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PAX East 2012: Spec Ops: The Line Hands-On

A strong focus on story and setting help this shooter stand out

By Daniel Jones on 4/7/2012
 Spec Ops: The Line is a shooter with heart. Developer Yager and publisher 2K Games are hoping that a focus on story and emotion will help set  Spec Ops apart from other games in the military shooter genre. At PAX East, Lead Designer Cory Davis told us, "We wanted to tell a more emotional side of the soldier's story." Our hands-on demo, though brief as it was, clearly conveyed that sense drama and focus on the characters.

The plot, based loosely on Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness, focuses on a squad of soldiers sent in to a sand storm addled version of Dubai to find U.S. Colonel John Konrad (sound familiar?). The demo was extremely well paced, as it was clear that the early part of the game is used to set up the characters and their individual personalities. Witty banter and playful voice actors nicely contrast the somber setting. Much like Apocalypse Now, the characters start off with a much more light hearted tone in their voices before things turn ugly.

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About those voices; you may have noticed in the latest trailer for the game that the main character, Captain Walker is voiced by Nolan North. The prolific voice actor has lent his pipes to  Uncharted,  Batman: Arkham City and  Portal 2 among many others. According to Davis however, "People are going to see a new side of Nolan North," in  Spec Ops: The Line. 

Along with North are two other characters, also very well voiced who make up the three man squad. The actors all recorded their lines together in person which seems to have helped develop that chemistry that was so apparent in our demo. Says Davis of the trio, "Every time they came in it was like the squad walked into the room." The voice acting was one of the most impressive aspects of our hands-on.

That's not to say that the gameplay didn't impress as well. The third person shooting was responsive, movement felt natural, melee was easy and satisfying and the AI seemed competent. Light squad mechanics add some depth to the combat such as calling in a flash bang or just simply pointing out a target. These aspects are so light however that it's difficult to see how often they'll actually be used.

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The graphics were very slick. Animations were nice and the sand was especially impressive. The way characters move in the sand, the way it blows through the environment, the way enemies become less visible when the wind picks up. It all combines to give  Spec Ops a memorable aesthetic. Dubai looks beautiful and seems to be a very provocative environment along the same lines as  Bioshock's Rapture or  Half-Life 2's City 17. Or as Davis puts it, "I hope people play  Spec Ops and say 'S***, I want to visit Dubai."

We're not sure our demo made us want to visit Dubai, but it certainly made us want to play more of  Spec Ops: The Line. Luckily the game comes out June 26 so the wait isn't too much longer. This game has flown under the radar for a while but it's made a positive impression on PAX-goers. If the ambitions of the team come to fruition, it could very well become a Game of the Year candidate.

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