Never again will I make the mistake of judging a book by its cover. Case in point, Spec Ops: The Line, the first Spec Ops game in over a decade after the revival of the series from 2K Games and original developer Yager Development.
While people, myself included, may have originally portrayed the war game as a traditional brown painted shooter, that couldn’t of been more far from the truth. After talking with lead writer Walt Whitman after my playthrough, that much is clear.
There’s a story to be told as you play and there’s been a lot of give and take between writers and developers. The game may have premiered back at E3 2010, but the 18 months in the dark the game went through has resulted in polishing a marriage between story and gameplay. It results in the game being able to tell a story with more than just narration, cutscenes, and dialog. Gameplay does suffer from some occasional issues; aiming doesn’t feel perfectly with an Xbox 360 controller and screams “play me on PC,” but running in and out of cover is fluid.
Even more impressive is scope of the game itself. Whitman himself stated the importance of great sound design, something that jumped out during my demo. During combat, there was no banter, just orders and commands; voices and effects resulted the environment; when I was inside, everything sounded like it was, well, inside. Just as impressive was the scope of an empty Dubai, a city with larger than life skyscrapers and a population of almost 4 million people. Instead, the Dubai of Spec Ops: The Line is completely deserted aside from renegade military personal and sandstorms. While the game does promise an engine that randomly generates sandstorms, none of that was on display for my session.
After my Mass Effect 3 binge, I felt right at home ordering commands to squad mates. In fact, the process felt smoother and simplier, though I’d like to be able to stun more often, something that came as a surprise to me considering the subtlety of the in-game hug and the lack of emphasis on narrative. I would wish I’d be able to command my squad mates to stun enemies more often, suppression and sniping worked just as fine. Occasionally, run and gun tactics worked perfectly fine too, but that’s because the enemy AI would decide to refuse to come out of cover.
My enthusiasm for spec ops has been peaked, sufficed to say. The game will launch on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC June 26th. Hopefully they can iron out a couple of bugs with the game, but for the most part there’s a fair amount of polish to be found here. If the multiplayer can come together to complement the 8-10 hour campaign, Spec Ops: The Line could be an excellent summer sleeper hit.