Spec Ops: The Line Hands-on Impressions -- 30 Minutes of Blistering Hell (The Good Kind)By G4 Staff - Posted Apr 19, 2012
The developers at Yager have been tooling away on its Heart of Darkness-inspired, desert drenched military shooter Spec Ops: The Line for some time now (Did you know it’s the ninth installment in the Spec Ops series? Crazy, right?), but as we found out during PAX East 2012, that extra time and energy has not been wasted. I mean, we were impressed back in November when we did our previous hands-on preview, so you can imagine what four months worth of polish has done to our anticipation levels.
At PAX, Yager and 2K had numerous stations on site which included a roughly 20-30 minute playable demo (a good portion of which our writer Adam Rosenberg saw for our previous preview) that included a healthy amount of the opening chapter and a section from a few chapters into the campaign.
The basic premise of The Line is that your squad of elite military operatives has been sent into a sand-destroyed Dubai to track down a rogue commander named John Konrad (a very, very subtle nod to Heart of Darkness author Joseph Conrad, whose Apocalypse Now-inspiring novel inspired The Line as well) who was originally sent into the city to evacuate civilians. At some point, the commander and his equally rogue band of soldiers that make up the off-the-rails 33rd infantry unit lost their way, and it’s up to you to find out why and to bring Konrad back.
When the demo kicks off, you’re immediately struck by the sun and sand-drenched beauty of Dubai. As game worlds go, abandoned, desolate metropolises are always compelling settings, because they evoke so many questions and provide a visually tantalizing backdrop for the moment-to-moment action. In The Line’s case, it looks to have the setting issue well in…sand? I apologize (but only a little).
Abandoned vehicles (many with rotting corpses still inside, in a very The Stand-ish fashion) liter the highway stretching out ahead of your squad, leading into the blistering light of Dubai on the horizon, and as you and your team move through the wreckage, the three soldiers banter back and forth in a somewhat expected yet still disturbing flippancy mixed with confusion at the horrors around them.
I'm still not thrilled about Nolan North providing the main character's voice (love the guy, but need a little break), but I definitely like the approach Yager is taking with the characters and using as much of the downtime moments to develop the relationships between your squad mates. Given the dark nature of the story, you can bet at least one of your buddies will meet with an unfortunate end at some point during the campaign, and I'd also bet it will be your fault. So hope you're ready for that.
I was also struck by just how cleverly the game (based on the demo portions) used sand in strategic as well as aesthetic ways. See those three guys training their automatic rifles on you? See that overturned bus with sand leaking out of bullet holes in the windows? Send some bullets at the glass, and you have yourself a sandy deathtrap. Thanks physics!
And actually, similar to the water in BioShock, the sand has a great oppressive quality to it, as you always feel it bearing down on you at all times. It even factors into the multiplayer mode, as, like in single-player, you're able to shoot out barriers and bury foes in dry graves. I was genuinely caught off guard by the shifting environments on multiple occasions during the demo, so I can only imagine what lies ahead in the full campaign.
After finally getting a chance to spend some quality time with The Line, I'm on board. If Yager can pull off the gut-punching narrative (Want to take bets on whether the end involves a camel being slaughtered interspersed with the final showdown?), I think the game could be one of the major sleeper hits of the year.
Nikole Zivalich: Every time I ran into someone I knew at PAX EAST 2012, a colleague or a friend, we had the same conversation. "See anything amazing on the show floor?" Everyone chose the same two games; Super Time Force and Spec Ops: The Line. Since I knew someone else on my team was covering the former, I bee-lined for the 2K booth to get my hands on Spec Ops.
The Spec Ops: The Line demo begins as an elite Delta Force bravo team heads into the emirate of Dubai. The three-man squad is being lead by Captain Martin Walker, the character gamers with play as. After a catastrophic sandstorm hit the city, only a few people remained in the mostly buried metropolis. One person left behind was U.S. Army Colonel John Konrad, and that's who Walker and his men are looking for.
I began the demo in the sand, walking through the desert towards what was left of Dubai. The walk was slow, the setting was sand. This intro scene would have been boring if not for my squad. This was a chance to get to know the men who had my back. Witty one-liners, and self-assured hotshot kept me company.
- VIDEO PREVIEW: Spec Ops: The Line Gameplay Preview
The first thing you see when you enter Dubai is death. Death and sand. There are piles of abandoned cars and buses. Some cars never had the luxury of being abandoned as their drivers are still decaying in the driver's seat. Animal carcasses litter in the streets. There appears to be no sign of life. After playing through the demo, I can assure you not only is there life, but they are angry, trained and well-armed. But overall, that was the tone of Dubai. A dead city occupied by terrorists and sand, but nothing more. Not even hope. (DRAMATIC!)
My first encounter with enemies was standard. They shot and missed, so I shot and left little Bethany an orphan. (My new thing is give characters who shoot me families. That way it's sadder when they die. Sadder for them, not me.) The tone of this game felt different than other shooters, but the gunplay felt standard. Standard is good, by the way. I don't want my shooters to feel like anything but shooters.
A few similar interactions later and I was able to use the deteriorating city to my advantage. A glass wall was holding back tons of sand. And not tons like "a lot" but tons as in over 2,000 pounds. A group of armed men decided to threaten me right underneath a point in the glass that was starting to crack. Let's just say their lungs are now filled with sand. (Poor little Timmy.)
The next few levels had my squad and I fighting through waves of enemies who almost always wore scarves covering their faces. Was the sand bothering them or do they have horrible skin? We may never know. I do know they preferred shotguns or automatic rifles. The AI seems to be just right amount of “come at me and give me a challenge” while still backing off enough to let me regroup when I needed to. Ammo was a little sparse, so there were times where that break was needed.
I only got lost once throughout the entire demo. There was a scene where my squad dropped through a crack in the rocks, a hidden tunnel lay underneath. I didn't see them jump down, nor did I see the crack. I spent a good seven minutes running around, exploring the scenery. The palm trees were lovely, and did I mention this game has some nice sand?
When the demo ended, I wanted to play more. I was equally intrigued by Heart of Darkness-inspired story as I was with shooting bad guys. Luckily, I'll only have to wait two months to get a heaping helping of both when the full game comes over the sandy horizon...Sand.