The idyllic city of Dubai, resting between the Persian Gulf and sand is not a likely place to be sieged by a sandstorm. But the biggest sandstorm ever recorded has hit the United Arab Emirates in Dubai, and the 33rd Battalion (nicknamed “The Damned 33rd”) are sent in to help with rescue and evacuation efforts. Only, they’ve disappeared too due to another major sandstorm. Delta Operatives Walker, Lugo, and Adams are sent in to assist. Playing as Captain Walker, you lead the charge.
When gunfights begin, you’re rushing to cover, kicking sand around as the hot sun beats down on you. Gameplay is overall basic third-person shooter trappings. You’ll take cover, blind fire, and throw grenades. Perhaps iterations and improvements on the formula is the ability to pick-up any weapon and there is no reserved “primary” and “secondary” slot, just two weapons can be carried at any time. Ammo is a scarcity but there is plenty of weapons to be picked up.
Nailing a headshot is mildly disturbing as the game pauses for a second as you can see the blood spray or witness the entire head disappear from your enemy. The sand is both the villain and the hero of the game, as it has put you where you are. It can also be used to your advantage where buildings somewhat covered in sand can have the glass shot out to drown enemies much quicker than putting them down with bullets. Sandstorms occur at specific moments, and are as haunting as you’d imagine them to be: deafening and reduce visibility to almost nothing.
The art direction is gorgeous. Colors were put to great use that includes vivid transitions of oranges to blues, greens, reds, and purples with exceptional lighting. Characters and their gear are detailed, though environment details can be hit and miss. I’m no architect, nor do I know the building blueprints of Dubai. But the interior designs of buildings seemed to be very similar constructed.
The strongest case I can make for the game is in the writing, it gave me chills and left my mouth agape on several occasions. Accurate depictions of military lingo, conversations, and the breakdown of these characters over time are phenominal. Cusses, insubordination, and hard choices happen more often than you’d think. And the situations are left to your own devices. it can make things go from bad to worse or from bad to still bad. Your crew will react and give you their thoughts but still follow your orders. These decisions can have consequences but do not affect the end game. Cutscenes can get over the top, almost ruining the gritty gameplay and fantastic writing.
Spec Ops: The Line is nothing like the other Spec Ops games that came before it, and that’s to The Line’s credit. It does a lot of things right. What it doesn’t do right particularly well is making your objectives clear. “Run!” is not very descriptive, so when you get near your objective marker to die by helicopter gunfire – you’re dumbfounded. You can’t take cover or shoot back, just run. Well, it turns out you need cat-like reflexes and need to perfectly execute the action from when the game returns control to you. This nullifies what would be some truly epic moments of desperately trying to survive overwhelming odds. It doesn’t help these issues extend to the checkpoints, which are badly placed either before or after a cutscene that doesn’t give you much to work with. Luckily most cutscenes can be skipped.
Multiplayer is mostly forgettable. It’s competent but nothing spectacular. Feels good, looks good. But it just isn’t well executed or any interesting. I understand the need for longevity, but the story and choices drive the replayability. It was a gamble to implement multiplayer. Without the multiplayer, Spec Ops might have been released sooner. There is no Co-Op, but it wouldn’t be beneficial to the experience.
The Line of the game’s subtitle is open to interpretation. But it’s safe to say it refers to the “line in the sand”, or “the line that shouldn’t be crossed”. Those phrases come to light in many ways as the game is constantly dancing in shades of grey. Spec Ops: The Line is one of my favorite stories in recent memory. The characters are interesting and the actors behind them give powerful performances. Unfortunately the bad checkpoints and overall basic gameplay get in the way of a good time. There are truly some hair-raising moments you won’t want to miss.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes