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Spec Ops: The Line review

Spec Ops has a story to tell, and it's one you might not be comfortable hearing

It is, however, still a typical cover shooter under the hood, augmented with a smattering of neat ideas and a few technical missteps. Spec Ops: The Line is obviously a game that was left in the oven for a few years too long, which might explain why the 2009-era Unreal Engine 3 visuals are baked in, along with the kind of texture pops that have all but been eradicated from modern gaming.

The controls are loose, too, and Yager’s attempts at tweaking the standard cover shooter don’t really work out. You’re able to tap one button to stick to cover, and another to leap over it, theoretically removing the need to smash into an obstacle before jumping over it.

Hiding behind a crumbling sand castle

Problem is, this only works about 80 percent of the time, with Walker bashing obstacles with the butt of his gun instead of leaping over them for the other 20 percent. He’ll also sometimes flat-out refuse to take cover on an object unless he’s at the absolute perfect angle, leaving him exposed long enough to take a trip back to the last checkpoint (which is often further than we’d have liked, due to poorly placed checkpoints).

These qualms are made up for with clever level design and surprisingly varied locations. Walker’s trip through a sand-covered Dubai has him traversing what is essentially a post-apocalyptic city, ravaged by the desert and enveloped by nature. Outdoor vistas are incredible in scope, and indoor locations are beautiful still-lifes of destruction.

There are some missed opportunities here, though, mainly surrounding the actual sand itself. While early reports stated that they would provide dynamic, interesting interactions, the sand is actually more akin to an explosive barrel than anything else. Walls or doors can sometimes be shot, causing trillions of grains of sand to pour in, but it’s never any more interesting than an explosive barrel would have been. Sandstorms are more interesting, but they're scripted, and not all that unique.

Check out the darker side of this military shooter

Issues with the game’s controls extend into the multiplayer, hamstringing any attempts to create a long-lasting competitive experience. It’s fully fleshed out – more so than we had expected – with multiple interesting game modes, customizable characters, and bountiful unlocks. But the perks don’t outweigh the fact that, as a shooter, Spec Ops isn’t really suited for competitive play. Sandstorms brewing up during matches are all good and well, but don’t make up for the loose controls. Unlocking new physical customizations is undoubtedly neat, but it doesn’t forgive the poor cover system. It’s not bad, by any means, but it feels absolutely unnecessary, and it's hardly worth getting excited bout.

The horror... the horror

You’re not going to walk away from Spec Ops with a smile. You’re not going to trade stories of valor with your friends. You’re going to feel bad about what you’ve done and have long, reflective conversations about the narrative. You’re going to talk about the choices you made, and instead of wondering what other outcomes there were, you’re going to ask why they did it. You're going to think about the people you've killed – not just in this game, but in other games in the past. Did you have a choice? Did you even check? Spec Ops: The Line has its issues, but they’re overshadowed by a brave, compelling narrative that treats the medium with respect, and calls you a son of a bitch for playing it.

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.

More info

DescriptionThe militaristic, third-person shooter series returns, this time set in the near-future as Dubai becomes a warzone.
Platform"Xbox 360","PC","PS3"
US censor rating"Mature","Rating Pending","Rating Pending"
UK censor rating"","",""
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)