Spec Ops: The Line Demo Impressions

It’s been a long road for the upcoming Spec Ops: The Line, being delayed a few times and even dropping off the radar for long stretches of time.  After a long time in the oven, Yager and 2K are finally ready to launch this third person shooter and to hype everyone up, they’ve released the single player demo well in advance of the game’s release.  I’ve been pretty curious about this one with it’s unique location in a sandstorm ruined Dubai and what seems to be an interesting storyline for the game.  After booting it up, I noticed that this is the same demo that was brought to PAX East, which is great because I ended up passing on this one due to long wait times.  With the length of the demo, I can see why lines were so long.

Full thoughts after the jump…

Like I mentioned, Spec Ops: The Line takes place in Dubai.  The only thing is, the once expansive and luxurious city has fallen to a massive and devastating sandstorm.  You pick things up with Captain Martin Walker as he and his elite bravo squad are sent in to figure out what happened to U.S. Army Colonel John Konrad and his delta force who were sent in to help evacuate the city but have since gone silent.

The demo opens with a helicopter battle as you man a turret zooming through the city with buildings whizzing by and enemy choppers trying to take you down.  It’s pretty exciting stuff as you’ll see helicopters crashing and slow motion close calls when finally a massive sandstorm forces you down. 

From here, the game jumps back in time as you begin your march into the city.  It’s here that you’ll learn the basic controls and get into the flow of the game.  At its core, you’re going to be using cover to stay alive.  It’s not as intuitive as a game like Gears of War or Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, but it’s easy to use and works well.  With those other games conditioning me to the idea of a roadie run moving from cover, sadly this one doesn’t have it.  Walker can move quickly, but he’s no Marcus Fenix or Ghost in that regard.  His moveset when in cover just doesn’t seem as tactical as those other games.

The gameplay mechanics seem solid but pretty standard for a third person shooter.  Certainly not a bad thing, but what this game is trying to elevate is the story line.  Now I know I’ve highlighted this aspect before in another shooter that will remain nameless (*cough*Homefront*cough*), but what I played in the demo was pretty compelling.  Plus, the environment and setting you’re pushing through is really unique.  Instead of stomping through nameless Middle Eastern locations or war-torn neighborhoods, you’re actually navigating through a sandstorm destroyed Dubai.  Yager has done a great job bringing this once extravagant city to life and then destroying it with sand.  You’ll be rappelling down the sides of massive buildings, fighting it out in a fallen plane, and even moving through collapsed buildings.

I was surprised to find squad based controls.  It’s not overly complex or anything like that, but it’s handy to have in addition to relying on yourself.  The game teaches you how to direct a squad mate to target a specific enemy or perform a certain task.  It’s really easy to pull off with everything being controlled by the right shoulder button.  It’s a neat feature and a welcomed surprise.  Still, the enemies in the demo didn’t seem to be overly intelligent but at least would try to have some self preservation as they hid behind cover and moved to a better vantage point.  I didn’t have too much trouble through the demo.

The writing seems to be another bright spot, at least from what I could tell in the demo.  Lugo for example has some of the best one liners and sarcastic remarks that you won’t be able to help chuckle at.  The characters seem to play well off one another, providing realistic banter.  The one thing that I find kind of distracting however is the fact that Nolan North is voicing the lead character, Capt. Walker.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no ill will towards the man, in fact, I find him to be a great voice actor.  He’s great at what he does.  It’s just that he’s using his normal, “Nathan Drake” voice like in a bunch of other game’s he’s done and as soon as I hear Walker speak, that’s immediately what I think of.  I just kind of wish he mixed it up a bit for this role like he’s done in the past for some games.  Ah well, small price to pay I guess.  Doesn’t change the fact that the voice work is stellar so far.

The graphics were pretty good, nothing to write home about, but certainly above average.  The lighting was really well done especially when moving from darkness to the bright lights as you’re blinded for a moment.  It’s a nice touch.  Yes, we’re in a desert location but thankfully the color palate is much more than typical shades of brown.  We’re treated to more diverse colors like purples, oranges, and reds from things like the sunset, wreckage such as cars, and many other objects in the world.

The thing that kind of disappointed me however was the lack of interaction with sand.  I’ve been hearing a lot about how sand plays a major role and you can even use it in combat situations to mess with enemies.  The demo did introduce me to the concept in the beginning as I got to shoot out glass above a group of guys and it came rushing down crushing them.  I’m sure there are more tactical options like this in the main game and who knows maybe I missed more opportunities like this in the demo.  I do hope that this is a large element to the game because it is a very unique feature and was disappointed to not have had a chance to really experience it.

Overall, the demo impressed me.  I didn’t have much thoughts on the game coming in and I can honestly say that the game exceeded my expectations.  I really enjoyed the setting Yager established and the hints at a deep story also have me intrigued.  The shooter mechanics are solid if not a little ‘par for the course’.  I did notice a couple odd animations like a rope swinging unnaturally wild as I was rappelling down it.  Still, this could be an earlier build of the game and ultimately doesn’t have too much bearing on the gameplay.  I had a great time with it and it should prove to be an excellent addition especially at a time when decent game releases are hard to come by.  Spec Ops: The Line hits stores on June 26, 2012.

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