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Spec Ops: The Line

Shaking Up The Formula For Military Shooters
by Jeff Marchiafava on Jun 15, 2010 at 08:17 AM
Platform PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher 2K Games
Developer Yager
Rating Mature

Even the most casual gamer can tell you that military shooters are a dime a dozen nowadays. Just about every major conflict from modern history has been recreated in digital form, as well as countless fictional wars set in the past, present, and future. With the dominating presence of titles like Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2 and DICE's Bad Company 2, what does 2K Games expect to bring to the genre with its 8-year-dormant Spec Ops series? After being treated to a brief demo of the game, we have the answers. Here are the most promising aspects of 2K's new third-person shooter, Spec Ops: The Line.

The World's Most Luxurious Ghost Town:
While most modern day shooters have players blasting through small jungle villages or the dilapidated settlements of underdeveloped countries, Spec Ops takes place in Dubai, one of the most opulent cities in the world. That luxury is lost however, when a series of sandstorms leaves the city half-buried and abandoned, with no one left to maintain order. The result is the most haunting atmosphere we've seen in a military shooter, as the wealth and decadence of the city's privileged citizens is contrasted with the decay and death left in the storm's wake.

The sandstorms also have an impact on the gameplay, and not just by obstructing the player's vision: In a trailer for the game, a firefight with a squad of enemies perched in a high rise is broken up when the sand beneath the protagonist's feet begins disappearing. It turns out he was unwittingly standing on the submerged glass dome of an adjacent roof. Once the dome shatters, the sand begins to pour through the hole like a gigantic hourglass, leaving the protagonist hanging from the cover he had been taking refuge behind. After shooting at a few more enemies, the protagonist falls through the roof on to the sand below, and the firefight resumes in the new area. Not only are the graphics impressive, but the disorienting effect of the city being buried in tons of sand gives Spec Ops a surreal atmosphere not often seen in a genre usually focused on realism.

The Horror! Of War
Storylines in military shooters always seem to take a back seat to the set pieces, focusing on overly simplistic "good guys vs. bad guys" formulas. Spec Ops looks to provide a more complicated take on war and the impossible moral dilemmas that can plague its participants. 2K is citing the classic war film Apocalypse Now, as well as its source material, Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, as major inspirations for the game's storyline. The premise certainly reveals a few similarities: As Delta Squad's Captain Walker, your mission is to enter Dubai to discover the fate of missing Army Colonel John Konrad. Konrad originally stayed behind in Dubai to help citizens that couldn't evacuate before the cataclysmic storms hit, but has since lost contact with the military.

His grasp on reality may also be missing: Konrad's narrative during the trailer suggests he may be performing unspeakable horrors on the people left in Dubai, in the name of some mysterious higher purpose. In our demo, this included a dozen bodies that had been strung up on lampposts above a deserted street, and the use of white phosphorus on an unnamed military group. It's still not clear who the enemy you'll be facing in Spec Ops is, but if the game remains true to the spirit of the works it's drawing inspiration from, that likely won't be an easy question to answer. 2K says that some moral dilemmas will also be incorporated into the gameplay, so expect to make some tough decisions of your own.

Defying Expectations
2K is confident that Yager Development will use the story and setting of Spec Ops to create a military shooter that plays differently than what most veteran gamers expect from the genre. They tell us that players will be presented with situations designed to surprise and challenge their moral preconceptions. Unlike the infamous airport scene from Modern Warfare 2, however, Yager will give players more control over how events play out. The game will feature contextual commands that you can issue to your squad, and we're told that good squad management can greatly impact your efficiency on the battlefield. The environment is also a factor: You'll be able to take advantage of the vertical interiors of Dubai's buildings to gain tactical advantage over your enemies, and dynamic sandstorms can change level designs in ways that may help or hinder your squad.

The game will also feature a full set multiplayer options, including co-op and team-based modes. We expect to hear details about a multiplayer beta soon, but so far 2K is only stating that the multiplayer will focus on new modes and "unusual situations and environments."

Whether this newest installment of Spec Ops will resurrect the franchise, or get buried by the plethora of other military shooters on the market, remains to be seen. What we do know is that 2K is trying to take the series in a new direction - and in an ever-stagnating genre, a little change can be a good thing. For more info on Spec Ops: The Line, check out the next issue of Game Informer.

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Spec Ops: The Linecover

Spec Ops: The Line

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
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