Game Reviews: ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ & ‘Gone Home’

I’m an unashamed fan of first person action shooters, the original Medal of Honor and Call of Duty games remain on my all time favourite games list. The recent additions to the CoD & MoH franchises have left me cold as the single player experience has been very lacking (I completed the new MoH in 24hrs over 2weeks) so I’ve been quite wary of recent shooters.

Spec Ops: The Line is a game which has been on my radar for some time, the original teaser trailer quickly got my interest and soon the reviews were praising the storyline. I played the demo and was sufficiently impressed with the game play so added it to my Steam wishlist and waited for it to be in a sale. Once there, I bought it and as I was still in the middle of my latest bout of serious Sims 3 addiction I left the game unplayed for some time.

Some reviews were critical of the graphics but not having a super-powered gaming laptop this has never particularly bothered me. I found the sand covered almost post-apocalyptic landscapes of Dubai and the beautifully designed hotel interiors very evocative and contributed greatly to the atmospheric corruption and decay. The environment was nicely destructive as well: cover is destroyed, you can shoot out the glass windows and drown your enemies in sand, grenades will kick up a sand cloud momentarily blinding everyone…

At times the battles are relentless and the two assistants didn’t seem to offer that much help but once you got the hang of the controls and learnt to use the environment to your advantage it soon got not quite as relentless. For some reason sprint & use cover are mapped to the same key and there’s no way of separating them so there were several moments when I wanted to get into cover but ended up sprinting into the heart of the battle.

On the surface there is nothing really separating this from any other shooter but what makes it stand out is the story. You’ve been sent to find out what happened to the 33rd, a company of soldiers who were sent to aid in the evacuation of Dubai, and continue the evacuation if possible. Upon arrival you’re attacked by local insurgents who seem locked in a battle with the remaining members of the 33rd. As you progress you find out more and more unsettling things to the point where you’re no longer sure whose side you are actually on. You see and take part in many, many terrible things and as you do so you find your character becoming more unhinged – his comments during battle become bizarre and his executions more extreme. The conclusion of the game shocked me greatly (in a good way).

For what could have been just an above average entry into the FPS canon, Spec Ops: The Line rises above with a truly engrossing and clever story.

At the complete opposite end of gaming is Gone Home a beautifully designed and construction interactive story. There are no monsters to kill or murderers to uncover but there is a lovely interactive environment where you can open cupboards, switch on/off lights and put on cassette tapes. You arrive home to find your house empty with a mysterious note from your sister telling you not to worry about her or look for her. As you walk around the house you find letters, notes and hints which reveal slowly reveal the story of the family. At times I was unnerved by the game and started to imagine I was going to discover something horrific around each corner. There are some reveals in the story which the game could have made more of as there was a lot going on but it all seemed shoved aside, there is a particular discovery about the original owner of the house which I feel could have had more of an impact but the story isn’t about him. Once you’ve discovered the story I don’t think the game has much replay value but it makes for a very engrossing hour or so and the mechanics themselves are very simple.

 

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