• Time to complete: ~5 hrs
  • Release: 2012

Take any Call of Duty 'modern warfare' shooter entry, make it 3rd person, give it a squad size of 3 (2 AI companions), and a decent story which becomes a bit of a treatise on what a person may feel necessary to do when the mission parameters get skewed, and how they deal with these actions.

The gameplay is decidedly average overall. I've never been much of a fan of the 3rd person perspective for action games, and the only excuse for it, as far as I'm concerned, is if you need to be able to see yourself for characterisation purposes. Spec Ops: The Line barely gets a pass in this regard, I suppose - the damage of the encounters you go through certainly are shown, however this is evident from the sporadic in-game-engine cutscenes anyway. The 3rd-person shenanigans it brings are as usual - seeing enemies around corners you have no business being able to see, taking shots which are totally clear for your sights but actually hit scenery on the way through, etc. AI companions are also completely as expected, generally useless. I saw on several occasions my teammates standing with an enemy in clear view but not firing at them, not taking any evasive action... in fact doing pretty much nothing at all. Of course, all agency is completely on the player character (who is, to be fair, the captain of the squad). You do have the ability to call operations for your squadmates, but I couldn't really get it to be very effective.

Checkpointing was servicable. Which is good, since I softlocked the game at one point by being I guess too far away from the objective when a cutscene was supposed to be playing, and a door which was supposed to have become unlocked was still completely impassable. Heaven forbid I cross a room to be able to get the drop on enemies who were pouring into through the ceiling. That was a really good place, strategically. Sigh.

The story is where the majority of the kudos comes for Spec Ops: The Line. When questioning people on what makes it good, they basically would only say "to say anything would be spoilers", or when pushed "about the horrors of warfare" and "kinda subversive". I suppose I would say it's a kind of heavy-handed Apocalypse Now-ish narrative showing how easily military affairs can go wrong. Heavy handed? Well, towards the end you are being subjected to loading screens with text like "Do you feel like a hero yet?". The most disappointing aspect is likely that choices presented to you during your mission are 'David Cage' questions - the illusion of choice where each option presented actually leads to the same endpoint. At least you as the player of Cpt. Walker feel your morality is shown, even if the game gives you no reward/justice/punishment for it. One emergent property is the really nice touch in the voice barks of the soldiers changing throughout the game, starting from professional and ending up as vengeful spewings.

There's also a fairly interesting diagetic soundtrack of real-world songs which play in places throughout the game, explained by a war journalist setting up a radio station for broadcasting. The songs used and they way they are used lends a very film-ic vibe to the proceedings.

The strongest point is probably the characterisation and portrayals, even if most is due to the damaged nature of people who go through these kinds of situations. Their actions and motivations are rarely sensible or moral, being forced by their twisted personalities. Voicework is strong, never taking me out of the moment (rare for me).

I would recommend Spec Ops: The Line for people wanting to experience a video-game version of dark, war-maddened scenarios like Apocalypse Now/The Heart of Darkness, Full Metal Jacket, although it doesn't particularly tred any new ground.

"Everything is teetering on the edge of everything"

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