I was really intrigued by The Line when I heard it was based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (or Apocalypse Now, with which you be more familiar). Hearing the full run down from one of the game’s producers before going hands on was more than enough to get me eager. But after actually playing though an almost stunningly average sequence of gameplay, it was difficult to maintain interest.
The story goes something like this: A series of massive sandstorms seem to have obliterated Dubai, once a thriving oasis for the rich and powerful. Most people proceed to evacuate, but one man, a certain U.S. Army Colonel John Konrad (here’s a cookie for getting the joke), decides to stay behind with his men for unknown reasons. You, Captain Martin Walker (voiced by Nolan North), are then sent in to find out what the heck happened. What happened, it seems, is that Konrad has gone some special type of bonkers, and would rather order his loyalists to massacre you than return home like a good little soldier. As the game progresses, Walker and pals get seriously wounded, both physically and mentally, even suffering from PTSD as they try to calm the terrible situation they’ve been ordered to sort out, and discover the source of Konrad’s shifting loyalty. On the surface, pretty cool, right?
The demo began with one of my squadmates under heavy fire. If I couldn’t pull him out quickly, he was going to die and the mission would fail. Between him and me were a series of chest high walls in the desert, perfect for, say, getting into cover and shooting at villains. By total happenstance, that’s exactly what happened next!
The first thing I noticed was the over-ambitious sprint/cover mechanic. Pressing the run button ignites more of a “charge” than a “jog,” bringing you straight into much-needed cover when you’ve aimed properly toward a wall. If you miss, you’ll run right past it into the line of fire, and then must awkwardly turn and walk back to the other side, hoping not to die in the process.
Once you’re actually successfully behind some good cover, it’s all pop out, take a few shots at the enemies, absorb a few shots from the enemies, pop back in. Everyone’s health seemed a bit too high, making each wave of enemies last much longer than it should have. This issue was further exacerbated by the entrance of a “heavy,” who required all of the ammo of both of my guns, and all of my grenades to take down. He wasn’t hard, just damn-near invincible. You can’t help but feel a bit bored repeated holding down the trigger and waiting for the gorilla to finally pound sand.
Speaking of ammo, that seems to be the Captain’s the prime concern. I ran out constantly. Guns on the ground, and nearby ammo boxes were great help, but the movement mechanic (either snail slow or banzai charge) makes this hypothetically simple task feel overly difficult. After fifteen minutes, I finally beat out a wave of just ten meaty enemies abusing the other side of my field of cover, and was excited to see what the game had in store for me next. Sadly, it was yet another field of chest high walls.
If the writing turns out to be as solid as the concept, Spec Ops: The Line just might be worth it. Thus far, it’s impossible to speak to the game’s final quality, but if things go unchanged, I’d say its narrative potential is currently losing to its uninspired gunplay.