Worth a Play: ‘Spec Ops: The Line’

Worth a Play is a SpawnFirst segment devoted to games that show strong promise and are well above many other titles out there, but failed to catch gamers’ eyes when they released (because of lack of advertising, a high price point, or just plain bad luck) and will have their own full-fledged review. Though there won’t be a score attached, consider any game in “Worth a Play” to receive a hearty SpawnFirst recommendation. Whether you have to rent it, buy it on sale, or borrow it from a friend, you should really give these games a chance.

When I first saw Spec Ops: The Line being offered in PlayStation Plus’s March lineup, I was unsure what to think.  The game, which popped into the market on June 26 of last year, reviewed well when it was released.  However, it was eventually lost in the endlessly overpopulated world of shooters was forgotten about in the span of weeks.  So, after I finally finished the story and sat back to gather my thoughts, I could only think one thing: “Damn, that was actually pretty good!”

That’s why I decided to start a new segment titled “Worth a Play,” and devote it to this exact type of content.  Those games that show strong promise and are well above many other titles out there but failed to catch gamers’ eyes when they released (because of lack of advertising, a high price point, or just plain bad luck) will be featured, along with a full-fledged review.  Though there won’t be a score attached, consider any game in “Worth a Play” to receive my hearty recommendation.  Whether you have to rent it, buy it on sale, borrow it from a friend, or steal it from GameStop, you should really give these games a chance.


The biggest draw for many of Spec Ops: The Line will undoubtedly be the story.  Avoiding the tried-and-true but boring-as-hell storyline of “win the war” that almost every shooter uses, you instead are dropped into Dubai on a simple recon mission as Captain Martin Walker.  I won’t spoil anything here, but you quickly find out that things have gone awry; this leaves Walker and his two faithful squadmates, Lugo and Adams, to figure out just what in the hell is going on in Dubai.


The story will weigh heavily on your mind. In Spec Ops, choices do matter

The narrative is masterfully portrayed, taking dark turns that very few will see coming.  The major plot points often left me with my mouth gaping open, slightly shaken and even minutely disturbed.  It portrays the gravity of what soldiers go through in war as well as, if not better than, any game out there.  A choice system (which, in all reality, does nothing but determine how much enemy resistance you’ll have to battle through) is implemented in an attempt to capitalize on this.  However, there are only a few instances of choice in the game and, apart from one final decision in the last chapter, they have zero effect on the ending.

The story itself is short and sweet, for better or worse.  I was able to clutch out a playthrough in about five hours on the second hardest difficulty, and that wasn’t even a blistering pace.  You can take your time to stock up on ammunition and supplies here and there, but the narrative carries itself on pure adrenaline and leaves no room for filler missions, creating a dense and gripping experience up until the pulse-pounding ending.  Though this short single player campaign might scare some people away, it shouldn’t deter from an otherwise spotless experience.


Spec Ops: The Line is a squad-oriented third person shooter.  There is heavy – and I mean heavy – focus on the use of cover.  This isn’t Call of Duty or Battlefield, and it is nearly impossible to go through the campaign like John Rambo.  Even on the easiest difficulty, if you stray from cover you will die.  A lot.

The use of cover is fluid though, and I enjoyed sitting back and picking off enemies until an entire area was cleared out.  The shooting controls are tight enough to allow precision headshots and enemies don’t respawn on the battlefield, allowing you to take your time and consider a strategic approach.  It should be noted, though, that the enter cover/sprint/heal squadmate actions are all tied to the same button, and ended up costing me a few lives because of it.  It’s rarely a problem, but be prepared to curse the design flaw when it gets you killed.


You might think that Dubai is one big sand trap, but you’ll be surprised at the variety of locales in the game.

Obviously, a squad-based shooter would be majorly flawed if the squad commands weren’t well thought out.  When applying this to Spec Ops: The Line, all I can say is (pardon my French) F*CK THE AI.  On lower difficulties they are manageable (and even, at times, quite good), but don’t bank on them to bail you out while playing on the Suicide Mission or FUBAR difficulties.  When ordering them to kill a target, they’ll take any path necessary, even if it means walking past dozens of enemies on their way to certain death.  The sniper of your group, Lugo, has the ability to pick off far away targets, but it’s completely reliant on the AI’s own discretion.  It would’ve been nice to give direct orders such as “snipe” or “throw a frag grenade” instead of the broad “kill that guy” or the occasional “flashbang” action.  Your squadmates’ stupidity is very frustrating, especially when including the fact that you can’t cancel an order once it’s been given.

