Be it first or third person, the gameplay in shooters has become so standardised that players will know the controls more or less straight away, and whatever passes for a plot serves only as an excuse to have enemies pop up to eat bullets. Essentially, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, right? Well, not quite. Spec Ops: The Line is certainly guilty of all of the above, to greater or lesser degrees. Where it succeeds is in how it’s all put together though – a revision of the recipe, if not the ingredients.
Set in an almost deserted Dubai following a devastating series of ferocious sandstorms, the game takes on an air of the fantastic, the opulence of the desert city lending a touch of Prince of Persia to the proceedings. Sent in to investigate a distress beacon from a long-thought dead US Army evacuation mission, all hell breaks loose when your three-man squad uncovers something dastardly going on in the heart of the desert. A nice excuse for enemy forces on what starts as a rescue mission then, but what’s impressive is the twists the narrative takes. It’s a shooter with more than just a story; it’s one where your actions – not in battle but at key decision moments – change the flow. The characters have depth, their experiences matter, and because of that, the player is more engaged despite the predictable gameplay so endemic of the genre.
As far as that straight-up shooting goes, Spec Ops is a rousing success. The third-person run-and-gun action is fast-paced, enemy AI patterns keeping you on your toes without being overwhelming. Targets can be pointed out to your squadmates, windows can be shattered to bury enemies in the sand raging outside and there’s even an element of stealth that can be employed. It’s a game that’s challenging without being frustrating, and gives you the right toolset to best exploit your surroundings.
The Line doesn’t reinvent the concept of third-person shooters, but in presenting players with interesting characters, a gripping story and fun gameplay, it certainly refines it. A sterling effort.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen