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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.

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.

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.