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Lately, a plethora of games have asked, “What unusual objects or even intangible things can be used as weapons?” We’ve seen the development of guns that shoot everyday items at blazing speeds (Fallout 3′s Rock-It Launcher), as well as the manipulation of gravity, time, or the very laws of nature, all in the name of victory over one’s enemies.

Spec Ops: The Line is a game that turns sand, and the city of Dubai by association, into weapons, giving players the opportunity to take full advantage of the game’s setting. I had the opportunity to watch a presentation of Spec Ops: The Line at E3 this year, and I walked away from the lavishly decorated room hoping that I wouldn’t see a grain of the infernal stuff for quite some time.

In development by German company Yager Development alongside 2K, Spec Ops: The Line takes players into the city of Dubai after a series of sandstorms make the city uninhabitable. In the evacuations, a VIP Army Colonel is left behind, and the player character and his squad are sent to locate and extract him.

It wouldn’t be a very good videogame if there weren’t barriers preventing this, and these barriers will be many. For one, chaos has taken over the city, and armed outlaws and military personnel patrol the streets, often with brutal results. In addition, sandstorms are still plentiful, hindering movement, visibility, and surely much more.

I was taken through a 20-30-minute led demonstration of the game by a producer for 2K Games, Greg Kasavin. He had much to say about the game’s rather unique setting. For one, it is not, by any means, a typical battlefield. During the demo, we were shown two vastly different types of locations. A baroque building interior with lavish columns and aquariums in the floor kicked off the demo, which soon moved outside into the sand-covered streets of Dubai. There was a particularly cool moment that served as a transition between these two areas: the player shot through a huge window inside the building, sending a mountain of sand crashing through and creating a ramp to the outside world.

Moments like these should be plentiful in Spec Ops: The Line. Since the landscape of the battlefield can change in such dramatic ways, there should be amply opportunity for multiple approaches to a situation. For instance, you may be compelled to destroy a barrier and send a wall of sand on top of your foes rather than shoot each one individually. It remains to be seen whether there will be enough variety in how sand is used to keep this mechanic interesting, but for now it does feel like a compelling twist on third-person war shooters.

As for the shooting itself, it’s impossible to say at this point how it feels, but as for how it looks, it looks fine. I played a lot of third-person shooters during E3, and it’s easy for them to all begin to look the same in terms of shooting mechanics. Aside from the aforementioned sand assaults, there’s nothing right now to really set the basic action apart from similar games. Kasavin emphasized that they wanted to focus on close to medium-range combat so that battles would feel more intense, but as of now that intensity just isn’t there in typical firefights, despite the game appearing to have perfectly capable aiming, shooting, squad orders, and cover movement. It did seem to me that enemies took too many shots to kill at times.

That’s not to say that I don’t believe the game will be intense. There was one section in particular that really impressed me. In it, the player’s team is moving through a courtyard when an intense light fills the screen. Soon, they realize that it is white phosphorous. Immediately, the entire screen fills with burning trees, screaming citizens, and a rather ominous-looking military fire-team. The player sneaked around the side of the advancing force, positioning himself behind them before opening fire. It was a shocking scene, and I hope the game is able to replicate its impact multiple times over the course of the experience.

We were also given a taste of the choices that the player will have to make throughout the game. Near the end of the demo, the squad comes around some troops who appear to have been torturing another solider, and who have taken an innocent woman captive. Just as they appear ready to kill her, your squad begins to argue about whether they must save them and risk giving away their presence, or stay hidden and let them die. It was a simple choice, but one that the game didn’t appear to judge you for, nor did it dwell on right or wrong.

The presentation left me excited about the game’s potential. It seems to have plenty of polish, and if the potential intensity of the white phosphorous section keeps up throughout the game, this will most definitely be a game to watch for third-person shooter fans.

  1. I think the generic name “Spec Ops” is turning a lot of people off from this one.

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