Yager Developments has a story to tell in Spec Ops: The Line. That's hardly a first for video games, but previous looks at the in-development title have shown us an experience that skews quite a bit darker than your typical third-person shooter set in a modern theater of war. The fictional story follows a three-man Delta Force squad into a sandstorm-ravaged Dubai as they aid in the relief efforts and search for a highly decorated colonel, John Konrad, and his so-called Damned 33rd battalion, after they fall out of contact with central command.
You've already read about some of this in our hands-on preview and interview from a few months ago. 2K Games offered another hands-on look at the game last week, a hefty 90-minute runthrough of content that hadn't been shown previously. We're skipping the hands-on account this time in the interests of preserving the sanctity of the game's narrative. Instead, we're going to look at a handful of things today that you might not have known about Spec Ops before.
1. Mature Entertainment, But Not How You Might Think
Maybe you had already picked up on this from previous reports on the game, but Spec Ops: The Line is 100 percent going to be receiving an M rating. It's unusual though in comparison to most other games. There's really nothing entertainingly gratuitous about the violence that you'll bear witness to. It's brutal, no question, but it's all in the name of relating a narrative that's designed to hit you on an emotional level. If you find yourself cheering at the acts you're committing in Spec Ops, particularly those that come up later in the game, then you should probably seek help immediately.
2. PTSD Explained
A big part of what seems to drive the story home is the relationship that the main character, Captain Martin Walker (voiced by Nolan North) has with his two squadmates, Lt. Alphonso Adams and Sgt. John Lugo. The three squadmates hit the sands on the outskirts of Dubai as the band of brothers that you would expect; they form a tight-knit Delta Force squad, and their friendly back-and-forth banter speaks directly to their familiarity with one another.
That's before John Konrad turns their world sideways. As Walker and his squadmates bear witness to an increasingly horrifying assortment of happenings, you get to watch as the group dynamic breaks down. You'll even make choices that propel feelings in one direction or another. Yager has been very clear about Spec Ops following a linear narrative arc, but it's also been revealed that there is some variation as to how the endgame plays out. This is pure speculation, but I would guess that Walker's relationship with his squadmates, and how his choices affect each one, is a big determining factor in those multiple endings.
3. Varied Arsenal, Heavy Resource Management
There's no reason why fans of games like Uncharted and Gears of War shouldn't feel right at home from the moment they pick up Spec Ops. The game's cover-based third-person shooter gameplay isn't blazing any trails, beyond some light environmental stuff involving breakable glass and physics-based sand effects. You will, however, find a wide assortment of firearms.
Various flavors of SMG, MG and LMG, sniper rifles, shotguns, three types of grenades, weapons with multiple firing modes, scopes, sights, under-barrel attachments... the works. They're everywhere too. There's a catch though. Your ammo cap for each firearm is relatively low and you can only carry two at a time. The result is a constant game of resource management, where you're forced to keep an eye on your total bullet count and frequently drop that oh-so-sweet gun you've been using for a less effective one that you can fill up on ammo for. It's a bit like Uncharted in that way, only the arsenal is far more varied.
4. Radioman Brings Music To The Battlefield
One of the big remaining mysteries concerning Spec Ops is the identity of the Radioman, a radio DJ who is sympathetic to Konrad. You'll hear his voice frequently as you wander through the sandstorm-swept streets and buildings of Dubai, as great pains have been taken to wire up a network of speakers placed throughout the city.
In addition to Radioman providing a hook for the story, he also manages the game's soundtrack. You'll hear very little orchestral score in Spec Ops; most of the music is being played inside the fictional world, for the characters to hear and comment on. You'll find that it's positional too, so if you move into an area with fewer speakers, you'll have a harder time hearing the broadcast. I heard some recognizable music playing during my time with the game; Yager isn't talking specifics yet, but it seems you can expect a heavy dose of licensed music from this game's soundtrack.
5. You'll Burn American Soldiers Alive
The final section of this latest Spec Ops demo ends on a deeply unsettling note. Walker and his Delta squad comes to an elevated position overlooking a vastly more powerful force consisting of Konrad's loyal ground troops and armored vehicles. This is one of the few situations in the game in which the player has no choice: the only way to proceed past this superior force is to use a nearby white phosphorous mortar. For those who don't know, white phosphorous is an incendiary munition known for its ability to burn targets alive.
And that's exactly what you do. To this large force of AWOL U.S. soldiers. You order each strike using a laptop, and a reflection of Walker's haunted face is visible on the screen's surface throughout. It doesn't end there either; once the enemy is wiped out, Walker and his squad are forced to walk through the area they've just laid waste to. A horrific scene awaits them in which maimed enemy forces pull themselves along the ground and cry out in pain. There's more too, but I was specifically asked not to talk about it. Frankly, I don't want to. Just know that something worse awaits Walker and his men at the end of their trudge across the white phosphorous graveyard.
Spec Ops: The Line doesn't have a release date just yet, but it should be hitting consoles and PC this spring.