A Revolution in Gaming Narrative
by Chris Fox
©2012 Chris Fox
Ever since I heard that Spec Ops: The Line was a war game with a heavy focus on narrative I have been incredibly eager to play it.
Does Spec Ops live up to the promise of a game with a truly rich and engulfing story or do we have yet another generic war shooter on our hands?
To find out, we must journey to Dubai with Captain Walker and his team to see if Spec Ops walks the line or crosses it.
Investigating the disappearance of Colonel Konrad, an old buddy of Walker, it is your job along with your compadres of combat Lugo and Adams to find the missing Colonel and find out exactly what has happened in the war torn, sand ravaged city of Dubai.
Fall in line!
Mother Nature has taken it upon herself to tear the city of Dubai a new one and leave, in its place, a seemingly deserted wreckage of sky scrapers half buried in sand. The desolate and sand devastated Dubai makes for an unforgettable and stunning locale, really giving Spec Ops a look that is truly unique.
The game opens in standard war shooter fashion: taking down helicopters from another helicopter. Generic in this day and age perhaps, but an exciting way to kick things off none the less.
Right off the bat, it’s easy to see that characterisation has been given a lot of thought when creating Spec Ops. Lugo, for example, was cracking me up as we light-heartedly began our journey with banter.
But it isn’t about fun and games for these characters. Spec Ops’ narrative is a heavy one and takes many dark twists and turns throughout. “I wanna know what the hell is going on this city,” remarked Walker. And so did I. The game wasted no time in enticing my interest and drawing me in.
Spec Ops concentrates on a small group rather than a huge roster of forgettable characters. Obviously because it’s a smaller gang of characters to get acquainted with, Spec Ops delivers a much more intimate experience.
The plot focuses on the three main protagonists Walker, Adams and Lugo as well as the mysterious Radio Man and Konrad himself (an obvious reference to the author of Heart Of Darkness, Joseph Conrad).
Like the best war movies, there is a fantastic use of music in Spec Ops such as Hush by Deep Purple booming ominously through the radio as you battle the enemy. Also, the title screen depicting the alternate Dubai skyline to Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner is inspired.
The line in the sand
Spec Ops does have a moral choice system, but not in the way we’ve seen before. Here, it is not a case of good vs bad. The “moral” choices were so seamlessly woven into the narrative and gameplay that I didn’t even know I was making them at times; I was simply playing on instinct.
This is a big leap forward for gaming, getting us away from the option to simply, “Press X to evil.”[Ed.: Alternatively, "Press Y to win."]
Other choices, however, are made in the heat of the moment and can lead to dire and shocking consequences.
There are several different outcomes from your decisions and multiple endings, so Spec Ops does have the replay value that so many gamers are craving.
The writing in Spec Ops is fantastic. Walt Williams, the lead writer on the game, takes as on a truly exciting and engrossing journey.
The game itself is very brutal and feels a lot more real than other third person shooters; take a look at the executions, for example.
When shooting an enemy in a certain place or bashing them with your melee attack, they are knocked to the ground where they’ll make blood-curling screams and noises. The player can then press a button to perform an execution, from choking them to death to simply punching.
It’s a very real and harrowing war that Yager are showing us.
The atmosphere of this almost post-apocalyptic Dubai engulfs you and the story compels you keep playing. The plot takes unexpected turns and crescendos to a very exciting and satisfying conclusion.
Hold the line
Why there isn’t an option to roll or dive is a head scratcher, but Spec Ops is a more than competent shooter that any fan of the genre can dive right into. The omnipresent sand allows for some really cool creative devices to be used, like ever changing landscapes, sinking floors and the ability to use the sand itself as a weapon against the enemy.
Also, semi-destructible environments add another nice spin to the gameplay, forcing you to constantly seek out new cover.
I can count the things that I didn’t like about Spec Ops on one hand, which is a very positive thing. Sniper rifles are a little fiddly to use and lack the visceral feedback that the other weapons have.
Loading times feel slightly on the long side (even after an install) and the facial animations are stiff and don’t really convey the gravitas or impact of situations like the dialogue does.
Multiplayer is a decent enough distraction, with sandstorms interrupting game play, but the lack of variety in its offerings will not sustain interest for long.
As enveloping as the environments are and as engaging as the story is, the run and gun gameplay did get repetitive at times. Some more variety would have been very welcome, with the opening helicopter battle being one of the very few set pieces on offer to help break up the gameplay.
This is a very minor qualm, but giving the player more varied tasks would have made this game the whole package. What I will take away from the experience of Spec Ops is, without a doubt, the story.
It is so refreshing to find a game with an original, engrossing narrative with intelligent dialogue and memorable characters.
A line drawn
The game is a really great shooter that can hold its own in this competitive and over saturated market, but it’s the tale that Spec Ops tells that sets it apart from its peers.
You’ll walk away from this title not only questioning the choices you made along the way, but about your own morality.
PC players can grab the game for 50% off via Amazon digital download here.