Thursday, November 29, 2012

First Impressions - Spec Ops: The Line

Picked this gem up for a steal at $15 the other week on Steam. It's been on my list for some time, especially with ties to Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, both works I studied a bit in college. Mix in my love of modern warfare, as well as the promise of 50k words from Brendon Keogh (download, interview) at the end, it was just too much. So I (ahem) pulled the trigger.

I sat down to play the other night and was almost immediately disappointed.

Now, this is a really good game. But it's a really good game from about 2 years ago. The cover mechanic is good, but in the early levels at least not well implemented. I felt stuck to cover and unable to fluidly move from spot to spot. Also, if I'm going to use cover and be a modern Delta operator, I should use cover like a modern Delta operator. Not like a COG. 

What do I mean by that? I have a sniper in my team. He should be 500-800 yards back and I should be stealth with a fireteam buddy to the point of contact and using radio comms to coordinate fire and take out multiple targets at once in a lightning-raid fashion. Instead it feels like I'm swinging around giant anime cosplay weapons in a phone booth. The scale of the arms does not make sense to the scale of the engagement.

I'm being a bit over-critical, but I have to get it out of my system. Concessions were clearly made in the game mechanics to make the title more popular to console audiences. In fact, the message it may have in store for the player might be best received by console players. So fine. We have a modern skin on a clunky GoW clone. At least make it a good GoW clone. The maps are very small in the early game portion I'm in, with fairly linear paths and perhaps only two or three options for cover. Clearly further concessions were made to emphasize the art direction and quality in the game over the level design and gameplay. I died many many times, to the point where the game offered to push be down a difficulty level, and option which I gleefully took.

The problem, I think, is that I had no idea where I was being hit from. The chaos of the firefight was glorious, the chatter of the enemy and the frantic movements of the civilians caught in the crossfire felt right. But other than some blood spatter around the edges of the screen I have no clue what keeps killing me. None.

For the record, the character modeling in this game is perhaps the best I've seen in a modern setting in some time. The scale, the kit, the diversity of it all is just amazing. The environments could stand to be less lush and instead made larger. But, again, design choices were made and perhaps I just don't agree with them.

The last point I want to make before I finish the game, and by gods I will finish this game if it kills me, is the plot progression and NPC interaction. I don't feel like I'm making any decisions here at all. Case in point: I met an NPC, rescued him even, and then held him at gunpoint. He began to sidle towards the door while we talked, none too subtly I might add. During a heated discussion about who would drop their weapons first I decided it was time to kneecap him. Two shots later he up and died on me. Like I had shot him in the head. Just flat out died.

In a nuanced game like this, I would have liked the option to wound him. I feel like I was forced to kill him, and the feedback I'm getting from my fireteam is not helping me make up for what I feel like was a black decision, with little or no option for a white outcome.

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