Sand. It gets everywhere. In your undies, in your flip-flops, in your tactical military shooters. In 2K Games’ upcoming PS3 third-person action game Spec Ops: The Line, catastrophic sandstorms have assaulted Dubai and left the City of Gold’s famous gravity-defying skyscrapers entombed under mountains of choking, swirling sand.
I sat in on a demonstration of Spec Ops: The Line at the 2010 E3 Expo, and learned more about the game’s improvisational combat and tense atmosphere, as well as the difficult decisions you’ll face as a Delta Force squad leader.
The story finds inspiration in the film Apocalypse Now. As Delta Force Captain Martin Walker, your team ventures into the Dubai wastes to track down a distress signal from Colonel John Konrad, who went AWOL following the sandstorms. The fate of Col. Konrad and his men will be revealed as you play, but if you’ve seen Apocalypse Now, you might have some clues about the dark territory this tale will explore.
Post-apocalyptic imagery aside, sand plays a key role in The Line’s action mechanics. During the third-person shootouts, you can target barricades and barriers to unleash sand avalanches on top of nearby enemies. Enemies can also exploit the sand traps, so it will pay to keep a close eye on the treacherous, ever-shifting terrain. At times, the action will migrate into the tomb-like skyscrapers that lay beneath Dubai’s suffocating sand dunes. These scenarios are tense and atmospheric, veering closer to survival-horror territory as Cpt. Walker and his men try to piece together the bigger picture while fending off surprise attacks from squatters and survivalists who have reclaimed the ruined city.
In firefights, Cpt. Walker can issue commands (flank, advance) to his Delta Force squad mates — though the developers promise that the computer-controlled allies can easily take care of themselves if you’d rather focus on the dirty work. Combat is up close and visceral, with a large arsenal of high-powered military shotguns, rifles, and carbines at your disposal.
Other surprises abound, such as a white phosphorus attack on Cpt. Walker’s team that sets an entire city block ablaze and sends fireballs drifting lazily through the air. Your decision-making prowess will also be put to the test during the game. In one scene I saw, Cpt. Walker had to choose between interrupting the execution of an ally or holding fire in order to conceal his presence and succeed in a larger objective. Choosing between what’s “moral” and what’s “necessary” will be a reoccurring theme in Spec Ops: The Line, meaning that your gameplay decisions will have a direct outcome on the characters, relationships, and outcomes of the game. And yes, there will be multiple endings.
Spec Ops: The Line hits the PS3 in 2011 and will support multiplayer features, though specifics aren’t public yet. If you have questions about the game, ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.