Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Spec Ops: The Line

Post-Launch Review
Spec Ops: The Line
Developer: Yager Development (single player) / Darkside Game Studios (multiplayer)
Released: June 2012

About

Dubai has been destroyed by massive sandstorms, and the elite US military unit sent to help has been assumed lost. Recently a transmission was received indicating that the unit is still alive, so a squad is sent to investigate. Captain Walker's reconnaissance mission quickly turns into a manhunt through hostile territory when the squad discovers survivors who aren't what they appear.

At Launch

Reviews were mostly positive but unexceptional, averaging to about 76%. Critics were very impressed with the story and its unique take on violent shooters and war stories. Feelings on the visuals were somewhat mixed, though most reviewers liked them. The game lost some points due to control issues and poorly-received multiplayer, as well as average gameplay.

Post Launch
A co-op mode was added in a free update, featuring four missions with new characters.

The Good

Confusing
The early parts of the game are full of confusion. You don't know who's shooting at you or why, and the people shooting at you don't know who you actually are. In only the first hour it seems like there are three or four sides to the conflict, and some or all of them don't know exactly what's going on. Seems everyone's shooting at everyone else so they don't get shot first. And that's good - already it's a bit deeper than the "good vs bad" portrayal you get in most military stories.
Story
The Line's story is pretty fantastic. It plays with FPS conventions a lot, and turns them into feels. This game is great at making you feel awful. I don't want to spoil too much because it's a great plot, but to summarize, it's the story of a man thrust into an awful situation who has a hell of a time coming to terms with what he's had to do. It's not really anti-war, but takes a hard look at the psychological effects of war and tough decisions.
The Line is incredibly violent and doesn't hold back. I can easily see parts being too much for some people. But the violence always serves the story and is never played for shock value. 
My only regret is that I came into the game already knowing that it overturns a lot of FPS conventions and expectations. I think it would have been even more powerful if I'd approached it as just another military shooter. Then again, if I had, I wouldn't have bought it.
Sand Combat
There are two main ways you can use sand to your advantage. Grenades kick up loose sand, obscuring vision. You can also find sand piled up behind glass, and shooting the glass sends a wave of sand towards your enemies, blinding or killing them. But the mechanic isn't forced on you - in your first fight the game tells you how you can use sand to your advantage, and then just leaves you alone. You don't have to use it, and sometimes in the heat of combat you might not even notice your options. It's subtle, which is a nice change of pace - a lot of the time a game's gimmick is forced on you.
Visuals
Spec Ops is gorgeous. Models, textures, and animation are quite good but aren't standout amazing - the effects are where the visuals really shine. The bright and warm colours combined with the clouds of sand and winds look really nice. The opening level has plenty of screenshot-worthy vistas and frames. Things don't look quite as nice indoors since you don't get as many of the neat filters and lighting effects, but it still looks solid. Indoors tends to use a cooler colour palette with a lot of blues, while outside you get lots of warm oranges, yellows, and browns - it gives you a sense of temperature, though the game does also play with the mix (like the bright blue sky outside).
Voice Acting
Nolan North is fantastic as Walker. Your squad is great too, but North's voice work is really amazing. Walker starts out terse and professional, as you'd expect from a good soldier. But as the game goes on and the stress and chaos starts getting to him, you can tell that Walker is falling apart. He's shouting and cursing at enemies and growling at his squad, and it's obvious that he's not taking the whole mission very well.

The Neutral

Gameplay
Well, what can I say. It's a cover-based shooter. Nothing new or exciting. If you're looking for innovation, you won't find it here. But that doesn't matter, and I'm not faulting the game for it. In fact, I kind of think the game's themes and message are strengthened by the fact that it's mechanically a standard military FPS - it lets you focus on the story.
I've seen an argument that this is all because combat isn't supposed to be fun in this kind of game. I don't know if that's a deliberate design decision, but it's certainly an interesting idea.

The Bad

Minor Visual Issues
There's occasional texture popping, and there's no antialiasing option. But these are fairly minor.

The Verdict

Recommendation: play it.
Holy crap, I love this game. The storytelling is fantastic and there are some really hard-hitting moments. I absolutely recommend it, especially if you have reservations about military shooters.
These sections are usually longer. I guess I should reiterate that it looks good and the voice acting is great. Or something. Just play the game because it's amazing.
As a side note, I didn't comment on the multiplayer or co-op because those aren't the reasons to play this game.

4 comments:

  1. What control scheme did you use? I tried the m+kb but found it extremely irritating, which surprised me. I'm struggling through using a gamepad, but the sensitivity seems just so finicky on all options.

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    1. I played mouse/keyboard and didn't have any problems. A couple of times I didn't end up in cover as quickly as I would've liked, but it wasn't enough to be worth commenting on, especially since they were frantic situations where I might've pushed the wrong button.

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    2. The sensitivity is finicky because of obscene amounts of mouse acceleration. I've detailed how to fix that here: http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3062192

      I used M/KB and after fixing mouse accel and rebinding a bunch of actions to keys I was more comfortable with I haven't had any issues.

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