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Spec Ops: The Line Demo Impressions

Here I am contemplating life without Geralt, having beaten The Witcher 2 last night. So I can either play a $1, no-case copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance I found at a thrift store, the apparently buggy-as-hell Silent Hill HD collection, or I can chase the words “Tom Chick” down a Trials Evolution track, constantly breaking my gummy bones to try to catch video games’ most notorious writer. Instead of all of the above, I just checked out the Spec Ops: The Line demo that’s out on XBLA and PSN. I’ve heard good buzz about it, so I was definitely interested although I’ve never played any other Spec Ops games. I guess I may as well have having played every other game with army men in them.

“Edgy” menu screen. Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” over an image of sand-buried Dubai and an upside down (OOH!) American flag, washed out in the sun. Moral ambiguity? A questioning of American foreign policy? This is a game where you shoot white people as well as brown people, so it could be a STATEMENT. Then it starts out with a helicopter minigun sequence. Right out of the gate, we’re halfway down Piece of Shit Boulevard.

And so Gears of Duty begins, at least two missions of it. It’s a third person, cover shooter with decent controls and surprisingly good shooting. I especially like that, unlike the Locust, you can shoot a bad guy in the face and they die immediately. There’s a couple of commands you can issue to your squad mates, but they seem to be there more to make you feel like there’s stratergery than anything else. But by and large, Gears of Duty is the best possible way to describe the game. Set piece battles, dramatic beats, waist-high walls. roadie runs, the whole thing. Even ziplining and Michael Bay-class bombast executed by talkative soldiers that apparently had a hit or two of Super Soldier Serum before boots on the ground.

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The story is potentially interesting, but by now we should all expect the single-player campaign to be five hours long, ruthlessly linear, and occuring almost entirely in corridors and the occasional open areas. One hook is that you’re in Dubai and the whole city has been buried by massive sandstorms. That’s pretty neat at first glance, but then you realize that it’s yet another blown-to-shit, battle damaged urban setting to shoot your way through. The other is that in addition to the survivors of this sandy apocalypse, you’re also fighting- duhn-duhn-duhn! Rogue American soldiers, Unit 33 or something of that sort. The dialogue hints at shocking secrets, the CIA, and all kinds of duhn-duhn-duhn.

Whatever. The line is that this is likely a competent but completely unremarkable AAA pretender that will hit in June- with virtually no competition in its space- to hesitant scores in the Metacritic 70-80 range, with critics trying to find something of note to hang on to another middle-of-the-road title that, at this point, demonstrates absolutely no differentiators or compelling reasons for the consumer to purchase. I love shooters, I like Call of Duty and Gears of War but this demo just made me want to go back to playing those better and more established games.

It also reminded me, oddly enough of an obscure movie. Richard Stanley’s great metaphysical horror film Dust Devil. It’s set in South Africa, is very sandy, and it has some simliar color. There’s also a great scene in it that takes place in a movie theater filled with sand, which is reminiscent of some of the scenes in the demo. I liked being reminded of Dust Devil, but that has almost nothing to do with the game other than the fact that the demo bored me to the point where I was thinking more about that picture than shooting people.

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There’s potential in the multiplayer because the shooting is decent. Oh, who am I kidding. It’ll probably be the usual control point crap, unlocks, a couple of guys that apparently hit the level cap on day two after launch, and some paid DLC maps somewhere along the line. Oh, and probably an online pass. Which means I will never see it, because if I play any more of this game it’s going to be a rental or a less-than-$10 used copy that will likely be available by the end of the year.

Geralt…I miss you, man.

Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of as well as His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

7 thoughts to “Spec Ops: The Line Demo Impressions”

    1. Oh wow Hard Reset. Most of what remember about that demo was the excruciating menu animations. A large mechanical arm selected display boards (or was it circuit boards?) for each menu option, and they seemed to take about 10 seconds to go from one to another. Couple that with 2001ish, very basic shooting gameplay, and you’ve got what you call a severely diminished interest.

    2. Oh sweet Jesus, I love Hardware. A 2000AD comic book as imagined by Dario Argento after a weekend-long session of listening to the good Ministry records.

      I really wish Stanley did more films…and I wonder if Island of Dr. Moreau would have been better had he not been fired from it.

  1. I wouldn’t call Spec Ops’ shooting “surprisingly good”. It is surprising that enemies drop from just a few bullets, but it’s not “meaty” enough/something is just off with it.

    And although I really like CoD and Gears of War, I couldn’t enjoy this – just another pop-up shooting gallery, with Nathan Drake as wannabe dangerous sounding US soldier (love his work in some other games), and I hate when seemingly stealthy opportunities turn to shit (shoot 2 lonely guys with silenced gun, and alarm goes off couple of floors below). I also expected more sand-as-gameplay-mechanic, but all I got was one moment, which could easily have been red barrel behind enemies. Oh, and one when they shoot in the ground beneath you, and it turns out to be glass roof of some building… kinda cool, but just not enough.

  2. I love the game do far. It has a very I retesting story and the gameplay is pretty good. If you look for the intel items you get even more of an in depth look at what happened and is happening in Dubai. I’m really enjoying my time with this game. Some of the parts are pretty difficult but not to the point where I want to throw my controller through the window. If you like military shooters and an interesting story them you will most likely enjoy this game.

    1. I’m going to do us a full review…we didn’t get a review copy and Gamefly just coughed up a copy. Looking forward to seeing if the full story plays out better.

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