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Spec Ops: The Line - Trying Not to Be a Typical Shooter

Rather than relying solely on set-pieces, Spec Ops: The Line uses strong subject matter to engage the player.


Chances are you've read or heard about Joseph Conrad's famous novella Heart of Darkness. The story is quite well known and has been used as the basis of a number of different mediums, including the incredible film Apocalypse Now. When we initially heard about and saw footage surrounding Yager and 2K's upcoming game, Spec Ops: The Line, the connection was made. We spent some time with a few chapters of the upcoming game, and while references to the novella and film are visible, Spec Ops: The Line looks to change the way people approach war-themed tactical shooters.

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You'll play as Captain Martin Walker, the leader of a Delta reconnaissance squad that has landed in Dubai and is out to retrieve the thought-to-be-missing Colonel John Konrad. Konrad had been in Dubai six months prior, leading his 33rd team as part of a humanitarian relief squad. Back then, the city was ravaged by constant sandstorms, and the evacuation of its citizens was required. But due to various constraints, not all of the citizens were able to be removed safely, and Konrad took it upon himself to ensure that those left behind were not left to die stranded. He and his squad lost contact with others, and it was feared they may have perished because of the conditions. After six months of silence, a radio transmission was picked up, and a retrieval mission was sent to find the source of the message.

Walker and two of his squad members land in the outskirts of the city and begin their trek to find Konrad and/or any other surviving members of the 33rd. As they make their way through the city, they encounter many challenges, both human and natural, in the hopes of retrieving Konrad or at least figuring out what has happened to the area over the last six months.

The Line plays like most third-person shooters. You use cover and a plethora of different weapons as you make your way through the various areas. Walker will be able to issue commands to his two partners, but these commands are basic functions like focusing fire on a specific target or throwing grenades and flashbangs. While the commands are pretty minimal, both accompanying soldiers are smart enough in the battlefield that you rarely have to tell them what to do.

What the heck happened here?
What the heck happened here?

Where The Line hopes to differentiate itself from other wartime shooters is in the narrative. Because it borrows elements of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the developers are looking to capture the audience not with the various firefights you'll encounter, but by the way this journey and the surroundings begin to alter your psyche.

The weather will alter the way you approach certain areas. Since the city has been all but destroyed by the sandstorms, moving around areas will be difficult, and many times, the Delta squad will need to find alternative routes to use. At the same time, the weather will play into how to deal with foes in an area. When a sandstorm does occur, you'll have to try to battle not only foes that come your way, but the reduced visibility. In these scenarios, making quick decisions and finding safe areas will be vital to your survival.

The narrative will also change the way your characters progress through the game. While The Line's story is going to be a linear experience, there will be times when your decisions will transform the way the characters react to one another. In one area in particular, there will be a situation in which Walker will have to make a choice in regard to keeping one of two people alive. In most people's eyes, there may be only one or two possible outcomes, but in fact, there are four choices, and your decision here will cause characters to react differently. This is just one area where choice comes into play, and it is expected that there will be other situations where choosing one action over another will alter the progression of the story. On top of that, because these soldiers are in a dire situation, the problems they encounter may cause their relationships and their feelings about the situation to change. These psychological changes will surely cause a tense finale.

 Visibility will play a big part in the combat.
Visibility will play a big part in the combat.

The time we spent with Spec Ops: The Line allowed us to play through five chapters of the game in the first half. We got a rundown on the events that happened during those parts of the game we didn't play, and they did feature a lot of areas of interest and situations where the characters faced dire scenarios. Spec Ops: The Line looks to use its narrative to differentiate itself from other shooters, and from the time we spent with it, that seems to be the case. Spec Ops: The Line will arrive on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 in early 2012.

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