PAX East 2012 — Spec Ops: The Line Preview

Right next to Borderlands 2 at 2K Games’ booth at PAX East last week was Spec Ops: The Line, a military third-person shooter made by Yager Development. If the Spec Ops name sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it was a series of games published between 1998 and 2002 on the PS1 and PC. It’s strange to see 2K reviving the franchise ten years later, especially as The Line has no other connection to previous games. The game has been generating positive buzz over the past couple of months, though, so I felt compelled to check it out.

Spec Ops: The Line doesn’t look like anything special on the surface; it’s a squad-based military cover shooter set in the Middle East. It’s graphically impressive, but it doesn’t do anything that you haven’t seen before. You can tell your squadmates to attack certain points and enemies, while much of the gameplay revolves around poking in and out of cover. The controls should also be instantly familiar to Call of Duty players. What I played wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it wasn’t exactly revolutionary.

The real star of the show, however, is The Line’s story, which aims to be much more than the typical dudebro killfest that you find in so many of today’s shooters. A massive sandstorm has laid waste to the city of Dubai, forcing most of its inhabitants to evacuate. One of the few who stayed behind was U.S. Army Colonel John Konrad, who volunteered his squad to help protect the citizens that couldn’t evacuate the city. At one point, weeks pass without communication from Konrad, and the player is sent to investigate when a distress signal from his unit is received.

You control Captain Martin Walker — voiced by Nolan North — who is sent in with his own elite squad to assess the situation. What you find is a catastrophically transformed city, where sand dunes are now a part of  the cityscape. Investigating the distress beacon in the first level of the demo leads to an ambush by a group of rebels; while a fairly predictable scenario, the dialogue reveals that your squad isn’t exactly looking forward to a fight and are even disturbed by some of what they see around them.

The second level in the PAX East demo takes place a little further along The Line’s story, and it showed that something is very wrong. Rather than fighting local rebels, you’re at odds with members of Konrad’s group of soldiers. Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and had to leave the demo shortly after the level started, but it raises obvious questions such as what Konrad’s motives really were for staying in Dubai.

Spec Ops: The Line isn’t going to change the way that you play a third-person shooter, but it’s aiming to change the way that you think about them. The story seems to be much more thoughtful than your typical military fare, with the dialogue and voice acting to match. It still throws in some COD-level setpieces for good measure, though.

Look for Spec Ops: The Line to hit store shelves on June 26th.