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Review

Spec Ops: The Line Review

  • First Released
    released
  • Reviewed
  • PC

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. The sights are even more captivating on the PC, as the higher resolutions make for more detailed textures and richer lighting effects.

Enemy shotgunner, under the peacock and in front of the grand piano!

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.

Vertigo, anyone?

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
6.5
Fair
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.
0 comments
FighterforJC
FighterforJC

Just got this game yesterday, played for only an hour or more.  But as far as the gunplay is concerned, I have zero problems with it.  In fact, it's great.  I appreciate the straightforward shooting as opposed to having to deal with specialized weapons and gadgets ala Ghost Recon Future Soldier.  I also love the fact that enemies aren't bullet sponges.

spikepigeo
spikepigeo

Chris got one thing right: the gunplay gets dull and the constant killing numbs you so that whenever a moral dilemma rolls around, it just doesn't feel as impactful as it should.


However...


6.5?? That's the score you give to games that have bugs and aren't detailed and have bad voice acting and other technical crap.


Spec Ops: The Line is gorgeous and polished and intense. Repetition aside, this game is fantastic. Also, the story on its own is really good.


6.5 isn't an opinion. The reviewer made his opinion known with words in the review. A 6.5 is simply an arbitrary number that he pulled out of his ass that does not match the words above at all. This is NOT a 6.5 -- simply because anything less than a 7 says "don't buy me" to most people. The reviewer knows this and his 6.5 is irresponsible... because people should buy and play this game.

Neovego
Neovego

6.5? At least give it a Lucky 7!

Yeah, the gameplay can be repetitive and annoying, but I got used to it later on as I got into the game.

I think Spec Ops: The Line is just telling you a moral story, something that is more unique than the cliche COD. The gameplay doesn't have to be perfect, but you know what? Who gives a f-ck!

COD is always trying to be perfect all the time, with the same gameplay and graphics. Some COD games like Black Ops 2 are fine, in terms of story. But in the end, COD just glorifies war, while Spec Ops don't. Even Brother In Arms doesn't glorify the WW2.

I'm glad there's a game out there that takes a break from all this "heroic cliche" like saving the world from terrorists or Russians as one of the members of an American cowboy squad.

Even though there won't be a sequel to The Line, there should be another game like that one.

Neovego
Neovego

Anyways, screw the reviewer who played too much COD!

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

After playing this game through myself I appreciate the review much more.

The stiff movement mechanics talked about are definitely there, and needlessly so.  The COD-style shooting gallery enemies and generic military yelling too.

To be honest I'm disappointed.  Not because it's a bad game, but because it had the chance to be something really special and it totally blew it.  Yes there is an original premise and setting and yes you're not shooting generic, stereotypically evil turban-heads the whole game, but the truly interesting stuff was too little too late, and the gameplay itself is truly boring.

I would have wanted to give it more points for what it tried to do, but unfortunately 6.5 is spot on.

Neovego
Neovego

We got a hardcore COD gamer here!

santinegrete
santinegrete

One of the most aritstically important games of this ending generation. Review judged this game as a whole package, but even that way they messed up. If you think story is important in games just get this.

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

Not sure about  a 6.5. Large disparity of review and user score, usually the indicator of a good game - Spec Ops is definitely an 8. If you pay close attention, too, the mindfuck/twist at the end gave you plenty of signs all along.

donigj
donigj

wow, after reading all the comments about how underrated this game is, you guys have convinced me to buy it!

dipdish
dipdish

Well, I'm actually more surprised to hear the random Turkish shout-outs, such as "Leave us alone, dirty American!", "Kill those shit-eaters," and such in the 2nd chapter of the game. Some of the Turkish words are totally mambo jumbo, though. Turks in Dubai, eh? = )

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@dipdish How could one middle eastern person possibly move to a different country? Insane right? smh

LordCrash88
LordCrash88

It's weird and sad....

But this article reminds me of Bioshock Infinite....."the disconnection between narrative and gameplay".....

But Bioshock got a 9/10 and The Line a 6.5/10.....that's not only unfair (I played both titles recently), it's even hilarious.... :/

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

@LordCrash88 Did you think that maybe there were *other* things that made up the score?  Like, you know, everything?

