'Round these parts we like to keep an eye on Steam when they have their giant sales and one of the things that I just picked up in the Holiday Sale is the game Spec Ops: The Line developed by Yager (I haven't heard of them either).
Spec Ops is a third person cover-based military shooter. The player controls the lead member of a 3-man Delta Force squad sent into a sandstorm ravaged Dubai to investigate what's going on with a missing contingent of US Army troops and what's been going on with the supposed evacuation of the population of the city. There are, essentially, two parts of this game worth talking about: the technical stuff, and the story. It's a little strange to think of story that much in any shooter these days, but it's an essential component of this game.
A game with amazing desert scenery is certainly Uncharted 3. It presented some of the best such visuals that I'd really seen in that sort of setting...up until now. A lot of Spec Ops is spent heading through ruined skyscrapers, or other somewhat "enclosed" areas (enclosed in terms of view at least, if not really). There are some parts of the game where you head out onto the exterior of a skyscraper and get a view of the Dubai skyline and desert and...wow. This was definitely a game where I had to just stop and smell the roses, so to speak, on more than one occasion. It's really the large, sweeping vistas that truly look awesome though, as much of the rest is less inspired in terms of sheer visual appeal. There are definitely some of the smaller visual touches out there which are nice though. You really do get the sense that Dubai was a very wealthy city before its fall as you walk through some really opulent surroundings.
A number of times also arise where you'll use the environment to your benefit, as they 'll have nice little things where you can either shoot it out with a group of enemies, or shoot the background and dump a few tons of sand on them. It's neat, but that sort of thing just wasn't there often enough for me to really look for them as I played through the game. In terms of other mechanics in the game...there's not really anything in particular to write home about. It doesn't really look to innovate with any of the shooting or weapons or other things you'll find in the game.
The one area where Spec Ops does look to innovate is the story. Along with this, if there is one reason to buy the game, it is absolutely this. The summary above only scratches the surface of what's going on. The developers have gone out of their way to present something that is fresh and interesting, with a little bit of actual depth--something incredibly rare in a shooter these days. In a genre landscape dominated by the utterly stupid and nonsensical (I'm looking at you, Call of Duty), it's almost a risk for Yager to create something with some measure of intellectual stimulation. They set out to create a game where what you think you know is wrong, and where you have to not just make decisions but question them. Sherman said that War is Hell..and Spec Ops sets out to show how that can be true. Repeatedly in the game you have tho choose between two unsavory choices, and wonder which was really the moral high ground as your character transforms from titular hero into something quite different. Sometimes the choice feels a little forced, which is unfortunate. There are some choices you can avoid, although as Rush said, if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. With one, I tried to avoid the obvious route and try to kill all the enemies a different way...but they just kept respawning. It was a nice way to farm achievement points, but there was no way to progress without doing what Yager wanted me to do because it was important to their story that I do it. This kind of thing pulled me a bit out of the game, which was unfortunate, but ultimately necessary to ensure that the narrative they wanted to tell that made the player think about how bad war is came through loud and clear.
They beat the player over the head with their message sometimes in the game and through the loading screens if you die. "Do you even remember why you are here?" as a mild example. There are a lot of extras in the game to pick up that will present you with tidbits of the story that feed into this as well. They are all worth it, as they really flesh out some aspects of what's going on, and make the narrative even more compelling. As an example, near the end you find a short one, a note the villain has written to his son that goes something like: "Son, some day people may tell you about me. For that I am sorry." It's a note from a man that once was a kind and loving family man, but became a monster to be reviled by all. That's the general sense of things in Spec Ops. Characters don't really do what's good, they do what's necessary for the mission. The question then becomes what is the mission?
Spec Ops is a great game, all about exploring what lines an otherwise good man will cross to get the job done. It's not the most innovative shooter out there in terms of mechanics, but it does have one of the best stories out there in a shooter.
It took me about 7 hours to beat the game on normal (it would have been closer to 6 but there were a couple parts where I failed over and over because I didn't realize you could do the ole' iron sights aiming with turrets), and there are at least 5 or so endings to the game (that I saw). It's still short, and I can't really recommend paying full price for something so tiny. It is $15 on Steam right now, which is well worth the price of admission. I picked it up for around $10 when it was a daily deal, which is a great price. If you can pick it up for even less somewhere else, do so!
Verdict: 8/10 | A-
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