Forgive me if I'm absolutely sick and tired of military shooters. It seems that no matter what time of year, there's always a war game that's ready to thrust you into some third-world country and have you shoot a bunch of bad guys for 8 to 10 hours.
The format is severely outplayed, so it's no surprise that going into Spec Ops: The Line I was expecting more of the same. Thankfully, Spec Ops deviates away from conventional shooters to the point that it can be enjoyed independently, all while maintaining a very mature and gritty storyline. It's one of the first games to really vilify war, rather than reward it.
Set in Dubai, Spec Ops tells the story of a Delta Force team that enters the city after it is wiped out by a series of the worst sandstorms ever recorded. The sand has left the area in shambles and it's your job to find out what happened to the first-response 33rd battalion that was initially tasked with evacuating Dubai's citizens. It's absolutely not a tale for the faint of heart -- and quite frankly some of the scenes are downright disturbing -- but Spec Ops weaves an engaging story complete with twists and turns that make it much more interesting than the average high-concept indecipherable military thriller. If there's one takeaway that The Line reinforces over and over, it's that all war sucks, even when spawned from the best of intentions.
It's that plot combined with the striking setting of a sandstorm-ravaged Dubai that really makes Spec Ops more than just a mindless stop-and-pop cover-based shooter. Yes, there are a lot of cliched conventions present here (like ammo repositories, squad commands, and waypoints), but the clever use of interactive environmental hot spots adds some depth. Sand has found its way into every crevice of Dubai, and players can use its collection in air vents and other areas to their advantage. The best part being that these little booby traps aren't glowing neon pink, so you must be aware of your surroundings as it pertains to a specific gun fight. Have a bunch of enemies assembled in front of a first-floor glass window? Odds are you can pierce the glass to take them out with an avalanche of sand.
Because Spec Ops is a third-person shooter, players are able to make use of a somewhat flawed cover system that takes a bit of time getting used to. It works well for the most part, but I experienced a few times when it would pop me out of cover just in time for a sniper to take my head off. There are a number of graphical inadequacies also spread across the campaign, such as rough character animations and RPG explosions that fail to pack in the right amount of pop. That said, there's a good variety of weapons at your disposal and it's easy to change between your tactical items like grenades and flashbangs. You're not going to find much in the way of machinery innovation here, though; odds are you've virtually fired all of these guns before.
Spec Ops: The Line maintains a good flow throughout, and never once did I hope that things were coming to an end. Its take on war, violence, and morality is a needed departure from the norm that will most likely register with those who don't skip cut-scenes. If you pay attention, you'll almost certainly be hooked on how it all plays out.
If you can look beyond a few frustrating details and a game that occasionally feels rough around the edges, you'll find that Spec Ops: The Line is a satisfying title that hits during what's otherwise a summer drought. There are a handful of multiplayer modes available in The Line as well that sweeten the overall value, but the other military shooters out there do it better. That's fine with me, though -- it's about time one of these games leaned on its campaign as the driving force.