Spec Ops: The Line
(out of 4)
PS3, Xbox and PC
As Captain Martin Walker and his two sidekicks wander through a half-buried city, our character looks up and sees the Dubai skyline. It’s not the usual portrait we see of the United Arab Emirates capital, with gleaming mile-high towers that extrude like crystals. Instead, a desolate wasteland, virtually abandoned after a cataclysmic sandstorm that hit the city six months prior. The majority of the city is buried in a cavernous valley of sand.
The spectacular sight is enough to stop you from moving ahead just to take in the view; it’s shocking, though you also feel galvanized for what’s next. And Spec Ops: The Line is in no way a traditional run-and-gun shooter — the game’s intricate story deals with rogue American battalions, local rebels trying to protect the survivors and there’s even a psychological battle, as Captain Walker tries to keep sane amongst the devastating carnage.
With twists that leave you feeling not just like a heartless killer, as in most games, but a monster who will do anything for his own benefit, even if it means hundreds of innocent victims. Vietnam-era cinema is an obvious influence; as Martin penetrates deeper into the city core, his actions grow exponentially sinister, even insane. The story makes little to no sense until the climactic end, in which you’re given a choice; live or die.
War-related games often involve the theme of hope, or at least the sacrifices needed to ultimately accomplish peace; this third-person shooter doesn’t convey any of them. Every prospect of a Hollywood ending is buried along with the Lamborghinis and corpses.
You can all but smell the horrific atrocities; some things are simply not meant to be seen, though the shock value does succeed in motivating Walker to track down the one responsible for such brutality.
The gameplay is bolstered by unique levels featuring the half-ruined towers and the luxurious, over-the-top lobbies that the Dubai towers are famous for. (But seriously, what’s an apartment without an aquarium or two?) Zip-lining from building to building and spontaneous sand storms are just a few of the exciting features that keep the game unpredictable and appealing.
The elaborate detail delves deep into the subtleties most action shooters don’t bother including. A frag grenade not only makes the ground implode, but causes flying dust to blind the surrounding enemies. Clever tactical options reward quick thinking and make the gameplay stand out like the Burj Tower, though with the campaign lasting a mere six hours, you may find the mission over sooner than expected.
Spec Ops accurately depicts the lavish interior detail of the Dubai buildings — the golden trim and detailed murals — but with corpses. And despite clean graphics and intensely captivating gameplay, the outrageous gore is beyond overkill.
Instead of flirting with the line of morality, you’re forced to not only cross it, but to do so with conviction. Being forced to gun down the innocent, and stepping over countless piles of burned bodies shouldn’t be necessary. It makes you ask yourself, when did disturbing become so sought after?