Spec Ops: The Line Review

By Ashley Woodcock, 4 years ago
The recent releases of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Max Payne 3, have seen both games do very well in their own respective third person worlds. Now it's time for 2K Games to make their move with their newly released third person shooter, Spec Ops: The Line.

I love my third person shooters, and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has received a lot of play time from me recently. I was so caught up in the stealth-camouflaged action with a few fellow newshounds, that I didn't even get to check out the demo for Spec Ops: The Line. Being completely new to the Spec Ops experience, I didn't have a clue what to expect from what I thought would just be another average third person shooter. After around 23-25 hours with the game, I have to say, the game is definitely something I didn't think it would be. Do I mean that in a good or a bad way? Read on to find out!

Review screens

Spec Ops: The Line takes place in the once wonderful and wealthy city of Dubai. Destroyed, broken, damaged, worn down, and buried by dangerous and constant sandstorms, the citizens of Dubai are forced to evacuate. Many of the citizens were unable to evacuate in time if given the chance at all. The Army's 33rd Battalion, led by Army Colonel, John Konrad, defied orders to also evacuate the city to stay behind and help those in need. After several weeks without contact, nobody knows what has become of the citizens of the 33rd until the Army picks up a weak signal from a distress beacon. Sent to investigate, players dive into the boots of Captain Walker, a man who always wants to do his best no matter the situation. Walker had fought alongside Konrad who had once saved his life in Afghanistan. With the past event adding a bit of a personal touch to the mission, Walker is determined to find Konrad alive and find out what exactly has happened. He is assigned with a recon mission of investigating the distress beacon. Thankfully his loyal squad is along for the ride as Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo join Walker in his mission.

Welcome to Dubai!

The campaign offers four difficulty settings with the hardest being 'FUBAR', which is locked until a playthrough of the next hardest difficulty (Suicide Mission) has been completed. I dove straight into Suicide difficulty where the "enemies are aggressive and more lethal".

Arriving in the post-catastrophic city of Dubai players can get to grips with the controls and a feel for the movement of Walker. Keeping the tutorial short and sweet, Delta Squad soon moves deeper into what seems to be a deserted city. Moving past deserted vehicles, Walker, Adams and Lugo chat amongst themselves about the mission. Walker, the squad's leader, is a very serious man and very passionate about the army and his fellow American soldiers. Adams comes across as down-to-earth with decent battlefield experience under his belt. He is the squad's heavy weapons and explosives expert. Lugo is the youngest of the bunch, with the biggest sense of humour and a sniper rifle. Besides each member of the squad offering their own variety of firearms to the battle, they also come with their own personal approach to the decisions made by Walker too.

Review Screens

The campaign is highly impressive. I had to double check the back of the game's box just to see if I had read the content right because the story was really not what I expected it to be. Without going into too much detail as to not spoil the story for anyone, let's just say that the reasons behind Konrad staying put in Dubai may not have been what Walker would've thought they were. As I made good progress through the campaign, some of the chapters left the storyline in my hands. With a strong reflection of real life, Adams and Lugo verbally battle on either side of Walker as crucial decisions are needed to be made. This actually had me turning my camera just to look at each character as they both spoke about the issue at hand and layed out their opinions from both sides of the argument. The story kept me guessing and expressing the same vocal points that Walker did in the game after certain battles or decisions were made. By the end of my first playthrough, I was pretty stunned and baffled as to what the hell had just happened. Thankfully, a second playthrough allowed me to put the pieces together and get a better understanding of the story.

Constant checkpoints are available throughout the campaign each triggering the auto-save to kick in. Four separate slots can be used for saving/loading at different points which will come in handy for some of the missable achievements in the game. Chapters can be selected and replayed after the first playthrough of each and set to a lower difficulty. Collectables, in the form of Intel, are present in Spec Ops but are very easy to find. The maximum number of Intel found in any mission is two, a couple of the chapters don't include any Intel at all. For those still not looking forward to searching for the Intel, I've got you guys covered!

So are we basically looking at a Gears of War: Dubai Special?

