Spec Ops: The Line is barely a game. Rather, it’s more like a documentary that sits there for several hours, screaming at you about some tragedy and how your inaction (or actions—there’s never any winning) has led to it. It’s preachy, thoroughly unpleasant to play through, and such a trippy experience that I can’t hate it. I want to, but I can’t. At the very least, however, this is the kind of game that you play through once and then uninstall, never to return to again.
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is that it’s clunky. Combat plays out a bit like an incredibly-sticky version of the combat found in Mass Effect 2 & 3, and sometimes this stickiness makes it hard to maneuver around, leading to the occasional cheap death. These cheap deaths are made all the more annoying by the fact that the game uses checkpoints, which means dying sends you back to deal with the same groups of enemies you just dealt with.
Sometimes you (and enemies) can shoot through objects as though they aren’t there, and other times your bullets will be stopped by invisible barriers. Even when combat actually works, though, it’s decidedly unpleasant. I’ve seen people say that the combat is unpleasant to help drive home the game’s point, but that strikes me as an artsy excuse for not having polished the game.
It’s not possible to talk about the story in any kind of detail. It just isn’t. To even allude to what makes the story work would be to give it away, but suffice it to say that there are some really strange moments that end up all being tied together toward the end. That being said, it’s not perfect. The game is preachier than the pope, and despite there being multiple endings, all of them are bad endings. I saw somewhere that giving up on playing through the game counts as an ending or something—that’s the kind of pretentious, abstract drivel that fuels the story. The whole thing is unmistakably pointed toward the Call of Duty, kill-everyone-in-sight-to-save-the-world-from-evil crowd of gamers, so those who play more thoughtful, creative games and go through this game with simpler intentions will feel as though the game is shouting at someone standing beside them. Some people just want to see the story, and this is really where the game falls apart; when the motivation of the player is as simple as wanting to see what the hype is about, the message breaks down and the game as a whole has to stand without its message. The only problem is that the game relies on that message so heavily that the only thing left without it are the sub-par shooting mechanics. Even if the message doesn’t personally resonate with you, however, you’ll likely enjoy the uniqueness of what it’s trying to achieve, and appreciate it being more than a shameless hero-simulator.
The graphics are kind of a mixed bag. There are some creative lens flares and areas, and the character design is actually pretty good, but the majority of the game suffers from blandness and tends to blur together. This is strange, because you actually go through a lot of different areas, but the game somehow manages to make them all “feel” the same. Nothing really stands out, despite plenty of prettiness here and there.
Music fares slightly better, being mostly unmemorable but playing a key role in several crucial scenes. It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but it’s used to better-than-usual effect in Spec Ops: The Line. Especially in the finale.
Here’s what you should do: