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PAX East 2012: Spec Ops: The Line
by Andrew Testerman

The Spec Ops franchise has long lain dormant, with its most recent entry, the budget-priced Spec Ops: Airborne Commando, releasing all the way back in 2002.

2K Games and Yager Development are gunning to breathe life into the ailing license with Spec Ops: The Line, a follow-up and reimagining of the tactical shooter series.

Spec Ops: The Line is set in Dubai, following a major catastrophe and an order to lock the city down from outside interaction. Players control Captain Martin Walker as he attempts to evacuate Colonel John Konrad, a U.S. Army officer who stayed behind during the disaster. Yager has compared The Line's storyline to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which should clue players in about what to expect from the narrative direction, as well as Konrad's reasoning for staying in Dubai.

Interview with lead designer Cory Davis

Gameplay takes place in the third-person perspective, as players guide Captain Walker through the remains of the famous U.A.E. city. In a callback to the series' tactical roots, players can issue commands to their two squadmates, a heavy weapons expert and long-range specialist. During my playthrough, I was able to highlight enemies and give my squad attack orders, either laying down cover fire and allowing me to get into a better position or simply sniping them from seven blocks away.

Similar to other modern third-person action games, Spec Ops: The Line sports a cover system, allowing Captain Walker to vault over and dart between bits of rubble and chest-high walls, as well as blindfire his weapon for a bit of breathing room. Unlike several recent cover-based shooters, weapons in Spec Ops: The Line require only a few shots before either the player or the enemy goes down, making positioning and teamwork between squadmates a priority for survival. Even fights with two or three enemies can go south in a hurry if not properly thought-through.

Firefights in The Line are surprisingly deadly, making tactics integral to success.

One feature Yager is touting especially strongly is its terrain deformation within levels. Post-disaster Dubai is plagued with frequent sandstorms, affecting visibility and even subtly changing battlefield layout. I didn't get a chance to see the terrain altered in any meaningful way during my time with the game, but several firefights were interrupted by fierce sandstorms, limiting visibility and causing me to look for enemy muzzle flashes in order to locate them.

Presentation in Spec Ops: The Line left me feeling conflicted. On one hand, I appreciate what the sandstorms bring to combat, and the characters were well-animated and -detailed. On the other, the game looks so darn brown; I understand that a game taking place in the desert is going to involve a certain degree of dust-shading, but by the time I finished with the demo, my eyes craved colour. Voice actors in the game bark their lines in gruff military fashion, which is fitting if unexciting.

Dubai is an absolute wreck, making parts of The Line a challenge to simply survive.

Still, the shooting and squad mechanics are pretty fun, and I'm still genuinely curious what else Yager's much-touted terrain deformation will do for gameplay. I won't have to wait much longer, either; Spec Ops: The Line is due for release 26 June in North America and 29 June in Europe.

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- Andrew Testerman

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