Crazed8
Crazed8

I gotta tell ya at times when I hear people complain about this game most people tend to miss the point of this game. I can see why people might not like this game but I genuinely believe that it is a very good game with a very good plot. It says what it needs to say in a good and powerful statement. If you don't like the game good for you but I feel as though it is very underrated.

pitosga
pitosga

Actually, I WILL make my own original post as I just thought of how this game could've been fundamentally better. And that's in managing to not have a shoot 'em up structure for a wrap-around. Something of an interactive cinematic experience akin to Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit or Heavy Rain, for instance. An alternative would be... survival... stealth action? There IS a cataclysm throughout the game, after all. So something along the lines of surviving a perpetual sandstorm in a dead city whilst avoiding most hostile encounters, or silently resolving these, might've worked out very well.

Maybe next time... not a chance if this one doesn't achieve commercial success, though.

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@pitosga No. Your opinion is henceforth completely invalid on all games for the remainer of time.

Nothing should ever follow Quantic Dreams example unless it is literally already a movie and you want to throw in some fake gameplay.

G-Man4ever
G-Man4ever

I am 1/2 trough the game and have to say that the reviews don't do it justice. When you think of a < 7 game you think at a technical wreck with a lame storyline and no graphics. This game just blows you away simply by the fact that it is so underrated. the graphics are AMAZING, both interior and exterior designs are so detailed, they match the area so well with a mixture of surreal luxury and combines it with devastation, both natural and man made. on top of this add the story line which from my point of view, is one of the most captivating and air-tight stories i heard in a FSP since COD:MW (2007). While i agree that the character may not respond always as you would like, and at times it does have a "stiff" feeling, this does not happen often. even with this issue, it's far from calling it broken, . Spec. Ops The Line may not be a diamond, but it's a diamond in the rough, and 6.5 is beyond unjust. there have been lots of games that were riddled by bugs and performance issues, and still got a 9+ rating (skyrim, gta 4, COD >MW1). 

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@pitosga @G-Man4ever MW and Spec Ops are completely different genres with completely different gameplay and stories, though.

Crazed8
Crazed8

This game taught me to mix Antidepressants into my ice cream. Its a excellent game the type that i believe everyone needs to play at least once.

monowasp
monowasp

This is one great game. Any fans of the Uncharted-series will love this game. There are no puzzles, but everything else is reminiscent of Naughty Dogs great games. Loved it.

X360PS3AMD05
X360PS3AMD05

Just finished it, and i give it a 10/10. I'm not surprised i guess at the low score, when mainstream floppage gets much higher

Konviktion
Konviktion

This is one of the most underrated games in history. It deserved a much higher score from reviewers.

Neovego
Neovego

And it already did with most reviewers, with the exception of Chris.

GetafixOz
GetafixOz

Zero Punctuations game of the year for what its worth. Im gonna play it now as I actually think Ben Croshaw is one of the few reviewers around with the right idea on where this industry should be heading.

powellGangingUp
powellGangingUp

This review's harsh on the game, sure the movements are not up to expectation and sure the gunfights aren't good but you gotta give them credit for other good elements they put in too! Every year they keep giving COD good points which I realized from MW2 that COD only changes in story and adding some MP elements! COD's stories are good and this game's story is even better, it isn't subtle but delivered some parts of storylines that COD couldn't. If reviewers are judging COD purely on great storylines and some attractive features which I think they do then they should done the same for this game too. 

IceJester45
IceJester45

Just got the game during the autumn Steam sale. It's quite good, I think. The campaign is excellent, even with the relentless killing. At least, I think it is.

zoczuki
zoczuki

I really like the story of this game

rtb61
rtb61

The game was horribly linear with very little choice in route taken. The endless frustration over the character leaping when you meant to crouch or sprinting only to stop short and crouch was bad enough to get me to unload the game after one play through.

3rd person conversions from game console to pc, are generally bad, this game is no exception, I wish they would label it as such.

6.5 was pretty generous as it is always all about the game play and this game was a 5 or less when it came to game play.

AtomicBaconBits
AtomicBaconBits

@vault-boy@rtb61 That's a terrible excuse.

