Spec Ops: The Line seems to be the dark horse of the 2K lineup this year. Mafia 2 is getting its 1930's GTA on, XCOM is firing up the nostalgia engine, and Civilization V is building on an already successful franchise. Spec Ops: The Line really did shine when VG Chartz sat down with 2K developers to watch some gameplay footage of the alpha build of their upcoming third-person shooter.
Spec Ops: The Line is set in a near-future Dubai. Catastrophic sandstorms have swept through the area and rendered it uninhabitable. However, the once grand and opulent hotels of Dubai have been minimally damaged, often still beautiful condition on the inside whilst mountains of sand heap up around them. It is through just such a hotel lobby that the game begins.
Your spec ops squad is sent in to find and recover a fellow member of the military who was sent in and hasn't been heard from. Once in the hostile landscape of Dubai, you stumble upon violent looters and sometimes even trained soldiers with their own agendas. The transition from cutscene to gameplay was seemless. Lighting and sound effects were some of the best ever seen, particularly in a shooter. Voicing the main character was the great Nolan North, now famous for his voice roles in Uncharted and Prince of Persia, among others.
Being a third-person shooter, the game makes use of a pretty standard cover system. You move in cover, blind fire, and dash from cover to cover. A very unique gameplay element is sand. Sand is everywhere and there are many instances where you can use sand as a weapon. It can also be used as a weapon against you. In one particular spot, a group of enemies were huddled in front of a retaining wall. The player then shot a sticky grenade at the wall, collapsing it an burying the hapless looters.
The most intriguing part of the game is the power of choice. There are many times throughout the game when the player will be forced to choose between orders and his or her own moral convictions. This isn't Fable or Infamous where your choices will have an over-arching affect on the game, but rather you have to live with the consequences of your actions. The demo ended with a hostage situation and you had the choice to take a shot and intervene, risking civilians being caught in the crossfire; or waiting it out for a better time to strike as ordered. The developer playing took the shot and in the ensuing firefight several civilians were killed. It could have gone completely different if the soldier had waited for orders or had been a better shot.
The game looks and sounds great, but isn't perfect. The current build features no HUD, but that's a pre-beta concession for E3 and the final build will have a minimal HUD. The enemy AI was downright stupid, though when I asked they explained that the enemies we were fighting were simple looters. They aren't trained soldiers. The trained enemy units will more actively take cover and try to flank you and your team.
The game will also feature co-op and team-based competitive multiplayer, is scheduled for a 2011 multiplatform launch, and should be seeing a beta "soon."