6.5
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Spec Ops: The Line

About the Author

With his Apple IIGS as the spark and his neighbor's NES the fuel, Chris Watters' passion for gaming caught fire early. Y

Discussion

4 comments
KiriharaZro
KiriharaZro

I just finished the buried demo on PS Store and I have to say just for the demo I give this game an 8! now its on my wish list even now in 2014! I hope I found a retail copy.

Justforvisit
Justforvisit

Just finished the campaign right now and I have to agree with the comments.6.5 is WAAAAAY too harsh.

sk8r031
sk8r031

This game deserve more than 6.5!! come on, one of the best game i have played with a good story line! i will give 8.5 for this!! 

mnf71
mnf71

Is a good game but more better Ghost Recond Future Soldier highly tactical, using gadgets and stalk unsuspecting enemies like a predator :)

WitIsWisdom
WitIsWisdom

Everybody is entitled an opinion, but this game recieving a 6.5 is a crap opinion in my opinion.  This game outshines most modern day shooters in almost every category and is EASILY the best 3rd person shooter on the PS3.  Sure it has some stiff controls at times (like the weird cover system hang ups), but I am so sick and tired of game producers trying to do a little TOO MUCH!  I actually felt like Spec Ops the Line has a perfect blend of new mechanics, but somehow still holds that good old fashioned thing some may call "fun!"  I know, that's a shocker huh?  Shooters in general aren't usually known for their awesome storylines, and although I didn't always love the way the story went in my playthrough of the game, it was very interesting and it did NOT just feel like the same old crap that has been shoveled down our throats for years.  Games like this get a bad rap because they try to take a step in a different direction, while other games that are clones of massively popular games take crap from the media saying they dont have any originality...  rock and a hard place huh?  I guess if it isn't CoD, BF, GoW, or Uncharted the game doesnt deserve a higher score.  By the way, this game is a TON more fun and challenging at higher levels of gameplay then ANY of the other games I mentioned.  If you havn't played this game and you are a shooter fan, you will have a good time with this game hands down.  Other then not having a designated jump button, and the awful snap to cover so many games are adding these days, this games campaign rates higher then ANY other shooter I have played on the PS3 (yes, including BF3).  I think they did a great job with the game, and with a CoD label taped to the cover it would have easily scored a 8.5 to a 9.

MoeDiggity
MoeDiggity

I respect the reviewer's opinion, and I do understand his criticisms, but I think you can throw the same criticisms out there and give it an 8.0 or 8.5.  I think the story is interesting.  Clearly an adaptation of Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now, but to my knowledge this has yet to be done in a video game.  The moral decisions you must make are kind of cool.  As a shooter it's decent.  The cover system works just fine, but it does get a bit repetitive.  But backed up by a good story and good graphics (well, respectable graphics anyway), I think a 6.5 is unduly harsh.  I almost didn't buy the game because of that review until I searched around a bit more and found that almost everyone else gave it an 8.  The criticisms in this review are legitimate, but don't let the 6.5 score scare you off because it's definitely undeserved.

Sali217
Sali217

I don't really understand how this game got a 6.5 and MW3 got an 8.5...

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

Having read this review it sounds like the demo is a pretty fair representation of the finished product. So it's not the moral Rubix cube it sounded like it was going to be, I can live with that. It seems like a functional shooter in an unusual setting. I'll pick it up. My only problem is I'm getting a little fed up with hearing Mr. North's voice in everything. He's a talented voice actor that really seems to enjoy his work, but why does every studio insist on him giving them the 'usual'.

TheCyborgNinja
TheCyborgNinja

I just wished the game wasn't such a sausage fest. They could've used a Michelle Rodriguez archetype in the party.

winshot
winshot

Comeon man 6.5? This game can easily score 8 .... o.o

NYSailorScout
NYSailorScout

Oh Chris, you have certainly had your share this month, eh? If you are forced to eat any more crap sandwiches, you might just quit based on the lingering taste! I would have never thought that being PAID to play video games could ever be unappealing but here we are.