 It's a videoGAME...GAMEPLAY is what should come first and foremost. It doesn't matter how good the story is, if it's not fun to play, then what's the point of playing it? The story is great, yes, but that's about it. Besides the story it's just another mind-numbing generic shooter. I wanted to like the game, but it bored me to death. I'm so tired of people losing sight if what matters. If the gameplay isn't fun, it doesn't matter how good any other element is.


pitosga
pitosga

@AtomicBaconBits @vault-boy @rtb61 

What is a game that is all about gameplay and no story than a generic game? The gameplay has to be VERY creative for it alone to make a game unique. The majority of games have a story to tell them apart from the rest. And this one's story certainly sets it apart, it's nothing short of outstanding. I agree with you in that the gameplay is all about the combat which can get tedious as it is too alike and there is so much of it. But remember this didn't have a triple A budget and a team of star developers behind it. For an obscure studio to have shown up and did something this good, it's a valiant effort. And they deserve the merit where its due, not to get slammed for not making the game 4 or 5 stars in every category because it's a military shooter and otherwise won't be noteworthy.

Hell, if you looked at The Witcher that way, would there have been a The Witcher 2? Would it have been as good as it was? And this is coming from me, who thinks the sequel is overrated. As well as the original, at least by the fans, as it has ghastly gameplay. I had far less fun in terms of gameplay in TW than in this game. Yet the story and structure were worthwhile and deserved kindling. So do this game's.

vault-boy
vault-boy

 @rtb61 I don't think you could have missed the point more if you were shooting in a completely different direction and the point was in a completely different country... across an entire ocean. You aren't there for good gameplay, if anything the bad gameplay reinforces what the game is trying to do. The uncanny feeling of the gameplay reinforces the mental instability of Walker throughout the gameplay because even when just shooting you are still feeling like something isn't quite right.

 

You might think that sounds stupid but look at survival horror. All of the greatest and most scary survival horror games have terrible combat because it reinforces the feeling the developers tried to make with the game, only in survival horror its the feeling of being helpless and weak.

 

Also, the story is the real reason you're there. But you, like many others, have just written it off as another mediocre Call of Duty clone.

Neovego
Neovego

@AtomicBaconBits

We got a smartASS wannABE here! And he played too much COD to even think clearly.

What a hater.

Hey, his name is BaconBits. That's a terrible excuse for a name. We should find that food and eat it!

Neovego
Neovego

@rtb61

LOL! Even COD is horribly linear!

We got an COD gamer suffering from a big tantrum!

You mad, bro? You quit The Line before you even finish it because of the control mechanics? All because of the crouch and sprinting?

Wow, why does this gamer exists anyway?

CommandoVD
CommandoVD

To be honest,In my opinion i think that this review is a bit harsh and underrating for a game like this.Except for it's stiff movements everything else in this game seems fine.Gripping storyline, impressive multiplayer features,very challenging gameplay makes this game a quite good third person shooter. 

HKILLER88888
HKILLER88888

i like it how no one knows that they did one fuck up!and that was the language! people of Dubai are ARABS they Speak ARABIC and Farsi Is the Language of IRANIAN i think those that dubed for EA's BATTLEFIELD 3 went straight to 2K saying we Dub Arabic parts for you so does this mean they didn't know the difference?

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@HKILLER88888 Actually the people of the UAE speak multiple different languages and so , no, it's not a fuck-up. I have relatives in Dubai, they speak English, and Arabic, and French, and other languages.

HKILLER88888
HKILLER88888

other than that this game was actually very perfect!should Get more than 6.5 it had a very strong story (short ofcurse!)

abhirajgoldy
abhirajgoldy

most under-rated game of the year for me,many negative points he mentioned are not even negative, even games like RE5 & GOW series have stiff movements mechanics,i respect the reviewers personal view, but it made this game looks bad (6.5 is considered pretty lame to be precise) in fact the game is quite good in all aspects

Spec Ops: The Line More Info

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  • First Released
    released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PS3
    • Xbox 360
    Conflict rages and morality is murky in this third-person shooter set in disaster-struck Dubai.
    7.8
    Average Rating1595 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Spec Ops: The Line
    Developed by:
    Yager
    Published by:
    2K Games
    Genre(s):
    Third-Person, Tactical, Shooter, Action
    Theme(s):
    Modern
    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