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Spec Ops: The Line (Windows)

Do you feel like a hero yet?

The Good
This is one of those games that you (and I!) ignored during its making and its release, because you though, through its title and imagery, that it was yet another military shooter. But somehow, somewhere, you heard about it described as "something else", as a game which is first and foremost about moral. That's the point where you give in and buy it to discover what that fuss is all about.

Taking a look at the background story on the official game website, it becomes obvious it isn't just another military third person shooter: Dubai has fallen to a sand storm. The international community is unable to do anything, and therefore leaves the people in Dubai to rot. Dubai's richest managed to fly away before the storm, leaving their employees behind. One man chose to make his stand. Colonel Kurtz...err, sorry, Colonel Conrad and his 33rd company tried to rescue Dubai's citizens, only to lose most of the civillians and his men to the storm. Now, the Damned 33rd and what's left of Dubai's population are trapped in Dubai.

You are John Walker, captain of the Delta Force. You're here to establish contact with Colonel Conrad and initiate a rescue. Two other soldiers came with you: Lieutenant Adams, heavy weapon specialist, and Sergeant Lugo, sniper and pluri-linguist. What initially seemed to be a simple rescue mission is about to turn into madness.

And I don't want to go further about the plot, for the core of this game is what the player feels throughout the story's evolution. Let me heed a warning first: this is not a game for anyone. It is dark and violent. It is also fascinating. Then again, it is what you may expect from a game that proudly claim to be a free adaptation from John Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". As such, you easily feel the same influence from another bastard child of Heart of Darkness, Coppola's "Apocalypse Now".

What is particularly impressive during the game is the protagonists's progression: from a very professional and cold state of mind to rage and bitterness by the end of the game. You can obviously see it from their faces and appearances, as their armors are damaged or their faces get cut and scarred. But you can hear it too, when killing an enemy for example. Wherein most games you play some kind of war-proof hero, and it refreshing to play a real human being who's as much affected by the game's events as the player might be.

This sense of details is all over the place: while the game is using the (aging) Unreal 3 Engine and sometimes wear the sign of low-res textures, it feels real: from engraving on the walls for those who died, candles everywhere in a room or a giant aquarium. Putting so close these signs of utter destruction and the what's left of the luxury of Dubai reinforces the sense of madness and distress coming from the game.

Voice-acting is top notch, as is the choice of copyrighted musical material and the soundtrack made for the game. Hendrix, Deep Purple, Björk, Mogwai or the perfectly adequate Black Angels, none of them feels out of place, and they will haunt you.

The Bad
Obviously, from what I've described so far, one thing is lacking: gameplay. As an intent of being critical of modern days gaming, it doesn't escape being a mediocre third person shooter. That implies a game in which taking cover is prevalent, turning it sometimes into a silly war of waiting for the enemy's head to come out of cover. Worst, weapon's sound is terribly weak, which makes you think that you are wielding toys rather than tools of death.

The game still carry weird bugs, especially sound missing during cutscenes.

It also has a multiplayer mode which I didn't even bother playing, feeling it would undermine the whole point of the game; a co-op mode has also been added.

The Bottom Line
It's been now more than 6 months that I have finished the game. It is no longer on my hard-drive by lack of place. But I still remember it fairly well, among some of its most emblematic lines. Few games can say that. This is a game that tried to be different. You won't find glory or satisfaction. But it is a game that must be played, and a game which really should spawn more of its kind rather than the dull Call Of Duty clones that are everywhere now.

By Alaedrain on March 17th, 2013

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