The character movement can be a touch slow, and even though the control scheme is pretty simple and easy to learn, some of the techniques can take longer than expected to get used to. The cover system is the core feature of the game. Unsurprisingly, without the constant use of cover, you'll soon find yourself being riddled with bullets and constantly having to restart from your last checkpoint. Spec Ops follows the trend of many third person shooters with the cover system. Pressing 'A' near a wall or structure will make Walker dive behind cover. The ability to switch between cover that's close enough is also available along with the option to vault over cover by pressing 'B'. Personally, I'm very much use to the 'A' button handling all my needs when it comes to using cover. The slightly different control scheme and slow movement rarely created problems throughout the campaign but there was definitely room for some improvement. Whilst moving forward, pressing 'A' would make Walker break into a sprint. When sprinting towards cover, 'A' needed to be pressed again to get into cover otherwise Walker would either stand up straight at the cover, or pressing 'A' to early would result in Walker standing up-right no where near the cover. Trying to sprint near walls and other structures would sometimes result in Walker 'sticking' to the walls, another minor problem that led to a few frustrating deaths here and there.

I may be coming across rather picky about the control scheme but these small problems can hinder the full enjoyment of the gameplay for some players. The enemies in Spec Ops DO NOT MISS their shots. If they have any sort of line of view on Walker, they will hit you, same goes for enemy grenades too. If you've had the joy of playing any of Treyarch's Call of Duty titles then you'll know full well how annoying perfectly thrown frags can be. Although the frags don't come flying in at a constant rate, I couldn't help but notice how they would always, and I mean, ALWAYS, land next to Walker. Add these supreme grenades to the slight problems with inconsistent and slow player movement, and we have another minor annoying issue. Ridiculously accurate grenades are not all bad though. Once found and picked up, you have the joy of hurling your own grenades, flashbangs and sticky grenades at the enemy with assistance of a guide-line that shows you the course your frag will take. Thankfully, Adams can eliminate enemies with his own precise grenade throwing when you get the opportunity to command him too.

Review Screens

You can issue a small amount of commands to your squad to aid you in your battle through Dubai. Simply holding down the 'RB' button will bring up a Red triangular cursor that you can use to aim at an enemy and designate him a target for your squad. The relevant squad member is automatically chosen to attack the enemy. Long range enemies will be dealt with by Lugo, the squad's sniper, while close to medium range enemies are usually dealt with by Adams. I say "usually" because sometimes in battle, Adams would try to deal with guys that I thought were a bit too far out for his skills. With enemies in the distance that Lugo didn't decide to snipe, Adams would try to press forward into open ground to eliminate the enemy. Upon going down, a life gauge would appear and fill as the downed squad member would slowly bleed out. You can choose to heal the injured teammate yourself but this normally resulted in death after being exposed to enemy fire too long, The alternative is to command your other squad member to heal the downed one. A flash bang command is available too but would only come available when an enemy commando appeared on the battlefield. In the mayhem and chaos of the battles in Spec Ops, I was hardly given a chance to even locate and recognise the commando unit. Although an effective command against enemies, it would've been nice to have been able to use the Stun command against normal enemies too.

The weapons of Spec Ops: The Line come in an understandably small variety. On a mission through a broken down city, destroyed by sandstorms, unsurprisingly there are not a lot of weapons and ammo to be found. Wreckless shooting and poor aiming result in being left almost helpless in battle and having to rely on your squad to do the work for you. Each weapon has its own kind of unique alternative. The AK47 and the Famas offer a burst-fire alternative. The P-90 offers a laser-sight option instead of the normal cursor and pistols can be equipped with a silencer. With ammo being so scarce, you really do have to be steady and patient with your ammo while also scavenging for any ammo you can find.

The enemies of Dubai are limited as well. You have your bog-standard enemies who will take cover, shoot and occasionally throw ridiculously accurate grenades at you. Standard-style enemies also come in the forms of RPG, shotgun and sniper troops. Heavy troopers lay down constant and confident LMG fire on you whilst calmly moving in on your position. Also thrown in the mix is the very rare edged-weapon experts who want to do nothing but kill you with one swing of their blade. There's no boss battles or anything like that throughout the campaign so the action pretty much stays this way. There are some vehicle parts throughout the campaign but being the passenger in these chapters results in some average 'on-rails' action.

