Support Andy, click to buy via us...
Spec Ops The Line is a third person shooter, voiced by Nolan North set in a sand-storm swept Dubai. That much I already expected. What I hadnít anticipated was my conscience being pricked quite so hard.
Joseph Conrad's classic Heart of Darkness, inspiration for the acclaimed Apocalypse Now, is put to work here as the backbone of the game world. Without getting bogged down in specifics, itís the not unfamiliar tale of an apocalyptic sandstorm, population evacuation and a US Army Colonel and soldiers left stranded. You are sent in to investigate what happened. But beyond the box ticking there is a genuine sense of unrest, and questions asked of the player that arenít quickly answered.
Although drawing on proper cultural touchstones can be dicey territory for a young in the tooth media like gaming, Spec Ops The Line does a surprisingly good job. The key here is that the atrocities and madness of the situation are allowed to have their say without being gratuitous or juvenile. The sand-sunk Dubai becomes a, quite literal, hell on earth. Itís unsettling, but in a way that feels entirely warranted.
The game proper is admittedly more of a mixed bag. It struggles to offer anything more than an average shooter experience with a sticky cover system and a derivative set of controls and ordinances. But to dwell on this is to miss the point.
The squad-based mechanics are better, and follow through more than other games -- enabling you to control and co-ordinate team mates. You can specify targets, launch grenades and call for medical assistance and all these things are key to progressing. But more than being an extension of you the player, these other characters also push back with their own ideas and assessments of what needs to be done -- sometimes even shirking your demands. This adds a real sense of humanity to the environment which turns up the shock and horror of what unfolds.
Politics, emotion and humanity play-out alongside military weapons and vehicles without being eclipsed.
Weather changes dynamically as you wade through the procedurally shifting sand. Every opportunity is taken to underline the grim reality of the place you are fighting in -- and it pays off in terms of how tense and emotional the game feels.
Things get ugly. Not in a Hollywood-Hero kind of way, but from a depraved "what is humanity doing to itself" perspective. Spec Ops The Line leaves juvenile, fetish and gore-porn to other shooters while it walks a much more grownup and sobering path.
Some will criticise the game for struggling to marry up this high ethical ideal with its gameplay, and the strange juxtaposition of making uneasy moral choice one moment before heading off and shooting down handfuls of other people the next is an issue.
But to balk at these missteps is to misunderstand why Spec Ops The Line is worth playing. This is a genuine step towards a different kind of shooter -- one where politics, emotion and humanity play-out alongside military weapons and vehicles without being eclipsed.
This is a game that will disturb you, but rightly so. There were times when I almost stop playing, but by the end I was happy I had pushed through. In fact, I came away feeling more disturbed about my placid acceptance of actions in other more entertainment focused shooters.
Willing to take the plot and character to greater moments of prolonged self doubt and introspection than Naughty Dog.
This strays nicely into territory that Naughty Dog are keen to colonise after the success of Uncharted and with their upcoming Last of Us game on PS3. We find the family voice of Nolan North (Nathan Drake, Uncharted) here too, but the similarity is quickly broken. Spec Ops The Line seems willing to take the plot and character to greater moments of prolonged self doubt and introspection than anything Naughty Dog has so far served up -- although Last of Us may get them there.
Some may find this all a little worthy and heavy handed. The same players will also complain that it is too slow, boring and a little long. However, use the games trajectory as a chance to engage genuinely in these scenarios that are usually thrown around for entertainment and every moment is valuable here.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: