After playing the demo a year ago, 2K’s third-person shooter Spec Ops: The Line has been on our “to play” list, it was just finding the time. Well now is that time. With the game made availabl/e for free through Playstation Plus we finally got our hands on the retail version and here’s what we thought.
First of all this game doesn’t re-invent the wheel, there’s nothing revolutionary here but what it does do it does really well. Take for example the cover system. It’s nothing new in shooters but 2K have done a fantastic job of making it really fluid and easy to use. Tapping X makes the player run while holding X makes the player run and then take cover behind the next object you run towards. It’s a simple concept that does away with the need for one run button and one cover button. It also allows for some nice slide animations when you near cover.
That being said, one minor issue with the controls is the button map. It’s not uncommon for you to pick up a shooter and the controls to be very much like the last shooter you played, they feel comfortable. L1 aim, R1 shoot, R2 grenade etc. But here they’ve mixed it up a little and in the heat of battle I often did a melee instead of crouching behind a wall. They’re not forced to use Call of Duty controls of course but when players are familiar with that system then why change it just to be different?
There’s a great trophy/achievement system as well that, if you want to collect them all, forces you to use a variety of weapons, commands and tactics to mix up your play. You won’t unlock them all by using an AK47 for the full game and going in like a one man army. But that’s not what this game is about anyway. You’re the leader of a small group of three soldiers (including yourself) and this allows for added gameplay mechanics.
One feature that sets this game apart from the pack is the commands you can give to your team. Now again this is nothing new and it’s not as in-depth (or confusing) as games like Socom. Holding R2 and pointing at an enemy makes them a “priority” target meaning the other members of your team will take him out as soon as they can. This is a great way to dispose of heavy gunners, turrets, snipers or shotgunners where you’d rather somebody else risk getting their brains splattered. Especially since one of the members is equipped with a sniper rifle. A quick tap of R2 has your team throw stun grenades to help clear out an area of enemies.
The AI however leaves something to be desired, even on the hardest difficult. On more than one occasion I thought the guy standing next to me was one of my team, only to find out it was an enemy that left me questioning why he didn’t just shoot me. On the flip side, if there’s a free turret you can guarantee they’ll make a dash for it and are ridiculously accurate with grenades. The AI also goes for team mates. They often run in front of your line of fire. On too many occasions when lining up a sniper shot a friendly would step in the way and then blame me that he got a bullet in the rear end.
The weapons in the game are great are vary from pistols to assault and sniper to grenade launcher. Where available, a simple tap of the d-pad allows you to switch betweenautomatic or burst fire, whether a silencer is on or off or which type of scope to use. The more powerful weapons like the Desert Eagle and 417 can literally make enemy heads explode with a head shot which is always fun to see. Enemy soldiers don’t straight die all the time either. If you only injure an enemy they’ll roll on the floor in pain and won’t drop their weapon until you either put another bullet in them or walk over and perform an execution. Another welcomed addition.
If one of your team goes down, you have a limited amount of time to run over to them and heal them with a quick press of the X button. Alternatively a tap of R2 tells your other team mate to heal him at the risk of him being shot while doing so. It’s strange that I can heal them but they can’t heal me. Once you’re dead, you’re dead and you may argue this is how it should be but we would have liked to have seen a “Last Stand” like mechanic here. Once you’re down you could have pulled out a pistol and had to survive till you were revived by a teammate which would have again made you feel like more of a team since that’s what they’re aiming for here. Pun intended.
Some of you may not be surprised to hear that the protagonist of this game, Captain Martin Walker, is voiced by none other than Nolan North and he does yet another outstanding job. The voice acting and the banter between the characters throughout the game is very well done. Outside of the team though, enemies sound very generic and predictable, even in cut scenes. The large open areas are also very interesting to look at; atop a destroyed building looking out over a Dubai is a great sight. However, the game is only a year old and the graphics look a little outdated and the animations feel very stiff. It takes away from the fluidity that the rest of the game has done so well.
On top of which there are texture map issues. The textures on characters after load screens for example take a while to load. During one cut scene it look like Walker had a burnt face for 30 seconds until his face map loaded. Given there are several load screens (though this is 2013) this shouldn’t be happening. If you’re going to waste time with load screens then at least load the whole area first.
The level design is well thought out but again rather generic. Shopping malls, temples and underground bases just to name a few. During outside levels you have the addition of sandstorms that can help create cover and add an additional element to gameplay. Each level also has “intel” hidden in it as an added objective and an attempt to add replay value. With all that sand around if you’re inside and spot sand leaking from a window or glass roof, shooting it will cause the sand to fall through and bury your enemy. Very satisfying and very clever.
If you’re looking for something to cheer you up after a tough day, stay away from this storyline. It starts off as a simple rescue mission destined to get worse. And it does. Bad things happen throughout the story to both good and bad people. It all goes downhill when our team of jolly do gooders are forced to kill their own after they turn rogue and start slaughtering the innocents of Dubai. It’s a welcome change from blindly killing people for the sake of making a game, you feel like the characters don’t want this. They don’t want to shoot these people and after every battle you sense they feel regret. This transforms Captain Walker into a dark shell of a man and the journey is very interesting.
Without a doubt Spec Ops: The Line was one of those games that slipped under the radar on its release. Maybe because it came out at the same time as games like The Walking Dead (episode 2), Amazing Spider-Man and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. But gamers looking for something a little different or just a shooter with a story could do much worse than this. On top of which if you’re a Playstation Plus subscriber then it’s free as of writing this so why not give it a try? It has its issues but underneath is a rather enjoyable third person shooter.