It’s been a long 10 years but Yager Development and 2K Games have finally brought back a franchise that many of you probably didn’t know existed in the first place. Spec Ops: The Line is the ninth game in the series and brings back the squad based third person gameplay though it shares nothing else with the previous games in the series.

Gamers begin the story as Delta Squad Captain Martin Walker as he and his team head into a sandstorm ruined Dubai after losing contact with Colonel John Konrad and his Army battalion. They’re sent in to figure out what happened to the evacuation of the city. So after a long hiatus, does Spec Ops: The Line bring the franchise to glory or does it get buried under the sand?

Full review awaits after the jump…

As a series of dust storms ravage Dubai, Colonel John Konrad volunteers his 33rd Army Battalion to help evacuate the city. Unfortunately, the storms intensified, the Damned 33rd initiate martial law to keep the peace, and a storm wall is formed that cut the city off from the rest of the world as radio broadcasts, satellite surveillance and communications are disrupted. Six months later, a single message managed to escape the city and prompts the US to send in a three man team to figure out what happened to Konrad, the 33rd and the city itself. What starts out as a simple recon mission quickly becomes a tale of survival amongst the no man’s land of Dubai.

I won’t reveal any more of the story here outside of the fact that it’s easily the game’s ace in the hole. The transformation that Delta Squad undergoes as the story progresses and as things begin to unravel around them is extremely compelling and hooked me to the point where I didn’t want to put the controller down. I didn’t realize the level at which the game messes with your head. As you near the later half of the game, even the loading screen messages start to break the fourth wall and instead of offer you tips, it starts to question you with statements like “This is all your fault” and “Do you even remember why you came here?” It’s creepy stuff and at the same time is completely awesome. I was really blown away with how detailed, organized, and well told the story unfolded as the game went on.

Captain Walker is voiced by Nolan North and at first I was a little worried as the trailers made him sound to be a bit like a more serious Nathan Drake. Ultimately, North does a great job with the role and as the game progresses and the story changes, so to does North’s voice work. It’s tough to explain without giving away more of the story so I’ll leave it at that. The other thing that really impressed me was the squad banter. It felt genuine and realistic without feeling scripted or forced. The guys joked around, spoke with emotion, and overall created a realistic feel. The standout for me was easily the Radioman, a former journalist turned public DJ and spokesman for the “Damned” 33rd in Dubai. The voice actor makes the role so believable, you may think you’re watching a movie or something. When firefights light up during certain points, he’ll even play rock music which adds a very entertaining element to the campaign.

Since sand is a major theme, you may think that the color palate is a bunch of tans and browns. Not so. Yager does a great job mixing up the environment moving from daylight, to night, to indoor, and to sun drenched stretches of desert. You’ll also see plenty of reds, oranges, yellows, and purples as you move through the game. It’s visually appealing and won’t bore your eyes. Graphically speaking, it looks good but won’t rival the top looking games of this generation. There’s a bit of texture pop in and even then, the texture work isn’t the best.

Spec Ops is your typical third person cover based shooter. Your best shot at survival is to stop and pop from behind cover as Walker and his crew can’t take too many hits and unlike other games, once you go down, it’s time to reload the last checkpoint. Even though your squad mates can be revived, you cannot. It’s kind of a curious design choice if you ask me. Overall, The Line’s controls are good, but done better in other games like Gears of War or more recently, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Comparing them, The Line feels a little clunky and much slower paced due to the control scheme and just not as fluid or easy to use. It may cause a few issues here or there (the vault button is the same button as melee), but overall, it’s not a huge issue.

Speaking of your squad, Lugo and Adams are very capable soldiers and I found them to be very helpful. I know a few other reviews had issues with them either getting stuck on objects in the world and not offering much but overall, I didn’t see any of that in my playthrough. They’re not the type of AI to do the work for you, but they are helpful in a fight. Not only that, Yager threw in some mighty helpful squad commands. While you can order them where to move, you can direct their fire at a particular target, have them heal someone who’s down, and even have them toss a flash bang at a crowd of enemies. It’s simple, easy to use, and comes in handy quite a bit.

I’ve been waiting for a game to come along and introduce a new brand of “choice” in a game. No offense to Infamous, Mass Effect or any other games that give you options, I love you guys as well, but it’s so easy to manipulate the system as you’re presented with a very distinct “Good” or “Bad” choice. Spec Ops: The Line throws that concept out the window. In Dubai, you’re forced to make some hard choices, many of which are neither good or bad but are more morally complicated. There’s no right or wrong here, and sometimes both options are equally unsettling. The game seems to revel in making you feel bad about trying to be a hero. It’s an interesting concept and is also quite refreshing.

Sand seemed to be a big buzz word around this game prior to release. There was lots of talk about how sandstorms and the ability to use sand to your tactical advantage would play a major role. After working my way through the game, I’d have to disagree. Yes, there are scripted sandstorm events which really do have an impact on the gameplay and scripted sections where you are forced to interact with sand to proceed. The thing that disappointed me is the relative lack of natural sand interactions during any given section of a level. Maybe I was going in with the wrong expectations, but outside of a few opportunities (and scripted events), there’s not a ton of opportunities to bury enemies under a mountain of sand without it being a necessary objective to advance.

Multiplayer is pegged as being a sort of prequel story to the main campaign as the Exiles go up against Konrad’s Damned 33rd before Delta arrives in Dubai. In an interesting move, multiplayer is a more intimate affair instead offering smaller player limits instead of the big battles you see from shooters now a days. This is a good and bad thing. The levels are more vertical based and since there are so few people in the match, things will slow way down as you’ll do a lot of running to find the other players on the map. With only 8 players total on bigger maps, players tend to bunker down and wait for someone else to move so matches devolve into more of a waiting game. The bright spot is ‘Buried’ where two teams of four try to sabotage the other team’s base while still defending theirs. You’ll need to destroy weak spots which will cause sand to rush in. There’s nothing overly wrong with the multiplayer element, it just doesn’t hold up to other games that do it better. You’ll probably stick around for a little bit, but ultimately, it’ll be more of a distraction than something you’ll keep coming back to over and over.

I won’t lie, I went into Spec Ops with lowered expectations. The game has received mixed reviews with some people loving it and some people just not feeling it. That may have helped my overall feelings on the game because when it was all said and done, I fully enjoyed my time with Spec Ops: The Line. While It may have some rough edges, it’s the setting and story that carry the day for this game. If you’re looking for a solid third person shooter with a story that’ll really mess with your head, Spec Ops: The Line is for you.

Spec Ops: The Line gets 4 sandstorms, out of 5

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