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“Spec Ops: The Line” Review: A Lesson in Ethics

Spec Ops: The Line get a ton of things right. The game’s story is one of the best I’ve played in recent year, the game-play is better than most, and the writing is poignant and hilarious at their respective needed times.

Full Disclosure: I bought this game on July 25th with my own dinero. I’ve beaten the game on (FUBAR) the hardest, and simply un-fun difficulty. I’ve unlocked 48/50 achievements for Xbox 360 and plan on getting the other two finished soon. I’ve played a few hours of multiplayer, but if you’re used to Call of Duty and Battlefield, the multiplayer here is pretty bland.

(Potential Spoilers Ahead)

Let’s talk story. This game throws you into a storm-battered and war-torn Dubai. The natives are partnering up with the CIA to take down the Damned 33rd, a rogue American platoon that is trying to “restore and keep order in Dubai.” You play as Capt. Martin Walker, the leader of a small outfit consisting of Adams and Lugo, your squad mates. Your mission is to get into Dubai, find survivors, and radio out for command to bring in the evac team. When you find the Damned 33rd running the place, you change your mission to rescuing the city. Colonel Konrad is running the 33rd and so you begin your trek to finding him.

The game forces you to make tough life and death decisions throughout the course of the story. You literally have to choose whether people live or die on more than one occasion. One your first play-through some of the events might horrify you, and you’ll reload your checkpoint hoping to do things different, but 2K has built their checkpoints so that you won’t be able to do that. Once you make a decision, you have to live with it until the game is over and you can play again. This makes the decisions super tough.

For instance, in one mission you have to decide whether or not to use white phosphorus on this army of the 33rd in front of you. You have to get through them to get to the gate. You can either try shooting your way down (you will die, a lot) or you can use the phosphorus to burn them up, and then head through. If you use the phosphorus, you do burn up all the soldiers, but then you find out that they were helping civilians escape through this small alley. You inadvertently killed a whole bunch of civilians, including a mother and her daughter (which are shown burnt and smoking as the mother covers he daughter’s eyes and holds her in her arms). You have to live with your choice.

The game puts the horrors of war on the forefront and forces you to act things out as best you can. Sometimes the odds are stacked against you and no choice is good, but you still have to make one. 2K captures this perfectly.

The writing is often funny to throw some brevity in between the deep moments. After you clear a rooftop of snipers and soldiers Konrad asks you why you’re so violent. “It’s the video games right? I bet it’s the video games.” Lugo, your sniper/tech squad mate often makes light of situations too. When Konrad calls down a helicopter to kill you guys, the radioman (a DJ who has speakers set up all over Dubai) begins playing “Verdi – Requiem – Dies Irae” to which Lugo says, “Ha! I love this song!” and begins making noises to the song as you guys are running for your lives. The radioman constantly plays good music while you guys are killing people, which gives the game a kind of “rock opera” feel at times. It’s like playing a Tarantino film. The music juxtaposes the violence.

Here’s where I have to turn the ship. Don’t play this game on FUBAR unless you’re an achievement whore like I am. FUBAR takes everything good about the game and breaks it. The AI for the enemies become super intelligent and your squad mates’ AI become incredibly stupid. I often had squad mates walking in front of grenades and crossfire, and if they die? GAME OVER. Seriously. Also, you become a magnet for bullets, even behind cover. Cover often doesn’t help on FUBAR. I often found myself yelling at the screen and cussing out the team members. Whoever decided how to build FUBAR should be forced to play it all the way through in one sitting. I think they would kill themselves.

That’s a small point though. All-together this game is brilliant. One of the best I’ve ever given hours of my life to (using Raptr: currently 16 hours) and it was totally worth the buy, except it was so good that I beat it in 4 days, and I bought it new, so no returns. :[ With 4 alternate endings, and a plethora of content to play through, Spec Ops: The Line is well worth the time and effort put into playing it multiple times. Great story, sound, and writing let this game achieve what Call of Duty wishes it could; a clever shooter, with decisions that matter, and characters you care about.

9/10

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