Yes, yes, we know. We know. War is bad. War is wrong. War changes people. Terrible things happen during the course of war, so what is it good for? Trivialising it in the form of a video game, apparently.
Then again, Spec Ops: The Line has a heavier tone than most other games. It makes damn sure to chant that “war is bad” mantra while you’re having fun snapping in and out of cover and popping heads with some 7.62x51mm FMJ. There is no glamorous fanfare as you nail a kill streak, nor is there a triumphant slow-motion cutscene of you and your team breaching a room, blinding its occupants and making orphans of their children. As the game progresses, your character’s demeanor visibly and audibly changes from professional leader to ragged jarhead. The things you do in-game make you question your character’s methods, decisions, and reasons for being a soldier in the first place. A pivotal moment in the game has you shelling a platoon of soldiers with white phosphorus – as you do so, you can see your character’s reflection in the console’s screen: a grim reminder that, deep down, this guy has to stare at himself in the mirror and realise he is a killer of men.
The game’s dilemmas are exercises in duality, but they are not quite so black and white. Do you execute the thief, or the soldier that killed his family while attempting to capture him? Do you spare the man who almost killed your squad a long painful death, or do you let him burn alive? What do you do against a riotous crowd of civilians who are turning violent against your squad? You’re meant to feel uncomfortable with the shades of grey, and there are plenty of somber moments to stop and reflect on your actions.
The Line‘s setting is hellish, too. Dubai’s abandoned skylines tear into the sky, and car wrecks are littered at its feet. Abandoned hotels are littered with bodies and choked with political graffiti. Sand is everywhere, blinding you and your enemies. The city provides plenty of areas to snipe, take cover, use mounted weapons, and all the good stuff that comes with an action shooter. The Line pulls it all off competently.
The game surprises you with sobering moments between the well-scripted firefights, and while the script may not be winning any golden trophies, it’s compelling enough to keep you tuned in. The only problem is that it doesn’t last very long – expect to finish this in about 6 or so hours. Not fantastic value at full RRP, but worth a look when you’re able.