Environmental dangers are a common sighting whilst doing battle. The sand itself pretty much always works in favour of the Delta Squad in terms of flattening or stunning the enemy. Some sections of the campaign require huge glass windows to be destroyed which consequently cover and kill the enemies in its path. The sandstorms make it almost impossible to see. Walker's aim is automatically affected as he will begin to shoot wider than expected. The squad commands are disabled during sandstorms and the enemy becomes disorientated with poor visual ability too. With the element of sand being a huge factor of the game, it was actually not all that impressive. Used frequently during the cut scenes, the gameplay usage of the sand wasn't really amazing.

Fighting the war online

Straight away, there are NO achievements tied into the multiplayer of Spec Ops: The Line, and I rather like 2K Games' style with this. On the plus side of the achievement-less multiplayer, only the die-hard Spec Ops fans and those genuinely enjoying the online experience will be coming back for more. This will potentially result in boosting free lobbies which could be filled with happy fans of the title. The downside, players only trekking through the sand for some quick achievements won't even look twice at the multiplayer and therefore not give it a try and miss the chance to potentially enjoy it.

The action is not addictive at all though to be honest. A few game modes are on offer including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and a game mode called Buried. A few "Special" variants of these game modes are on offer once unlocked from Rank 8 to Rank 23. With Hardcore I only had a blast in Team Deathmatch in which the actual action came in very small bursts. Prior to diving into the 4 vs 4 online action, it was nice to able to see who exactly the host was. This info is crucial to identifying who's going to be killing the fastest with their super-speed-registered bullets. The customisation options are not too shabby in the multiplayer menu, and some of them, like the badges and titles reminded me a lot of the customisation options from Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Being the freshest noob in my first match, I got unsurprisingly hammered and spent most of the match watching the spectator cameras while I respawned. As some of you will know though, you can't hold down this news-writing shooter forever. Straight into revenge mode in my second match, I quickly gained the upper-hand on the opposing team as I set up rather nicely in a high-nest with a wonderful chain gun. Even after eventually being downed and left to die by my random teammate who was too scared to move, I handled my self efficiently as I went on a rampage and blew away eight consecutive opponents thanks to quick reactions, precision and surprisingly reliable hit detection. I'd shoot enemies in the head with a single-shot, and their head would actually come clean off! I must've been host...

The maps I played on were certainly not lacking in detail or size. If anything, some of them were just a bit too big for only eight players. Ziplines can be used to quickly reach different parts of the map but from the action I saw on the killing fields, camping is shamefully the road to success with this multiplayer. The height of some of the buildings made for some seriously unfair vantage points, much like the one I found on the 'Crow's Nest' map. Anyone caught out in the open was classed as a fool, so anyone trying to get their kill on and find the enemy was constantly rewarded with nothing. Of course, these viewpoints and opinions are solely from the Team Deathmatch game mode, so maybe for some, the objective-based game modes would be a lot better for entertainment and rewarding teamwork. The sand plays a part in the form of storms again, allowing for players to get across open areas without being seen unless coming into close contact with the enemy. Through my few experiences with the sandstorms, everyone just huddled up together and did nothing until the storms past as you literally couldn't see any further than five (in-game) feet.

My best win and my worst loss amongst a few more matches I played gave me a fairly rounded conclusion of Spec Ops: The Line's multiplayer, and it just isn't built to last. With the huge multiplayer games available on Xbox 360, not to mention some of the upcoming titles that will feature strong multiplayer, Spec Ops' world of online battling will soon just sink into the sand. It's not terrible, it's just not amazing either.

Wait, there's a DJ in the game?!

