Spec Ops: The Line Multiplayer Hands-on Preview -- Let the Bodies Hit the SandBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Apr 18, 2012
It appears that the heart of darkness not only beats for the single-player in Spec Ops: The Line. 2K’s reworking of this third-person shooter series might very well have something for the social and adversarial Gears of War fan as well. Furthermore, it promises to be one of the darker war games of late, which in itself would be an achievement. We got some considerable hands-on time with The Line's multiplayer recently to see if it could somehow offer the same shades of evil as the campaign.
The biggest takeaway I got from test driving Spec Ops: The Line’s multiplayer was a strong emphasis on squad-based chemistry and diversity, even more so than your average shooter. The game follows the recent trend of smaller player counts like the 8-vs-8 matches in Resistance 3. Here it’s much like Gears of War, with an intimate set up of four players per side. Aesthetic content like customizable outfits and clan tags help a lot too.
Yet, it’s through proximity-based perks that the game gives a clan a lot of incentives to mix up the party, as opposed to everyone being a well-equipped Engineer. For instance, staying close to the Medic will improve health regeneration and keeping the Assault trooper will improve your firepower. It should also be noted that each side has one exclusive character class.
One team has the Breacher, a soldier with skills in explosives while the other side has the Scavenger, a class skilled in repairs and who knows how to increase a blast radius. With 30 guns and 45 levels to progress through, there might be just enough depth to attract those once-loyal SOCOM clans.
I’m often partial to projects that make the extra effort in not recycling single-player maps for multiplayer. Of course assets and basic architecture can be recycled, but it’s still that much more of a challenge for 2K when they’ve done a great deal to integrate sand, a key gameplay element to Spec Ops. We’re talking about sand that can be used strategically, whether it’s shooting a sand-filled vent to stun a nearby opponent or to smother a squad with a sand avalanche.
When you see a wall of sand pressed up against a picture window or sand trying to break through the cracks in a fragile wall, it’s not for aesthetic value: it’s an opportunity. It’s clear that the best opportunities to change (or maintain) momentum are during the periodic sandstorms. Giving you only about five feet of visibility, these storms can obviously force a change in strategy. If you’re say, a sniper, it would be bad for you if you were in the middle of picking off a squad 200 feet away, but good for you if you’ve been spotted and should change nests.
One particular map actually felt like a sniper’s paradise: a group of skyscrapers flimsily connected by corrugated iron bridges. The night time setting helped give the locale a distinctly blue hue as opposed to the pervasive brown that folks are used to seeing in games with Middle East settings. The limited walking areas (compared to the other maps) can certainly make things tense, not knowing if an opponent will soon be coming down the opposite end of the same narrow bridge. These bridges are also uncovered, so be ready to sprint, lest you want to be easy pickings for a sniper.
Another map I played was equally vertical but much more enclosed within a single building. There was so much sand in this locale that there was even a sand ramp, one of two paths that led to the roof. The map’s layout offered drastically different experiences when playing different modes, which can be an indicator of good multiplayer design. It’s tight layout can make Team Deathmatch downright chaotic. It’s only on the roof where you might have a chance to take a breather and take cover behind one of the large generators.
It also brings out the best traits of Rally Point, the game’s King of the Hill mode where the “hill” moves multiple times during a session. It makes squads confront value judgments of whether to fight for the current hill or split up and anticipate where the next hill will appear. Again, potentially chaotic, but in a completely different way than Team Deathmatch.
2K is so enamored with sand that they developed a mode centered around destruction through sand. Aptly named Buried, your job to is to destroy three key structural points in an enemy base. Doing so will reveal the high value target; it could be anything from a gas container to an airplane engine. Take that out, and the base is consumed with sand.
You can anticipate some unpredictable play lengths since both sides have the same kinds of bases and the structure points can be repaired (but not the high value targets). Don’t be surprised to feel an ebb and flow to Buried’s pacing where you start off cautiously to keep your base protected then switch to a more aggressive stance to win the game.
It’s said that the worst decision is indecision, and Buried mode poses some dicey choices. Do you start off by taking all, some, or none of your squad to the other base? Who’ll defend yours? In one match I volunteered to hold the fort while everyone else left for the enemy base. This was also in the map with all the high rises, a map that was designed in a way that opposing teams can go in opposite directions and not run into each other. And it just so happened that the entire four-man enemy squad went on the offense. I didn’t last long, and neither did the base.
The good news is that I was wholly impressed with this Spec Ops’ multiplayer. The bad news is that one squad doesn’t get to live to see the events of the main narrative. While your average multiplayer enthusiast doesn’t look for a story in their PvP experience, 2K found a convenient way to connect the two modes canonically.
When Captain Walker and Delta Force arrive at Dubai in the beginning of the single-player campaign, they are greeted by corpses strung up on lampposts. These are the Exiles, the group that broke off from Colonel Konrad’s Damned 33rd. So the multiplayer is positioned as a prequel to Walker’s tale with the Exiles taking on the Damned.
You can fight toward a different outcome for the Exiles when Spec Ops: The Line ships on June 26 for PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.