Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hands-On First Impressions: Spec Ops: The Line

Oh boy, here we go. Another third person shooter, complete with cover mechanics, macho alpha males, and douchechill-inducing American patriotism. To be totally honest, those were my exact thoughts when I first heard of Spec Ops: The Line, and had written the game off as decidedly "not for me" pretty long ago. I don't tend to enjoy games outside of my comfort zone of the action-adventure and grappling sports entertainment genres. Shooters for me are simply too chaotic, too jock-tacular for me to ever really get into, outside of some of the true standouts in that space. Much to my surprise, I found Spec Ops to be completely enjoyable.

Spec Ops: The Line has had one of the oddest development cycles this generation. First revealed at the 2009 VGAs, the game took the long road to eventually releasing this week. After announcing a 2010 shipping date, Spec Ops was pushed back to 2011 not long after being unveiled. A mulitplayer beta was launched 2010 on Xbox 360, and received pretty good word of mouth. However, either 2k was unsatisfied with the product or developer YAGER asked for more time; as the game got pushed all the way back to June 2012.

Sand, sand everywhere.
I got some hands-on time with the demo, and I'm glad they've decided to take their time with this one. While others may, and have, dismissively referred to Spec Ops as "Gears of Modern Warfare," I say that's not necessarily a bad thing. Both the Gears of War and the Call of Duty franchises are dominant for a reason, and if you're going to steal from someone, steal from the best. There's definitely some similarities to other shooters out there, but everything here feels very polished and fluid.

Action is quick and responsive, with all the usual cover mechanics and vaulting over low objects you'd expect. The standard control scheme for this genre certainly applies here, and fans of similar games will be able to jump in no problem. Because I'm a giant baby, I played on Easy, which turned on the soft auto-aim, similar to Red Dead Redemption. Perhaps this made the action too easy, as the enemies aren't the usual bullet sponges, and will drop with one or two well-placed rounds. I found this to be incredibly refreshing, and led to  more tense firefights.

Dubai is for lovers.

At some points, things on the battlefield get pretty savage. Dropped enemies still clinging to life will crawl for cover, or simply roll around in pain on the ground. While you presumably can ignore these poor fellas, I chose to execute every single one I came across. Occasionally, this leads to a quick neck-snapping boot stomp, but other times your character will just put a gun in the dude's mouth. Like I said, it's pretty savage. Combined with a heaping helping of "motherfucker" "shit", and "goddamn"s this game earns its M-rating fairly quickly.

The city of Dubai is rendered gorgeously here, and the full game promises unique sandstorm physics which will affect gameplay. There was little of this on display in the demo, so how much of that  mechanic actually makes it into the game remains to be seen. At one point, I did shoot out some bus windows, pouring sand on some conveniently placed fodder. Visuals are stylistically blown-out, with the bright sun reflecting harshly off the sand dunes. Everything is given a very cinematic presentation, and this sometimes takes your mind off the fact that the path here is simply a corridor.

The plot of Spec Ops: The Line is one of the major marketing points of the game, and is said to take cues from Heart of Darkness. Over the course of the game, characters will become more and more unhinged, and attack animations will become even more brutal. Apparently, the rescue mission you embark on doesn't turn out that well. Who woulda guessed? There is  quite a lot to pick up from the few hours I spent with the game, as far as the plot goes. Apparently, the enemies have recruited an American DJ to taunt the Spec Ops as they perform their mission, no doubt leading to paranoia and, I'm calling it right now, one of your squadmates will turn on you. $50 says so. Any takers?

Christopher Linendoll is a real American. He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.

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