Graphics & Sound

Now that my rant on the artificial intelligence is over, I can get back on track with the positives of this game.  From the opening few sequences, you will notice how absolutely brilliant the art and sound direction are.  Cutscenes are elegant and use a perfect overlay of fitting music, and the voice actors for the protagonists are top notch.  The character models themselves are beautiful, and deteriorate over time so that Walker and his pals look like they’ve been through hell by the end of the game.


Walker and squad are not the only ones who’ve been through hell…

What’s interesting about the graphics in Spec Ops is that they can have a direct impact on the gameplay itself.  A grenade explosion will kick up sand and blind your enemies, giving you breathing room for a few crucial seconds.  The bright Dubai sun can pour down through the roof and obstruct your view of the battlefield, forcing you to move to a more shaded location.  Sandstorms will even pop up during the course of the story, which hinders your abilities in combat.  There are occasional bugs like slow-loading textures or calls of “I’m under heavy fire” while not a single bullet is being shot, but these are hardly anything other than a slight distraction.


Yes, the game does come with a multiplayer.  And it’s…

Well, it’s multiplayer.  There isn’t really anything spectacular going on here.  There’s the standard character progression and unlockable weapons/perks, but for the most part it’s just an average experience.  Even when the game is closing in on a year since release, though, I was still able to find lobbies without a hitch.  So if you’re looking to be entertained for a few hours, you can definitely sink your teeth into the multiplayer and see if it’s for you.


Multiplayer in Spec Ops feels like an afterthought, but is engaging enough to waste a few hours on.


Aside from the wonky squad combat, there are a few other frustrating gameplay mechanics.  Most notably, there isn’t a button to throw back grenades.  Often, you’ll swear the enemies have homing devices on their explosives as they land at your feet no matter where you’re taking cover, so having a counter to that would’ve been nice.  Ammo also feels unnecessarily low at times, but a lighter trigger finger can help conserve ammo.

The biggest problem for me, however, was the checkpoint system.  Some portions have annoyingly long combat sequences, and a death will force you to play those several lengthy parts over.  Perhaps this was the developer’s decision, expecting that the average player will learn to play more cautiously.  But when you’re going through the same area dozens of times just to get tripped up by a stray bullet or lone machine gunner, you’ll be left wishing checkpoints were more frequent.

Notable Extras

The fourth difficulty on Spec Ops: The Line, FUBAR, is unlocked after a playthrough on Suicide Mission.  If you love a challenge, then this will definitely test your patience and tack quite a few hours onto the single player experience.  One positive is that, apart from enemy grenades and a few pathetic squadmate deaths, the game hardly ever feels cheap on FUBAR.  Take your time to plan your attack, and when you’ve finally beaten Chapter 15 on this difficulty you’ll feel like a hardened war vet.  Just be careful though, because there’s a decent chance some of those damn chapters will give you PTSD.


Hunting for Intel will be worthwhile, as it gives you a lot of the backstory.

For completionists, there are 23 pieces of intel spread through the 15 chapters.  They don’t require you to scour the surface of the earth to find them, but instead are out in the open for the taking.  I highly suggest listening to the intel, which each contain unique audio that add background to the story.  A few of them are pretty memorable, and one or two at the end are absolutely sobering.

Why It’s Worth a Play

Don’t let the poor squad combat hinder a play of this game.  The entirety can be played single-handedly, only ordering a quick sniper shot every now and again.  The gunplay itself is fun and easy to pick up, but the real star is the narrative.  With the most rewarding single player campaign I’ve ever played in a war shooter, I can’t recommend this experience enough.  A fitting soundtrack adds emotional foundation to cutscenes, while gameplay and gruesome graphics portray the dark realism of warfare with finesse.  Either wait for a Steam sale and grab this half off, or pick up a used copy; Spec Ops: The Line is a game that deserves to be played.