 

P.S.  2K Games'check was clearly late this month!  :p  I kid, but you would think that publicly getting their asses blown out by Gamestop would make game publishers think twice before putting out garbage like this. Or not. Well, as I always say, carry on!  :)

Nvzman
Nvzman

@WitIsWisdom Um, play Uncharted. It's not entirely a third-person shooter but it is basically this game's shooting mechanics but MUCH MUCH better, plus the story is longer and better.

Leboyo56
Leboyo56

Kind of funny because I gave MW3 a 6.5. Wonder what I would give this game once I play it.

NYSailorScout
NYSailorScout

 @Iridescent406 That is incorrect. If this site had a GENUINE 1-10 scale, then you are correct. But like many game sites, this really runs on a 7-10 scale. 

eisa
eisa

 @Iridescent406 I know this is a late .If I may add. Statistically, the issue is you shall not refer to a population using the median because it has a lot of limitations, as it is nearly the half of the data on a normal distribution scale. The correct method is to calculate the standard deviation which gives accurate representation of data to the population. When time is subjected, continues evaluation of data is important because what was considered then an impressive game may appear otherwise if you account (reviewers, release data, people trends, market penetration, etc.) As for my view point, I do not take reviews seriously enough because after all (important game elements aside) are merely subjected and not objected opinions. Thanks.  

Iridescent406
Iridescent406

 @WitIsWisdom I've seen plenty of instances where 5 does act like the median score of many websites and magazines. In recent examples, Gamespot has been more a-keen to that, given how much of a critical stand-point most of it's reviewers have now. You're looking at the scoring rubric like it was one for a common high-school. Obviously a 50% would be considered an F in school, but this isn't school; this is a videogame. I've come to enjoy plenty of games with this supposed "failure" score, like Lost Planet 2. And besides, even if we did go by that scoring system, this game wouldn't be a failure, but rather inadequate compared to a lot of other games, which sounds a little appropriate given the context of this review. As for your 1,422 owned games, I'm willing to bet that most of them are actually good, given the fact that most developers actually put effort into their games. Just because the average score could be a 7.2, that doesn't mean it's the median, it could just mean that there are more good games than bad games (which there is, in my opinion). Spec-Ops getting a 6.5  shouldn't bother you, especially if you enjoy it as much as you do. In fact, I would love to see what you think about it in a review.

WitIsWisdom
WitIsWisdom

 @Iridescent406

 Just because the number 5 is half of 10 does not mean it is the median score of games. 5 is not and will never be considered an average game regardless of what magazines or websites tend to have you seemingly convinced that is the case..  You want 3 examples... ok, any and EVERY gamesite and magazine on the market...  A score of 5 out of 10 is the same as 5/10 or 50%...  50% is not a good score on anything.  Only dissapointing or near broken games these days score below the 7 to 6.5 range.  Most of the time games in the sub 7 range are considered to have recieved poor reviews.  A 6.5/10 is a 65% which on a grading scale is an F.  This game IS NOT an F, and much closer to an A or a B which would equate to a 8 or 9 out of 10.  Want a perfect example?  I have 1,422 games registered as owned on THIS website with an average score of 7.2.  Not only that, but I am a collector that has a TON of games that are considered to be the worst of the worst just because I want to own them, and they are pulling my average game score down CONSIDERABLY.  An "average" game score these days is most definately rated on a 7-10 scale, even if that should not be the case.

Iridescent406
Iridescent406

 @NYSailorScout That doesn't really make a lick of sense. If you've payed any attention to recent reviews on this site (or any site for that matter), you'll find that the median has, and always will be at a 5. The scale that you're talking about only exists in the realms of people who just can't possibly give a game below a 7 without referring to it as crap first. I'd really like you to prove me wrong by showing me at least 5 professional websites that go by this mysterious scale of yours.

Spec Ops: The Line More Info

  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 3
    • Xbox 360
    Conflict rages and morality is murky in this third-person shooter set in disaster-struck Dubai.
    7.9
    Average User RatingOut of 1565 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Spec Ops: The Line
    Developed by:
    Yager
    Published by:
    2K Games
    Genres:
    Tactical, Action, Third-Person, Shooter
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language