Saturday, January 5, 2013

Spec Ops: The Line [Game][PC]

Amount Completed: One play through failing to realize I had a choice at the end of the game (non-spoiler?).

Story: Spec Ops: The Line is about a three Delta Force operatives attempting to perform reconnaissance in a storm ravaged Dubai. Everything has been destroyed due to the cataclysmic sand storms that continue to ravage the area as you play through the game. You play as the main character and move the story forward by making minimal decisions and mostly just moving towards the next way point like a good little gamer. I make the sarcastic comment because the game forces you into decisions that you may not like the result of. The overall view is that war is a hellish mess in which people can easily make terrible decisions. Unfortunately there is little change in the game based on the decisions you make. You will be exposed to the horrors of war and witness things go from bad to worse.

Unfortunately the female gender is limited to evoking emotion in cut-scenes and civilians in the background. I am guessing they wanted to avoid stirring up even more controversy by having any actual female characters play a role. I think this could have worked well with my original thought that the game would be less guided and more open-ended about which factions you choose to support.

Art: The game looks great! There is a lot of extra detail in a few places with original art to remind the player that they are traveling through a high end metropolis that has been utterly devastated. Over the course of the game your character and his companions visually change providing some acknowledgement that they have had little to no rest, certainly don't wear a clean set of clothing, and aren't back to perfect unwounded shape every new step of the story.

Sound: The sound design of the game was critical due to the variety of events within the game. While I think they did very well I was very disappointed with the use of music. In a few sections of the game the "Radioman" uses his city-wide radio system to broadcast music providing a soundtrack to the various firefights throughout the game. Unfortunately they also had music during other firefights where it was generic and felt out of place with a game attempting to be realistic.

Gameplay: As someone who can actually recall the original Spec Ops games from the 90s (they were cool for the time) I think this is a very worthy sequel. You do not have multiple missions and are instead on one very guided roller coaster ride into the madness of war. The squad play is limited but works. You can help your companions if injured and request they go after targets as well.

As with many third-person shooters of late Spec Ops: The Line includes the use of cover by pressing a key to "attach" to a given wall/barrier. This works for the most part but is not always predictable due to angles and types of things to attach to. You cannot predict what you can attach to until you stand your character next to it and see if the context sensitive hint appears indicating you can attach.

One drawback of the game is that the controls on the PC keyboard just do not exactly work right. Grenades in particular require a lot of input and a bit of thought (especially if you want to cancel one). It is not that it is especially difficult it just seems like the number of situations where they could have been useful was cut down due to my lack of desire to fight so much with it. The grenade selection with the mouse wheel was also bizarre at best. It was like a game of roulette if I would get the grenade type I desired.

In a game where your choices and  consequences are generally apparent the concept of karma is lost in the "execution" option on wounded enemy combatants. By performing execution maneuvers you are rewarded with additional ammunition you would otherwise not receive. This flies in the face of the goal of the game and encourages you to take on further violent acts. I was very confused by the decision to include this (as it is both morally odd and nonsensical).

The aftermath of any gun violence pales in comparison to the aftermath in numerous of the cut-scenes or non-combat scenarios. Instead the enemies you face are reduced to video game fodder. Only once do I recall the radioman sarcastically pointing out that the soldier killed had a wife and children. The enemies do occasionally speak of other matters but never much in the way of reminding the player that they are in hell and wish to be out of war and back to just about anything else.

Gut: The game is fun to play. The game also contains a lot of disturbing content and may disgust some players. I was a bit disappointed that the story was so completely on rails. I was hoping for a bit more open ended where you have to deal with independent issues in a non-sequential order (faux player choice).

Afterthought: I was surprised to read such harsh criticism over the lack of alternate decisions to avoid the most horrific events. This game is not a choose-your-own adventure. The game is more like a regular book where the player is only responsible for making it through gunfights. I guess people wanted/expected Fallout 3.

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