Sean’s Backloggery – Episode 1, Spec Ops: The Line
Oh, hi. Didn’t see you there. Take a seat – let me lay it down for you.
Upon my switch to the PC Gaming Master Race, I went a little nuts with my credit card. I don’t dare mention the number of games I’ve purchased for fear of further loss of respect. It’s a lot, floating somewhere around The Number Of The Beast. I’m also turning 30 this year, and if the average lifespan of men in my family is any indicator, I have about 10 years left before a bus runs me over, leaving years of debt to be paid by my family (a life of trolling – complete). This is where you come in. You will be my excuse to play all this nonsense – the peanut butter to my jelly, the Page to my Plant, the cocaine to my Freud.
Due to the nature of a “backlog”, we won’t always be tackling things released anytime this decade. However, this time, we are. Let’s shoot the shit about Spec Ops: The Line.
EVERYTHING IS TEETERING ON THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING
Formerly a glistening jewel on the Arabian Peninsula, Dubai has been ravaged by sandstorms, forcing it’s evacuation – but only for the wealthy. The city has since descended into hell, and Colonel John Konrad and his 33rd Battalion have been sent in to salvage any survivors. Problem: they go rogue, and haven’t been heard from since, minus one mysterious radio transmission regarding the failure to bring Dubai under control. You play as Delta Operative Martin Walker, along with squadmates Adams and Lugo. Your mission appears to be a simple one – get in, find Konrad and the 33rd, and report back. Seeing as how the game needs to be longer than 15 minutes, things invariably go wrong from there. How they go wrong is…..unexpected/entirely expected.
If there’s one thing that sticks out about the fiction of Spec Ops, it’s how dedicated it is to making you feel awful. Mass Effect 3 has nothing on this morbid little number when it comes to cynicism. There is no comic relief, nor is there any validation that the actions you are taking are the correct ones. Sure, your squad-mates are dedicated to the mission at the start, but even that starts to change in horrible ways the further along you get. Imagine Garrus turning around to you every few missions to remind you that you’re a psychopath, and you have an idea of how brutally this game pulls the rug out from under you. Much like the great S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, Yager Development refuses to treat you like the hero you think you should be. It’s brilliant, and is a sensation I never want to feel again. There are moments during this game which will stick with me a while – go ahead and get to the “White Phosphorus” scene. I’ll wait here.
HOME? WE CAN’T GO HOME.
But alas, this is a shooter, so we should talk about the shooting. It’s fine. You’ll pop in and out of cover, spray your foes with pellets of hot metal death, and retreat to regain health. You can also command your fellow troops to take out high-priority targets, and it becomes a crutch you’ll rely on as the game’s difficulty ramps up. On that topic, be wary of Chapter 10 onward. I’ve experienced some awkward difficult spikes before, but holy shit, this was a little egregious. Upon my entrance into a sandy parking garage, I also entered into a die/re-load hell for approximately an hour. Much of this stemmed from the game’s inability to challenge you with intelligent foes, instead choosing to throw a metric ton of them at you and have them spawn in crappy places. It also suffers from the “override that” theory of game design. The “override that” theory goes a little something like this – “To exit this level you must de-activate their security hub which will then allow our security system to override their jamming frequencies but of course they have overridden our security protocols to jam our security systems which requires a manual reboot of the main generator hub which would be easy but they have placed jamming towers over the generator to disable our lock-on radar which means we have to override their jamming technology with a virus which must first be un-jammed because they also have jammers in our main virus-making hub which means we have to…..”
Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find the combat to be comforting in how by-the-books it is. And furthermore……OH JESUS CHRIST THAT LOADING SCREEN JUST ASKED ME HOW MANY AMERICANS I’VE KILLED TODAY!!! Please forget all of what I typed above. None of it matters. I’m never playing another shooter again.
There’s also some online multiplayer, filled with the standard leveling up and unlocks, but most games I tried to enter were either empty or lag-fests. There are no dedicated servers, and some of the most interesting gameplay is locked behind the leveling system. When I did get a good game going, however, it was surprisingly fun, with Yager’s promise of “sandstorms that can strike at anytime” really only present here – you’ll find none of that in the singleplayer campaign, as all the storms are heavily scripted. It’s worth a few hours of your time, but I can’t see a huge community building around this. Let’s raise a glass to hoping I’m wrong.
SURVIVORS: ONE TOO MANY
It’s a shame that all this carnage looks so…..damn…..nice. Those sandstorms, scripted as they may be, do quite a number on the architecture of Dubai. Your eyes will reap the benefits. Set-pieces look uniformly terrific, with the building deformation worthy of at least one playthrough. Special mention should also be made of Nolan North’s work here. Ubiquitous as he has become, this is probably his best work yet. Put aside your cynicism over yet another Nolan North joint and bask in the deranged fury he brings to the game’s final hours. Ditto for Bruce Boxleitner as the mythical John Konrad. You will know intimidation when he comes over your walkie. Oh, and Jake Busey’s also in here as Radioman, so you slobbering Busey fanboys will want to add this one to your collection ASAP (Ed. note – ON IT!).
And that’s Spec Ops: The Line. Calling it “good” is a bit like calling a documentary on the genocide of Darfur “well made”. You either want to play this game and have a chat about it afterwards, or you don’t. I suspect you’ll know how you feel within the first 3 hours (roughly halfway through). Should you persist past that……happy hunting in the abyss, my friends.