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Spec Ops: The Line Review

  • First Released
  • Reviewed Jun 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.

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

About the Author

Chris enjoys aiming down virtual sights, traipsing through fantastical lands, and striving to be grossly incandescent.

Just finished the campaign.  Game wasn't that bad, especially considering I picked this game up for $3 from K-Mart.  Gun Play was OK but a little lacking in much variety, simply take cover shoot, move forward, REPEAT.  Taking cover sometimes didn't work as it should and left you completely exposed for a few seconds.  Visually I thought it looked really good and the story didn't seem to make much sense to me, but all in all for $3 I am not going to complain and I had some fun playing it. I have a shelf full of games I have never completed so for me to finish a game,  that means it can't have been all that bad, I give it a 7/10.


Story was amazing! one of the best stories in game history.


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.


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


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!! 


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


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.


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.


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


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'.


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


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


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!  :)

Spec Ops: The Line More Info

  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 3 more
    • PS3
    • Unix/Linux
    • Xbox 360
    Conflict rages and morality is murky in this third-person shooter set in disaster-struck Dubai.
    Average Rating1603 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Published by:
    2K Games
    Third-Person, Tactical, Shooter, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language