Developer: Yager Development
Publisher: 2K Games
Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Metacritic score: 76 (cross-platform avg)
VGChartz sales to date: 740,000
WHAT MADE IT GREAT
The mind of man is capable of anything--because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future. Those words come from Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness, a tale uncovering man's descent into madness driven on by the horrible realities of of dealing in death. In the novella that was the subjugation of the African people in pursuit of the ivory trade, but the themes have since adopted many forms such as the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now and here they take on the guise of insurgency in Spec Ops: The Line. Fans of the series, which has been dormant since it's PC (and inferior console ports) releases a decade ago, may remember the name and the squad-based 3rd-person shooter gameplay, but little other connection exists between those games and this first major project by Yager Development.
This game takes place in a version of Dubai that has been ravaged by recent sandstorms. Lt. Col. Konrad and his 33rd Battalion were en route back from Afghanistan when the onset of these storms stranded them in Dubai. As sandstorms intensify nearly all forms of communication are knocked out and rioting sweeps the desert nation causing the wealthy ruling class of sheikhs quietly flee, leaving the once shining metropolis of skyscrapers in utter chaos. The 33rd tries to enforce martial law before attempting to lead an evacuation of over a thousand civilians out of the city. But the caravan of refugees never arrives and further communication is lost leading the U.S. Army to disavow the 33rd and accuse them of treason. Then a looped broadcast from LTC Konrad is picked up declaring the evac a failure and casualties too many to count. That's when three Delta operators are sent in, led by Capt. Walker (voiced by the inimitable Nolan North).
|Between the sandstorms and the collapse of organized society the architecture of Dubai has seen better days.|
|There's lots of hard choices to be made, many of them don't have an answer we'd think of as "right"|
|The white phosphorous scene might just be the most gut wrenching gaming moment of 2012.|
WHAT WENT WRONG
The competition in the shooter genre is fierce and difficult grounds for a new publisher. Gameplay mechanics are an integral part of making an enjoyable cover-based shooter and can also be difficult to master on your first attempt, even when using the excellent Unreal Engine 3. If a studio nails that, as fellow German developer Crytek did with FarCry and then Crysis, you can achieve commercial success even without a particularly unique or compelling narrative. Publishers also place a lot of pressure on including multiplayer suites because of the potential for DLC and regular new installments. Both these aspects compete for resources, and Yager's commitment to developing a story was not an area they wanted to compromise on.
|Much like publishers, sandstorms are a powerful and dangerous force that must be endured.|
For Spec Ops that interaction is perfectly middle of the road in most regards, unable to impress in the same way the narrative did. The cover mechanic worked well enough but lacked the smooth flow of the stalwart Gears of War series. Friendly and enemy AI was intelligent if not especially aggressive. The particle effects, so critical due to the nature of the sandstorm threat, are sufficient but don't fully stress the UE3 engine. The multiplayer especially felt tacked on, and not surprisingly it was handled by an outside studio. Lead designer Cory Davis (no longer with Yager) went so far as to openly blast it's inclusion in an interview with Polygon, calling it a "cancerous growth" and waste of resources that hurt the overall game. He specifically cites the game mechanics as one area that had to be changed to accommodate "literally a check box that the financial predictions said we needed".
|The multiplayer passes for fun but fails to utilize the unique setting or hook of the single player mode.|
WILL WE SEE IT AGAIN
Since the usual heading for this section doesn't exactly apply, let's instead ask whether we think this game could live to become a successful series. When the first game came out in 1998 for PC it was well received and achieved moderate success, spawning an expansion pack and then a proper sequel. A few console ports and spin-offs came to the PSX in 2001 and 2002, but the series fell dormant after that. Rockstar Vancouver was on board for a PS2 release but was later halted. Will Spec Ops again fade back into hibernation?
|Sand devours all things given time and wind. After just 6 months the desert has begun to reclaim the sprawling bustling of Dubai|
In the meantime, the game can be picked up on PC for under $8 online and there are plenty of console copies still floating around. It's certainly worth a look, especially to enjoy the single player story. And who knows, maybe continued sales will convince 2K Games to give it another shot. Even if the only result is to remind the genre of the importance of plot it can be counted a success from the perspective of its fans. In any case, you might want to do yourself a favor and check this game out before it gets buried in the sands of time.
|Shine on, you crazy diamond.|
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