Easter Eggs: Spec Ops: The Line

By Andrew Ogley, 2 years ago
Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.
In 2012, 2K Games released the latest title in the Spec Ops franchise, Spec Ops: The Line. The game hit the shelves whilst shooter fans were still busy with modern combat titles such as Battlefield 3 and various Call of Duty titles. Given its long history of development problems, there was a good chance that this latest edition of Spec Ops would be overlooked, especially as the multiplayer component, the driving force behind the more successful franchises, had been outsourced and seemed to be tacked on at the end. Spec Ops: The Line would have to have something special to make it stand out, and it truly did.



The Basics

The game is a third-person shooter set in the city of Dubai which has been half-consumed by the desert sands around it. The city's famous skyscrapers lay half-buried after cataclysmic sandstorms engulfed the sprawling affluent metropolis, cutting off communication. The player assumes the role of Captain Martin Walker, who has been sent along with two other soldiers, to recon the area and attempt to discover what happened to the US 33rd division that mysteriously disappeared whilst trying to evacuate a small caravan of civilians from the sand-ravaged city. From such a simple premise, things deteriorate rapidly. With the city's politicians, rich, and elite having already deserted the city, lawlessness ensues, and Walker finds himself sucked in the midst of a complex and savage entanglement between various forces struggling for power over the doomed city. Mission parameters become lost, ethics and morals are forgotten, boundaries are pushed and ultimately exceeded, and the line between right and wrong is ultimately and irreversibly crossed.

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The Hook

From the outset, it has to be said that the third-person gameplay although good, is not exceptional. The visuals also seemed to have that familiar trademark look delivered by the Unreal 3.0 engine. To be fair, the environments, buildings, and the blinding effects of the sandstorms do stand out, and the character models are exceptionally well detailed. However, none of this matters; it is the narrative and the skilful way in which the carefully-crafted story manipulates and toys with the player's mind as it documents the squad's descent into madness that makes Spec Ops: The Line truly shine.

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Whilst most modern shooters opt for a story in which players are fighting for a just cause, valiantly repelling foreign invaders, or heroically saving the world from an apocalyptic war, justifying their actions and wrapping themselves in glory, The Line takes players in a new direction with a theme that has never been covered in game before. Although, the tale is heavily influenced by a great work of fiction (it is no coincidence that the mysterious antagonist is known as J. Konrad, deliberate spelling mistake aside), the game confronts players with the darker side of modern warfare, and the effect it has on the human psyche.

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Starting off in the bright desert sunshine, the mission begins as simple reconnaissance, but as events unfold, the game gets darker, both visually as you descend deeper in the city, and in narrative, as the horrors and atrocities are revealed. The decisions that the player is forced to make become less cut and dried, the lines between right and wrong begin to blur. Ultimately, the player is faced with hellish no-win decisions where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't; either way you're damned.

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Inevitably this has an effect on the characters in the game. At the start, all are soldiers and clean-cut military men, but as they face the continuous horrors of the city, they begin to lose that self-control. Again, this is represented visually as the characters become more bloodied, more battle stained, and their uniforms more ragged. The dialog changes too, showing the shift in mood, and tempers begin to fray. Out on their own, discipline begins to fall apart, they begin to question orders, and start fighting amongst themselves. Walker begins to hallucinate, and the other squad members too become less controlled, and more irrational. The behaviour towards enemies and each other becoming increasingly violent and unpredictable. There are points in the game where you enter a firefight wondering if your comrades-in-arms are truly still your comrades, do you still have a squad or do you have to start watching your back. It's a disturbing feeling.

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The player is spared no visual punches either. The atrocities carried out in the city are shown in relatively graphic detail, this is not a tale for the soft-hearted. It's meant to get to you, get under your skin, and make you feel uncomfortable, and it does so superbly. Slowly but surely, it sucks you in.

As the story reaches its climax, there is no reprieve and no escape, there are four endings to the hellish journey, but not one offers a single chance of repentance, salvation, or absolution.

There have been many games with a great story, but few can match the brutal and pervasive narrative of Spec Ops: The Line.

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The Achievements

There are a maximum of 50 achievements worth 1,328 TA Score (1,000 GS), all of which are single-player which gives an indication of the importance of multiplayer to the title. Most of the achievements can be picked up in a single playthrough (as long as you don't mind rolling through on FUBAR difficulty and replaying the end and a few other segments a few times). There's the usual mix of story-related, weapons, and collectibles, none of which are too difficult.

The Stats

At the time of writing, a mere 18,209 tracked gamers on the site have played this game, and only 2,602 have completed it (14.29%) in its entirety. However, it's interesting to note that 13,611 gamers finished the campaign on at least the easiest setting. That means an impressive 75% of players starting the title, actually saw the campaign through to the end; surely a testament to the quality of the story.

Our community rated the game with a fairly high score of 4.1 which is slightly higher than the rating of 76 from Metacritic.

For the record, our official site review can be found here.

The Price

As with most games, the title was available in various editions. For UK gamers, the Fubar Edition containing multi-player bonuses, is available for £8.99 from Amazon UK.

For US gamers, the Standard Edition is available for $24.99 Amazon US. However, as with all older titles it is always worth shopping around to find the best deal.

The Verdict

Spec Ops: The Line might not have won many awards for its graphics or gameplay, and nor will it be remembered for such, but when the memories of those firefights and shootouts have faded, the story and narrative will linger and remain with those who played through it. Whilst other titles leave the player feeling that he has fought on the side of righteousness and justice, and in some way, contributed to grand and noble cause, The Line denies the player such a luxury. As the credits roll, the player is left feeling sullied and dirty, from what they have participated in, pondering what they have done. It might be over-dramatizing to say that the game leaves the player with a virtual mental battle scar, but it does come close to that. A harrowing and disturbing narrative that will haunt those who completed the campaign.

If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.