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July 30th, 2012, 15:15
Spec Ops: The line
First of all, anything in spoiler tags here are actually spoilers, serious ones. Don't read them if you plan to play the game! Also, I played the PC version (on my crummy computer, it was a surprisingly well optimized game)

Spec Ops: The Line was a bit of an unexpected release. It was marketed as yet another modern day 3rd person cover based military shooter, and well it was, but the tone of the game is vastly different. This is not a game that tries to glorify war and make you feel big and macho, it is a game that tries to make you feel bad for what you re doing, that tries to show the horrors of war. It is somewhat based on the book "Heart of Darkness", the same book that inspired Apocalypse Now (I have neither read the book, nor watched the movie, so I don't know how close it is to either).

From a technical point of view, Spec Ops is nothing special. Everything looks the way it should, and there were no odd animation glitches or anything like that. From an artistic point of view, the game managed to capture the city of Dubai pretty well, and many of the landscapes looked beautiful, in an eery kind of way. Do note that I played the game on the lowest graphics settings, so it is possible that the game looks a lot better on higher settings.

Again, nothing special. The voice actors do a good job at portraying the characters they are supposed to play, and most things sound the way you expect them to. One thing that I disliked about it was how poorly the in combat kill confirmations and such meshed with the overall theme of the game. They felt too "macho", and it sounded like the soldiers were almost enjoying themselves, from time to time.

The city of Dubai has suffered a horrible catastrophe, a storm was almost buried the city in sand. Another company disobey direct orders, and enter the city to help the population. As you and your team enter the city, you quickly see that not everything is the way it is supposed to be, you are soon attacked by the local population are are forced to fight your way through. At this point the game feels like any other military shooter set in the middle east, where Arabs are the "obvious" bad guys. Of course you quickly find out that things are not quite so simple. While you were innocent, they had a good reason for thinking that you were not. And telling anything more would be too much of a spoiler. During the rest of the game, you and your two companions make your way through the city, trying to do what you think is the right thing.
The game actually lets you make a few decisions along the way, and while I don't think they have any long term impact (I've only done a single playthrough), it is at least interesting to see how the game tries to force you into situations without any clear answer. One interesting thing about these is the way the game presents you with choices. You are usually given 2 obvious choices, but as far as I could tell, there was also always a 3rd option. One interesting use of achievements here is that it allows you to see what choices other people made. When you make a choice, the game gives you an achievement for it, and you can see how "popular" the different options were. Judging by the steam achievement list, a good amount of people were able to spot the 3rd option in many of these cases, but a frighteningly large amount of people also decided to take the "shoot first, and don't think about it" option in one of these situations.

If you just looked at the gameplay, you would be excused for thinking that this is another 3rd person modern day military shooter. There is nothing in that regard that really sets this game apart. Everything works well enough, and the gameplay feels fluid.
It meshes poorly with the games tone though. "War is fun", is almost what the gameplay says, while the story tries to tell you something entirely different. You are also, by the gameplay, encouraged to move up and execute wounded soldiers. The final issue with with achievements, every so often an achievement will pop up and say "You killed X soldiers with weapon type Y" or something along that line. It actually detracts from the game a little, as it almost encouraged you to go around and kill people, just to get achievements.
There were a good amount of weapons in the game, and most of them felt like they had a place, but the weapon balance was not spot on. I for one found shotguns to be almost useless, and thus did not use them past the first section, unless I had to. The game was a bit stingy with ammunition, so only sticking to one or two weapons is not an option.

This game managed to make me feel bad.

And that was intended. This was not an attempt to glorify war, it was an attempt to make war look horrible, and to show the hard situations that soldiers have to face.

It is by no means a perfect game, the gameplay meshes poorly with the tone that it tries to set, and it is also short (about 1h longer than Modern warfare 1). I have not played a lot of games like this, so to me the difficulty felt pretty good on normal, but I guess anyone with genre experience will want to crank it up a bit.

Spec Ops: The Line is an interesting game, and one that I don't regret buying. I would recommend that anyone who wants to see a non-jingoistic modern day shooter gives this game a chance, because it is worth it.
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