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August 12, 2012
Spec Ops: The Line - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
29/6/20122K Games2K GamesYager Developments
Darkside Game Studios (Multiplayer)
12-8
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating
Disc0MB720pNoNoMA15+

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Spec Ops: The Line takes place in a destroyed Dubai.
Launching a new franchise is a risky business at any time, but when you're entering the very crowded shooter genre (first or third person) you need something to stand out and generate interest, and potentially capture a percentage of the market share (which could run into millions of sales). Spec Ops: The Line is the latest third person shooter from 2K Games and developers Yager Developments and it is a game worth paying attention to, not least of which for the storyline.

It's been six months since Dubai was wiped off the map by a cataclysmic sandstorm. Thousands of lives have been lost, including those of American soldiers sent to help evacuate the city. Today, the city lies buried under sand - the world's most opulent ruin. Now, a radio signal is broadcasting from Dubai. A Delta Force team is sent to infiltrate the city and find its source. Their mission is simple: locate survivors and radio for evacuation.

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Taking cover from enemy fire from behind the wall.
What they find is a city in the grip of a violent struggle for control. In order to fulfill their mission, they'll have to find the man at the heart of this madness – the elusive Col. John Konrad.

While the storyline in most modern shooters could be summarised on a page and largely forgotten in an equally short amount of time, the story in Spec Ops: The Line really pushes boundaries and will have you asking questions about war, its portrayal in the media, and perhaps even the "entertainment" value within video games itself. There are moral choices to be made, often with severe consequences, and multiple endings depending on actions within the game. At times humorous, at times harrowing this is one of the strongest storylines we've ever come across in a shooter and is one of the game’s biggest strengths. Would we go so far as to suggest you buy a shooter based on the storyline? In this case, probably, yes.

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Some scenes are quite confronting in Spec Ops.
In terms of gameplay Spec Ops: The Line is a third person shooter through and through with a wide range of interior and exterior locations to fight through with a couple of friends assisting you through the campaign. Carrying two weapons at a time, and some grenades, movement is a little stiff but always functional in the game. Along the way you can use the environment to good effect - see some enemies standing below a window holding back tonnes of sand and you can shoot out the window to bury the enemies. It's quite fun, but probably not quite used as often as expected.

So what makes the gameplay here so special, and differentiate it from the myriad of other third, and first, person shooters that have dominated the market in recent years. Well we've already discussed the environmental objects, and they are cool, but what stands out are the moral choices you have to make during the game. Do you execute an civilian or a soldier? Do you... well to say any more is to spoil the game, but we need to say that as you play through the game there are indications that all isn't as straightforward as it seems.

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Battling in the desert sands.
So let's talk about our issues with this Spec Ops: The Line and while there's nothing game breaking there are a few things that could have been tidied up prior to release. In terms of gameplay the biggest issue we have is with the cover system which doesn't act as slick as you'd like with the main character failing to duck into cover, or break out of it when you need to. It just needed a little more polishing off to be effective. The game also includes a little bit of loading which is annoying when you die as when you restart the levels the game is still drawing in the visuals - although that's usually at full resolution by the time you get control of you character. Also disappointing is the length of the main campaign which, even with 15 missions, we completed in around 8 hours, and that's with getting stuck in a couple of spots for a period of time.

Finally, and this is probably the biggest issue for us, there are some moments in the game when you have to make a choice - a moral one - but there are moments when you don't really have a way out other than to perform a deed that you don't want to. Without spoiling one such moment is probably the biggest, most emotional in the game. You'll know it when you get to it.

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Dubai has been suitably destroyed.

Besides the single player experience Spec Ops: The Line includes some multiplayer modes, which were developed by Darkside Game Studios apparently, to keep the disc in your PS3, although for how long we're not so sure. Multiplayer contains a classed based progression system which sees you unlocking new weapons, equipment and perks as you progress through the ranks. Two factions - The Damned and The Exiles - are available for use in the multiplayer modes. Each of these factions include Officer, Sniper, Gunner, and Medic classic with Damned getting a Scavenger class and Exiles a Breacher class. Game modes include Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Buried (where you need to take out three targets on the enemy side) and Rally Point which each being entertaining in their own right although we did have trouble getting in a lot of matches - put that down to somewhat poor sales for the game to date.

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Sand storms limit your view distance.
Visually Spec Ops is a bit of a mixed bag, but generally we'll say it's pretty good. Using Unreal Engine 3 (which is rarely super-polished on the PS3) the strength of this game is the range of locations is impressive with many jaw- dropping moments throughout the campaign. These locations include large open, sandy, deserts, to building interiors and shopping centers. Of particular note in this game is the way in which environmental effects come into play. Throw a grenade and besides the explosion a cloud of dust and sand will rise, thereby obscuring enemies, but also providing cover for a few moments. It's brilliantly implemented, alters gameplay, and looks fantastic.

That's not saying everything is perfect in this game as there are certainly some issues with the PS3 version of the game (the PC version is apparently a lot more stable). First of all the game has some weird hazing effect, perhaps intentional to convey the desert heat, it makes the game look a little murky although we believe this game renders at a sub-HD resolution before being upscaled. Contributing to this is the fact that textures often take several seconds to draw in to their full resolution which becomes a little annoying. Finally, the game suffers from a bit of screen tearing and some frame rate drops on occasion. Nothing is game breaking nor totally distracting, but it's disappointing nonetheless.

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A sand storm hits in Spec Ops: The Line.
Fortunately the sound quality in Spec Ops is quite exemplary with great, and almost continual dialogue both during cut-scenes and gameplay, impactful effects including gunshots and explosions, and some fantastic music. Surround sound channels, up to LPCM 7.1, are used rather aggressively but not only for pinpointing enemy gunfire, but even ambient effects such as the radio man's broadcasts. Finally the dialogue is well written, delivered well and sounds authentic to the game world.

Spec Ops: The Line is a surprisingly impressive game with a great setting, decent shooter gameplay and several jaw-dropping set pieces. The brutality and gruesome scenes may be disturbing to some - and this game deserves the MA15+ rating - but gamers should very much enjoy this release with some decent multiplayer as well. Well worth a look.

Review By: Dave Warner

GRAPHICSDubai, destroyed by the sandstorm, looks spectacular. Some minor issues, but visually impressive.
82%
SOUNDGreat music, dialogue, and effects. This is a sonic treat.
88%
GAMEPLAYIt's a little stiff at times, especially the cover system, but the story will have you engrossed.
84%
VALUEAn engaging story with multiple endings, multiplayer is adequate.
80%
OVERALLSpec Ops: The Line isn't the best shooter technically, but a thought-provoking storyline and decent multiplayer will have you coming back for more.
83%

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