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Mini-Review: Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The LineIt's not a good time to live in the city of Dubai.  A massive sandstorm has devastated the region, turning the opulent desert haven into a dwelling of death.  The United States Army's "The Damned" 33rd Battalion volunteered to enter the city and spearhead the evacuation of its citizens, but instead the unit's commander, Colonel John Konrad, went metaphorically up river and set himself up as the local ruler.  Now the 33rd patrols the city, plundering its remaining riches and resources for itself.  Enter the Delta Force team of Walker, Adams, and Lugo.  They've come to find out just what went wrong and then call for extraction.  Along the way, however, Walker and his men will discover just how damned the 33rd really are.  Welcome to Dubai, gentlemen.  This is Spec Ops: The Line.

What starts out as seemingly just another third-person shooter for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC quickly becomes something more.  Walker's mission takes him deeper and deeper into the hostile territory of Dubai and sets him and his men against the different factions trying to scrape by following the sandstorm.  Anyone who is comfortable with the combat portions of, say, Naughty Dog's Uncharted franchise will feel right at home here with the variety of available guns, the cover mechanic, etc.  At its core, it's a little old hat, but I am alright with that.  The difficulty never felt overwhelming as most shooters tend to feel for me, but I never felt as if the game was easy.  The challenge level offered the right mix of progress and light frustration as enemy soldiers, angry civilians, and other forces swarmed the game's environments.  Part of that feeling must be credited to Adams and Lugo, the game's two CPU-controlled squadmates.  With a tap of a shoulder button I was able to specifically target enemy troops and order quick eliminations, and they would focus their fire on that target.  I actually felt as if I was working with a team rather than dumb AI characters pulled from a poorly programmed escort mission, and that was especially refreshing.

The Line also offers an online multiplayer mode that is set as something of a prequel to the single-player campaign.  Players are cast as either members of the 33rd or as Dubai civilians and are set against each other through traditional deathmatch options and secondary objectives.  It seems that no military shooter is complete these days without multiplayer modes, and while The Line's offering is fairly standard as these things go, I was never able to finish a match thanks to the session's host quitting and the game dropping me back to the main menu.  Rage quitting seems to be a popular option for The Line's online players in my experience and I wish that the game could transfer hosting duties to another player rather than just ending the session.

Spec Ops: The LineWar is hell, but video games go out of their way to make it look like a heck of a lot of fun.  Military shooters often rely on the time-honored mechanic of turning the player into a one-man killing machine tasked with mowing down waves of enemy troops while bombastic music blares across the soundtrack.  In the end, everyone becomes a hero.  Spec Ops: The Line from 2K Games and Yager has a different idea what a war game should entail and presents something fresh.  Walker's mission takes a variety of twists and turns as he and his men head deeper into Dubai, and what's presented as fact isn't necessarily the truth.  This is a game about story more than simple shooting, and as much as I want to lay out everything that the rich plot has to offer, I'm going to hold back for now and let you discover it for yourself.  Anything that I say would spoil what the development team has accomplished here, and considering that I went into the game completely unspoiled, I'm not about to ruin that feeling for you.  There'll be another day to talk about what's going on in Dubai in detail, but for now I must say that The Line offers one of the best narratives of this gaming generation and it must be experienced.  Avoid the spoilers and the plot summaries.  Skip the walkthroughs.  Play this one for yourself and see it through all the way to the end.  It is highly recommended.