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Spec Ops: The Line Review

Spec Ops: The LineLike an eighth-year undergrad, the shooter often seems ensnared in the coils of stagnancy. Sustained by advancements in visual fidelity and the development of thrill ride-like pacing, the genre’s foremost failing mirrors that of the persistent pupil: a woeful lack of ambition. For far too long, first and third-person shooters have offered visceral, but regretfully empty experiences which have habitually ignored the pathos of gunning down hundreds of adversaries. While exhibiting a few rough edges which belie the game’s extended development cycle, the recent Xbox 360 and PlayStation release of Spec Ops: The Line is one of the first titles to peer into the psyche of a battle-hardened soldier. Although the title may not always deliver on its admirable aspirations, the game does offer a poignant reprieve from the sophomoric shooting galleries which dominate sales charts.

Pulling inspiration from both Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness as well as Coppola’s Vietnam-era contextualization- Apocalypse Now, Spec Ops plunges its protagonist down an increasingly hopeless abyss. While most titles inherently allow us to identify with their main characters, The Line is confident enough to test those traditions. When we first observe Captain Martin Walker and his two Delta Force compatriots, Lugo and Adams, the trio are little more than archetypal video game tropes. But as valiance gives way to violence, connecting with Walker becomes increasingly difficult as players are confronted with the consequences of their actions. Both predestined savagery and the sporadic binary decision confront gamers, making Spec Ops’ introspective expedition as haunting as it is compulsory.

Spec Ops: The LineContrasted against the standard of ‘happy violence’, where players instinctively slay identical enemies by the bushel, The Line intermittently humanizes its opposition. Whether it’s the discomfort of knowing the player is killing his fellow Americans or sending the sporadic downed combatant writhing around the floor- pushing players toward superfluous slaughter in order to recover ammo, the title’s proclivity for unsettling imagery is to be commended. Regretfully, Spec Ops gameplay periodically seems at odds with these goals.

Juxtaposed against the game’s poignant storyline are mechanics which are both derivative and occasionally unresponsive. Most conspicuous is The Line’s artificial intelligence, which sullies its narrative heft with companions which habitually shoot directly into walls, or enemies which only spring to life once players are in the immediate vicinity. Fulfilling game tropes, antagonists pour out of off-screen spawn points and unsuspectingly stand by tell-tale streams of falling sand, waiting for players to initiate a deluge of soil which incapacitates them. With ‘melee’ and ‘vault’ abilities mapped to the same button, occasionally Walker will swing at a non-existent foe instead of moving from a splintering piece of cover. Without the ability to quickly disengage from a wall, dying from an enemy grenade is a common occurrence. Both the frequency of death and the game’s protracted reload times serve to disengage players from the title’s narrative.

Spec Ops: The LineWhile Spec Ops run and gun gunplay is imitative, echoing the mechanics of Gears of War with its roadie runs and blind firing, a number of elements help elevate the title. Thankfully, the game’s selection of firearms all feel sufficiently lethal, with players able to defeat most opponents with a few blasts to the body or a single headshot. The ability to order a teammate to snipe, heal, or flashbang offers a shred of strategy. Smartly, issuing commands to your soldiers is optional, prohibiting directive which seem too game-like.

Any moral murkiness is completely abandoned in The Line’s multiplayer mode. Although burying enemies in mounds of sands carries over from the campaign, the game’s requisite deathmatch, team deathmatch , and objective-based variants feel like a compulsory component to remain competitive. Suffice to say, no one will be purchasing Spec Ops for its competitive play. Sure, there’s the de facto ranking system which drip feeds perks at a regular intervals, but when compared to the message of the main game, the inclusion of multiplayer matches seems contradictory. If Spec Ops wants us to feel the gravity of bloodshed, fostering a generic frag fest might just be detrimental.

Spec Ops: The LineBeyond the infrequent framerate drop during hectic firefights, The Line’s visuals are undoubtedly confident. While the tell-tale gleam of the Unreal engine is unmistakable, the effort which went into constructing the game’s cataclysmic context is to be admired. A tension between ornate opulence and nature’s wrath permeates the title’s Dubai-based setting. From  firefights where players take cover among fleets of abandoned luxury cars to breaching treacherous sandstorms,the game capitalizes on it’s distinct setting. Several understated nuances elevated Spec Ops above contemporaries, such as the visual deterioration of its protagonists, who articulate their putrefying psyches with an indelible layer of blood and grime.

Spec Ops: The Line’s gameplay doesn’t break any new ground; contentedly offering a competent cover-based shooter which doesn’t offer the polish of its peers. Instead, the game’s contribution to the genre is a pensive plotline, which pushes players to deliberate on their actions, with a sense of unsettling despair that lingers long after credits roll.

Spec Ops: The Line

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.


  1. It’s about time, man!

    I was actually checking the site for your review a few days ago. Better late than never.

  2. Here the things about DEagle. He seems like an average joe on the podcast. Then you read a review like this, and it’s well…pretty wordy and kind of deep. How do you explain your two sides?

    • But at least he can say the “Hor-ror” like Marlon Brando. Haha.

      Just yanking your chain, man.

  3. Great review. I’m glad you were able to see past the problems in gameplay to appreciate the game’s storyline. Most reviewers weren’t able to do that.

  4. Seriously, What the f*%k are you talking about?

    You kill hundreds if not thousand of people in this game, just like Call of Duty. If the game tried to make me feel bad about it, It didn’t work, because all it did was put me to sleep and bore me with the same cover system that I’ve played over and over and over again.

    This game deserves a “F” and to be buried in the sand along with ET.

  5. I have a bad feeling about this one. I’d love to see a “mature” game aimed at adults do well, but I don’t think it will. Its just too hard to go against the CoD and Battlefields even if you do have a story that matters.

  6. I really don’t have much of an interest in the game, but your review was pretty interesting to read. I like your enthusiasm.

  7. Nice! Review was fair and very well written. After hearing about the story (I really thought this was another simple 3rd person shooter) I’ll be looking into this.

  8. Thers is something about all Unreal Engine games looking the same. The faces, the textures or something. I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.

  9. “Like an eighth-year undergrad, the shooter often seems ensnared in the coils of stagnancy.”

    So says the douche-bag elitist. Gimme a break.

  10. Bought this because of the Apocalypse Now reference. Honestly, the thought of turning the movie into a video game seemed almost impossible, but I got to give Yager credit, they nearly succeeded.

    BTW, one of the endings is pretty gnarly. If you want to see something besides the cheery “and they all lived happily every after bullshit” give the game a try.

  11. If it’s not out already, what the date for the PC version?

  12. Wow, really impressive review. Good work.

  13. So is DesertEagle the only one doing reviews these days? Not that I have a problem with it, his write up are pretty good, but I like to heard from the other guys (and girl) as well.

  14. Anyone have a Fubar code they can spare? Mine game didn’t come with one inside.

  15. You didn’t get one? It should have came with new copies of the game.

  16. Besides your re iew needing Cliffs Notes, it was pretty good.