Spec Ops: The Line
A total downer - and also the best thing to happen to shooters this year
- Bold and thoughtful tone
- Disconcerting setting
- Underneath the dialogue, it's only so-so action
Superficially, Spec Ops: The Line might not be the gold-standard of action games, but it's the bold, thoughtful tone and disconcerting setting that makes it such a welcome relief from all the meatheaded heroics which flood the shelves.
Price$ 99.00 (AUD)
It seems profoundly wrong to be recommending a game which will leave its players feeling depressed and guilty, but that's exactly why Dubai-set third-person shooter Spec Ops: The Line is both a surprise and an essential reflection upon what action gaming is.
Documenting three US Delta Force soldiers' search for a missing Colonel in a near-future Dubai which has collapsed into drought, anarchy and environmental disaster, it draws heavily from Apocalypse Now's examination of right, wrong and military might. Even aside from this introspection and a sharp, twisting narrative, the setting alone makes it unusual.
Rather than the swathes of brown and grey which characterise so many modern shooters, Spec Ops juxtaposes its Middle Eastern desert with the grand opulence of Dubai. Sand-locked speedboats, huge sculptures, swathes of gaudy signage for casinos, aquariums and seven-star hotel provide vibrant colour amidst the eternal sand that has broken into this ruined city. That this is a metaphor for the folly and brutality of high capitalism is a given, but it's also an unusual, mesmerising and unsettling backdrop for the action.
As for the action itself, it's a cover shooter in the Gears of War vein, requiring you to shelter and take shots carefully rather than wade invincibly into the fray like a Call of Duty-style Arnie. Twitchy controls, unforgiving enemies and high headcounts mean it can be punishing to the point of frustration. Your character, grim jarhead Captain Martin Walker, has an infuriating tendency to flick out of cover, while checkpoints are so far apart that long, difficult fights require repeated do-overs.
Fortunately, the tone and dialogue make up for a multitude of design sins. This isn't a game about feeling like a hero, but about feeling the human cost of warfare. While the plot itself drops a few balls, Walker and his two (AI-controlled) squadmates' reaction to the horror they witness and sometimes cause is far more powerful.
Why they're there at all is in increasing doubt, and the trail of destruction they leave behind them may be making the situation for Dubai's thirsty, sandstorm-battered survivors far worse than it already was. The inter-squad chatter sows doubt and remorse, while hard decisions - both scripted and chosen - have terrible consequences.
It doesn't shy away from showing these consequences in gruesome, haunting detail, but with the intent of eliciting an emotional response rather than being the sneery gore-porn that so many action games seem to be currently embracing.
As such, Spec Ops tunnels into the mind and lodges there, spreading discomfort and despair. It becomes a game that isn't played for fun, but to incite self-reflection and to feel yourself in the shoes of its troubled characters - forever striving to do the right thing but spreading disaster as a result.
It is going to dissatisfy players in search of a stop-gap until the next Call of Duty, or who object to having their emotions toyed with when they're only there to shoot pretend men. Multiple endings and a few lynchpin decisions do allow the more brutally-minded player to avoid moralising, while the taxing nature of the later conflicts offer a rare-for-the-mainstream challenge - but don't expect to be praised for your actions come the dark resolution. Spec Ops wants you to think before you shoot, even though shooting is invariably your only option.
Join the PC World newsletter!
Most Popular Reviews
- 1 Samsung Galaxy S8 phone: full, in-depth review
- 2 Ryzen 5 vs Intel Core i5 CPU Australian review
- 3 Mass Effect Andromeda review: One for the fans
- 4 LG G6 phone: full, in-depth review
- 5 Samsung Galaxy A5 2017 phone: Full, in-depth review
Latest News Articles
- Ransomware attacks are taking a greater toll on victim's wallets
- How HP reclaimed the title of world's top PC maker from Lenovo
- Companion mobile app exposed Hyundai cars to potential hijacking
- FCC chairman plans to 'reverse the mistake' of net neutrality
- The SteelSeries Qck Prism is the first dual-sided RGB mousepad
PCW Evaluation Team
A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.
I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.
As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.
I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.
Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!
For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.
- Samsung Galaxy S8 phone: full, in-depth review
- Ryzen 5 vs Intel Core i5 CPU Australian review
- Mass Effect Andromeda review: One for the fans
- What's the difference between an Intel Core i3, i5 and i7?
- Laser vs. inkjet printers: which is better?
- CCBusiness Implementation Manager - Wealth AdviceNSW
- CCEngineer/Developer - Splunk - TelcoVIC
- CCSenior Linux AdministratorNSW
- FT.Net DeveloperNSW
- TPSenior Business Analyst - GISQLD
- FTElectronic Payments POS Business Analyst - Permanent - North Ryde areaNSW
- FTSolution ArchitectVIC
- CCTibco Integration Specialist l Port MacquarieQLD
- CCSenior Project OfficerNSW
- CCService Delivery Analyst -Port MacquarieNSW
- FTHTML DeveloperNSW
- FTSenior .NET DeveloperVIC
- FTDigital Sales Account Manager - Global Ecommerce BrandNSW
- TPSenior Business Project ManagerNSW
- CCIT Information ArchitectNSW
- FTDatacentre Solution ArchitectVIC
- CCPlatform Engineer - DevOpsVIC
- FTHR Business Analyst / Performance Management SMENSW
- FTIT Service Desk Manager - Team LeaderNSW
- TPPrincipal Project Officer - ReportingQLD
- FTDesktop Support/ Field Services EngineerQLD
- FTService Desk - Level 1 SupportVIC
- TPSenior iOS EngineerNSW
- CCTechnical Consultant - ITSM/HP Service ManagerQLD
- TPBI AnalystQLD