War games are a dime a dozen these days, and with the likes of “Gears of War” and “Call of Duty” dominating the genre, it really takes something special to stand out from the pack. Though 2K Games’ “Spec Ops: The Line” doesn’t necessarily have that certain X factor, it’s still one of the better third-person shooters to come out over the last few years. Set in Dubai six months after a massive sandstorm has buried the city under a pile of sand and destruction, the game follows a trio of Delta Force soldiers as they’re sent in to locate and evacuate survivors, only to discover that the city is under the tyrannical command of U.S. Colonel John Konrad.
The name is clearly a reference to Joseph Conrad, the author of “Heart of Darkness,” whose famous novel was in turn adapted into Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” And it becomes increasingly obvious as you make your way through the first few chapters of the game that the Vietnam War film had a big influence on its development, from the striking parallels between the stories, to the heavy focus on the psychological dangers of warfare. In fact, the campaign mode gets so dark at times that I wouldn’t recommend it to real-life soldiers on the off-chance that it makes their PTSD even worse.
Though I encountered a few annoying bugs throughout the game (the most prevalent of which was the habit of briefly losing control of my player while changing direction), the gameplay is enjoyable enough that most people shouldn’t have trouble overlooking them. “Spec Ops: The Line” doesn’t offer much innovation in the way of combat mechanics, but it takes the best parts of similar titles (namely the “Gears of War” and “Ghost Recon” series) to create a relatively solid experience. It’s a little disappointing that multiplayer isn’t as much fun (and quite frankly, it feels like a last-minute addition), but while “Spec Ops: The Line” isn’t going to wow anyone, it’s a more than serviceable military shooter with a unique narrative that asks some interesting questions of its audience.