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Spec Ops: The Line E3 Preview

Having lain dormant for the best part of a decade, perhaps understandably so after some lacklustre budget entries for the PlayStation, the latest title looks to be a radical overhaul of the Spec Ops concept. With little information available prior to E3 and a largely unknown developer, it was difficult to know what to expect, but we were in for a surprise.

Spec Ops: The Line takes place in the near future in a heavily damaged Dubai which has been ravaged by enormous sandstorms. With most of the population having been evacuated, the inhospitable city has become home solely to looters and gangs. The plot follows Captain Martin Walker, the leader of a Special Forces unit who is sent in to try and ascertain the fate of a US Army Colonel who remained in Dubai. Having heard nothing from either him or his men for some time, a faint distress beacon is detected prompting the insertion of Walker and his squad.

Spec Ops The Line

Taking place on the deserted (or should that be desert-ed) streets as well as the abandoned high rise buildings, the setting for the game is certainly unique. Graphically, Spec Ops: The Line is fantastic, especially in the exterior environments with some well executed lighting effects and impressive sand textures. At this relatively early stage of development, the title is already looking polished, with some understated and subtle music complementing the quieter sections of the presentation very nicely. The preview began in the darkened remains of a skyscraper with the squad looking for a way out of the crumbling concrete. The group walked gradually through the twisted rebars before stumbling across the enormous entrance to a luxury hotel. Preserved underneath the sand, the feeling was rather eerie but it wasn't long before the troops were looking for a way out.

Spec Ops The Line

Here, one of the game's unique features came into play with the camera focusing on one of the huge glass lobby walls which held back tonnes of sand. Breaking the window brought a cascade of sand crashing into the entrance, opening up the path ahead. With virtually the entire city covered in sand, it can be turned to your advantage in combat or allow you to access new areas. Developers, YAGER emphasised that turning your surroundings to your advantage would be vital in combat, where often you will be outnumbered and outgunned. Sandstorms will also pose a threat but can aid in missions where enemy visibility is reduced. This is an unusual and unique game mechanic, although how often it will appear and how much impact it will have on combat remains to be seen.

Spec Ops The Line 

Moving outside unveiled a large, destroyed highway with a distant gunfight emerging between military troops and a mysterious group of bandits. Taking cover behind one of the raised freeway's walls to observe the combat, a helicopter appeared to aid the battle. However, it wasn't long before this has been hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and smashed into the side of nearby building. Moving further onwards down the highway soon things took a grim turn for the worse, with dozens of hanging corpses suspended from lampposts. As the squad moved between them, this really set a grim scene as the bodies swayed eerily in a gentle breeze. Having only made it a few paces further in between the derelict vehicles suddenly all hell broke loose as a group of looters sprung an ambush.

Spec Ops The Line 

With third-person cover-based combat forming the core gameplay of the title, comparisons with recent titles are inevitable. Clearly inspired to some extent by Gears of War and also bearing some similarities to little-known PS2 title kill.switch, Spec Ops: The Line's cover system appears fluid. With a tight over-the-shoulder camera following Walker, a regenerating health system and a snap-to means of hiding behind obstacles, the gameplay seems solid if not revolutionary. There were some fresh touches though, including the ability to fire through gaps in empty vehicles and vaulting over cover while attacking.

Spec Ops The Line 

The weaponry available looked meaty and each shot had impact, especially an automatic shotgun which made short work of the enemies in the close-up fighting. YAGER commented that they are aiming to make each encounter take place at medium or close range to add to the intensity of every fight. Midway during the battle, the squad mechanics were implemented allowing Walker to order his teammates into position. The level of control you get over the squad wasn't made clear during this demonstration, but hopefully it will be a similar system to Freedom Fighters with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface. As more opponents poured onto the highway, a sticky grenade was flung onto an enemy who ran screaming into his teammates, taking out several at once. To finish the battle off, Walker targeted some hoarding boards above a cluster of enemies, damaging it heavily. The weakened wood then broke, burying the men beneath a mass of sand.

Spec Ops The Line 

In a rather chilling end to the preview, the team walked through the aftermath of a white phosphorous attack by a military group leaving the ground scorched. As the squad moved gradually forward into the smoke, burning people staggered into view screaming. Having to keep a low profile, Walker and his men crept through the aftermath, pausing to watch a group of men sadistically watching them burn. Reaching the edge of a cliff, a small cluster of men were torturing a prisoner, leaving the player with a choice to help or leave them. YAGER emphasised that there will be moral choices throughout the story, not always with clear cut decisions. Designed to test the player and have implications on the events of the game, hopefully these decisions won't be simply an arbitrary different cut-scene with no real consequences.


Spec Ops: The Line will also feature a multiplayer mode, although this was being kept largely under wraps. We did learn that it will have a variety of different game modes, with one apparently brand new one that has never been seen before, alongside a levelling system. With a multiplayer beta due to start soon, it will be interesting to see whether any of the sand based-gameplay makes the transition to these modes. Spec Ops: The Line was certainly a big surprise, being both unusual and polished. With no release date given yet, we hope to get more information on the game to you as soon as possible.

evilgiraffeman | 6th July, 2010
POBmaestro's picture
Sounds intense and exciting, but I guess with any preview demonstration one has to take it all with a pinch of salt. Fingers crossed it won't turn out anything like the PS1 titles

Another good preview Giraffe!

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