Spec Ops The Line is one of those games that inspires people to wax eloquently about the story. It's supposed to get you thinking about the morality of war and touts itself as a "provocative and gripping modern military shooter that puts the player in the middle of unspeakable situations where choices affecting human life must be made". That's an arguably false statement, but more about that later.
Spec-Ops has a good story if you don't try to analyze it too deeply, because, in the end, I'm not sure it all hangs together. The location of the game is Dubai where six months previous to the time line a cataclysmic sand storm devestated the city. Most of the population died, including American soldiers sent in to help with the evacuation. When a mysterious radio signal is picked up, a Delta Force team is sent in to find any survivors and evac them, but instead, they find they have wandered into the middle of an ongoing war.
You play as Captain Martin Walker, accompanied by his two AI team mates, Lugo and Adams, who urge you to retreat and report to command when your squad meets with unexpected resistance. However, as their captain, you decide to press on by infiltrating deeper into the city, where you discover some oddities about the situation. American troops, the CIA, and hostile armed survivors are all fighting each other as well as shooting at you. Walker starts to become obsessed with solving this mystery and elects to keep moving forward.
The graphics are fairly good, if not great, and I liked that the environments weren't all dark and gloomy. The visuals can be very detailed at times and often quite eerily beautiful for a destroyed city covered in sand.
The mechanics are also good and your AI teamates perform very well, although contextual movements don't always work 100%, which can sometimes get you killed. This is particularly evident in the melee, which doesn't work well on the rare occassion when the enemy gets too close. The game is linear and moves you from one combat engagement to the other, and even though the enemy AI are not particularly all that smart, this potential advantage is often nullified by their sheer numbers and dead-eye shots.
Weapons are pretty deadly and there are tons of different miltary guns you can pick up on combat fields, which you will probably change often enough due to ammo shortages. It's not exactly sparse, but sometimes you do run out. In addition, there are ammo and grenade boxes in various locations. All of the guns are fairly effective and there are three types of grenades, which are not in huge supply. There are no vehicles to drive in this game. Collectibles come in the form of Intel, but there is usually a maximum of 2 in a level and sometimes only one or none.
The game is not overly long, although there are 4 or 5 slightly different endings. It took me about 10 hours, which is short for me and means shorter for others because I take it slow in all my games, exploring every corner I can.
Although Spec-Ops has an engaging story that is somewhat arguably touted as having RPG elements, there is very little other types of non-combat interaction. It's basically a first-person shooter. There are very few occassions where you can make a choice and those choices have no effect on the course of the game. As such, they are entirely meaningless. The game forces you to do certain things and choosing any other option is an illusion. If you try to pick anything outside of the mandated course, you will just die.
The game is also somewhat controversial due to the developers underlying agenda. There is deliberate user provocation, which they use to make a political statement about war and violence in video games. However, not just in a general way. Loading screen messages are directed at the player and are not the game recaps common to games. In an interview with Walt Williams, the lead writer, he states the following: about player choices "It's the choice of, Do I want to play a game where I do these things, or do I not like to play that? Turning off the game is a valid player choice". However, for me, rather than make me think deeply about the real horrors of war, I found the messages condecending, morally judgemental and worse, hypocritical, coming from developers who had just taken my money in order to promote not playing what I paid for.
The story deoes purposely crosses some moral lines to push their point. The writers maintain that they wanted to present the player with choices, but in the end there was in fact few choices, because the word choice implies at least 2 options. But this is also a case of the method justifying the means gone wrong. If they felt that strongly about war and violence in video games, they shouldn't have made a violent game in the first place. In this regard, the message is a miserable failure as no one who plays these types of games would think that deeply about playing a game they paid for. It's also a lot of propaganda, being particulaly directed at Americans.
Despite mostly positive reviews, the game was considered a commercial failure, although over the years users continue to give it a very positive rating. But moreso for the story than any innovative gameplay.