There are games, and there are games that make you feel like an outright asshole. Proudly sitting at the top of the latter category is Spec Ops: The Line. While other games do a stellar job of making you feel like the good guy, letting each of your actions be justified by the thought that you are doing it for a higher cause, Spec Ops thought it would be nice to make you feel like a piece of turd regardless of what you do. 

At this point in time, the ADD-afflicted lot of you have probably had a gander at the score and are wondering, “What in the name of all awesome and holy is this reviewer ranting about, considering it’s a four-star game?” Well, dear people, read on. 

Most games are tailored to be enjoyable experiences. Spec Ops is designed to be a powerful experience. You won’t end up feeling warm and fuzzy while or after playing this. In fact, it will have you thinking and eventually ranting about it like this writer did. 

Controls are as slick and responsive as they get

Controls are as slick and responsive as they get

The game has you in the role of Martin Walker, a Delta Force operative. Along with your two squad mates Lugo and Adams, your mission is to check for any survivors in the sandstorm stricken land of Dubai and call for extraction. 

Soon enough, this simple reconnaissance mission evolves into a massive conspiracy that stars the CIA, an entire battalion of US Army troops, and a rather insane US Army Colonel. Oh, and there’s a lot of shooting involved as well. 

Unlike other shooters that concentrate on letting you run and gun from cover, Spec Ops prefers to have you bothered about squad-based tactics. You can command your team members to attack specific targets or blind them with flash grenades with the click of a button. 

In addition, you can shoot at seemingly harmless facets of the environment such as windows to enable you to submerge your enemies in a large amount of sand that sweeps in. There are the usual environmental hazards such as exploding barrels as well. 

Out of the fire...

Out of the fire…

In terms of controls, it’s as slick and responsive as it gets. You won’t find yourself at odds against the controller or keyboard at all. Be it lobbing grenades or shooting with one of the game’s many realistic guns, you’ll find this to be a rather intuitive control scheme. We guess this is one of the perks of having a heavily crowded genre; basic stuff like this becomes easier to implement. 

To keep things fresh, you’ll find yourself shooting more than regular soldiers. As you progress you’ll find yourself squaring off against heavily armoured officers. These soldiers wield machine guns and wear, as the name suggests, heavy armour. They require a fair bit of strategy to be killed even at the lower difficulty levels. Also, there are elite troopers to further add variety to the fire fight. They sport unique insignias and can use a variety of weaponry, besides the all-but-obvious feature of being tougher to kill. 

What really distinguishes Spec Ops from the pack is its depiction of war. The fine folk at Yager, the developers of the game, thought it well to show you how damaging war could be. Sure, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Fallout can argue about how “war has changed” or “war never changes”, but neither has had the gumption to actually show what war does with such grisly brutality. The effects of phosphorus on soldiers, for instance, leaves them burning and charred alive — a truly frightful sight. 

Designed to be a powerful experience.

Designed to be a powerful experience.

The choices you make have dire consequences. For example, you could choose to mortar an entire blockade of soldiers, only to realise they were delivering aid to refugees. You’d be greeted by images of the dying and disfigured corpses while you wonder if that was the right choice. You could choose to save a CIA agent who could give you information that may save hundred of lives or prevent the immediate death of a handful of civilians; it's up to you, but you may not realise it at times.

This is because unlike other games that would go out of their way to label such instances as choices, there are no visual cues aside from the chatter of your squad. Even in terms of making a choice, the focus here is on acting accordingly, rather than pressing a specific button as in other games built on choice, such as the Mass Effect series. It is integrated a lot more holistically and feels like a natural part of the proceedings. Interestingly, there’s no value judgement passed on your choices. There are no right or wrong decisions, and there is no symbol to indicate otherwise; nor do you receive points for being good or evil. Spec Ops’ system of choice revolves solely around actions and consequences. But given the setting of the game, they all feel like tough choices to make, steeped in moral ambiguity and leaving you to figure out if you made the right move or not. 

Conspiracy at every corner

Conspiracy at every corner

At around eight hours of gameplay, Spec Ops does little to overstay its welcome. This is one wellpaced title. You never feel that a level is added in just to fill up time. Everything is heavily geared towards taking the story forward. More importantly, the gritty presentation is a welcome change from the flood of shooters that have the cinematic, action movie feel to them. The game has very few set pieces or moments of sheer spectacle, preferring to let its portrayal of war do the talking. 

And when you’re done taking it all in, there’s multiplayer mode. It has all the requisite features needed in a modern day shooter, giving you the option to frag with friends. You have factions to choose from and character classes to decide on, along with the mandatory perks and levelling up. There isn’t much to separate it from anything else out on the market. Well, unless you factor in the poor network code, unbalanced weapons and the plethora of glitches ranging from buggy animations to players being able to exploit the system by getting infinite ammo. It’s a bit of a mess that needs a patch or two before it can even be recommended. 

As it stands, Spec Ops: The Line is a fine game. It sports a mature story line that leaves you thinking long after it is over, has a neatly integrated choice mechanic, possesses great controls, and most importantly, has something relevant to say. If there’s one shooter you should play this year, this is what it should be.

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