To say the games industry is dominated by shooters is an understatement. With the likes of Halo, Gears of War, Battlefield and Call of Duty selling hand over fist year on year, you could be forgiven for wanting something a little different. It may be surprising then, that I’m selling you another one. But bear with me.
On the face of things, Spec Ops: The Line is your basic third person military shooter. It looks well, plays fine, has decent squad mechanics. So far so what, right?
Where it differs from the pack is its themes and story and the way that story unfolds. This is one of the most gruelling games you’re likely to play and I don’t mean that it’s frustrating in any way. I mean that by the end you will have been put through an emotional wringer. Your family and friends will question the vacant stare in your eyes while those who have been there nod knowingly with a glance of shared sympathy, shame and regret.
Spec Ops: The Line is inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, the same book on which Apocalypse Now is based and centres around a three man squad of soldiers sent into Dubai after a series of city-destroying sandstorms. Your character – Walker – and his squad of Delta operatives are tasked with finding the US Army rescue party sent into evacuate the city and who have since fallen off the grid – the leader of which appears to now rule over the ruins of Dubai as some cult-like figure.
It all starts out normally enough with great visuals and natural interaction between the squad members. But it soon descends into darker territory. The game throws various moral choices your way and your actions begin to take their toll. Your squad mates will start to bicker amongst themselves and question your orders and you’ll be questioning yourself before this is through. One sequence has you raining deadly white phosphorous down on an area full of enemy combatants. As the cloud disappears, most other games would have had your squad high-fiving each other as the screen cuts to the next chapter. In Spec Ops, you have to walk through the aftermath of what you just did – soldiers burning and screaming for mercy at your feet.
It’s strong stuff and it’s a game that will remain with you long after you switch off the console. It reminds you how compelling games can be and it makes you wonder why more books aren’t adapted into videogames.
If you’d prefer your shooters with less gung-ho and more brains, Spec Ops: The Line comes highly recommended. I’ve been there. The nurse says I’m ok to talk about it now.