In the main menu of the game, a guitar blurs out the American Anthem. The emotion behind the anthem kind of changes dependant on where you continue from the campaign once you return to it. Besides that, your usual sounds of gunfire and explosions can be hard which is the standard contents of the shooter package. Soldiers are screaming, the delta squad is screaming, but sometimes the dialogue and sounds can be slightly over-exaggerated and a bit annoying. The cut scenes themselves, including the dialogue, are pretty slick and flawless. Voice acting is good and the emotion felt behind some impressive scenes compliments the game's plot. Your squad are constantly talking about what's going on and the mission objectives, all whilst being constantly being taunted by a DJ known as the Radioman. He provides some humorous chatter, sound effects and singing during the campaign despite potentially being a threat to the delta squad. The DJ even spins a couple of records just for the civvies of Dubai. When the Radioman isn't toying with Walker, a lot of guitar and rock style music plays in the background when you are battling against enemies to add to the intensity of some of the battles.

Dubai still looks gorgeous even after a catastrophic sandstorm:

Dubai is still the home of hundreds of Skyscraping buildings despite most of them being destroyed or badly damaged from the sandstorms. As you journey through the city, Walker takes to the lowdown pits and underground works full of dead bodies and refugee camps. Battles take place on ground level as well as amongst the rooftops of the tall buildings. The sights of the Dubai are pretty impressive regardless of how high or low Delta Squad need to traverse. The graphics and detail during the cut scenes are also very impressive.

Review Scores

You may have seen in some of the screenshots we covered, that the world of Spec Ops: The Line can be pretty graphically brutal. Without going into too much detail and spoiling the story, let's just say despite some of the scenes staying true to the brutality and harshness of war, destruction, betrayal and major mistakes never looked so good. Once you near the end of the campaign, the toll, effort, blood, sweat, tears, scars, and burns literally show on all the faces of the Delta Squad. The tough times truly show on these battle-worn soldiers and the crazy twists and turns of the story leave the squad feeling as scarred and hurt on the inside, just as much as the outside.


Easy 1000g. Straight-forward and simple. The game requires a minimum of two playthroughs for the full gamerscore as the hardest difficulty is locked for first time players. Due to the decision making of the story, there are some missable achievements that can still easily be unlocked during the second playthrough. Cumulative achievements are thrown in the mix too with requirements for each kind of weapon in the form of 'x' amount of kills for example. So long as you keep an eye on which weapon you have finished with and which decisions you made through your first playthrough, the full 1000g is easily obtainable without any trouble at all. The intel locations are not something to be too worried about either. Oh, and did I already mention there are no multiplayer achievements? That's gotta be a dream come true for some!

Emptying the sand from my boots...:

Spec Ops: The Line comes with an impressive, immersive storyline which will keep players interested. The visuals are detailed and good looking and the game can be fairly challenging on it's hardest difficulty. The gameplay itself overall is ok but average at best. Sure you can use the sand to aid you in certain battle situations but it's nothing to sing dance and throw sand in the air about.

Although I only played a few matches, I can't knock the lag/connections at all as the matches were pretty much spot on in that department. Plenty of customisation options and a decent amount of game mode varieties will keep the multiplayer fans happy. The option to host and set-up private matches is available alongside a nice selection maps to choose from. The multiplayer is fun in small burst but it's really hard to imagine anyone smashing the life out of the online part of the game for more than a couple of hours.

Overall, Spec Ops: The Line makes for a pretty solid story for its campaign which pulls the weight of the average gameplay to keep players fighting the battle until the end. The game is definitely worth giving a go for the campaign, but with long-life prospects from the multiplayer side of the game not looking too strong, the game may not last too long in player's collections.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

The reviewer spent around 25 hours searching through the sandy city of Dubai as he massacred enemy soldiers, online players, and went through one hell of a crazy campaign on Suicide Mission and FUBAR difficulties.
Ashley Woodcock
Written by Ashley Woodcock
Assistant News Manager for TrueAchievements and member of the Newshounds team since 2010. Lover of completions, tough achievements, shooters, action, adventure and racing titles, hip-hop, NBA, and my Scooby. Finding it hard to pull myself away from The Division and its dangerous Dark Zone.