This section will be free of any major spoilers however, read at your own risk in regards to the story.
The game places you in the boots of Captain Martin Walker, a delta operator, tasked with being the first man into Dubai since a historically large sandstorm isolated the city from the outside world. The events that un-fold from there, show how the atrocities of war can really change a man to his very core. The person that your character was when you arrived in Dubai is long gone by the time the campaign is complete.
You will see things, and do things that will make you question the sanity of Walker and everyone else around you. Speaking of actions, from time to time the game will give you a choice about what your next action should be. These are not the simple “Go left or, Go right,” choices we’ve grown accustomed to from the Gears of War style of shooter. These are the, “Do you kill the criminal or the soldier that butchered an entire family standing in front of their father?” There are no right answers at these junctions, I found it impossible to feel good about anything I did in this game.
In a rather dubious twist, the ‘enemies’ you’re killing, are not members of some random Middle Eastern militant faction, they’re American soldiers. American soldiers who will scream in agony in a language you understand, as they lay on the ground bleeding out. As far as controversial content goes the, “No Russian,” airport shooting level in Modern Warfare 2 is pedestrian, when compared to some of the atrocities Spec Ops presents the player with. Spec Ops is a game whose goal is to explore a different side of a conflict, the one where you might not be the hero.
It’s the little things that make Spec Ops graphics shine, despite using a dated UE3 engine. Your feet sinking into the sand as you step slowly across it, grenade explosions creating a dust cloud that blinds your enemies, and other subtle nuances set it above other games of the genre. The lighting in this game is simply incredible, the first time you walk out of a dark building into the blinding light of Dubai, is a sight to behold.
However, it’s not without some issues, textures are sometimes slow to load in a new area and some of the particle effects leave a bit to be desired. This is particularly jarring if you get a lengthy texture load time going into a pivotal story cut-scene. Spec Ops voice acting is nothing less than spectacular. Every speaking character has top-notch writing and is performed perfectly by the voice actors. It’s impossible to find a single place where the suspension of disbelief was broken by a badly written piece of dialogue. There are so many places where the game had the opportunity to drop the ball or turn to some comic relief to lighten the mood but didn’t. The dramatic score kept up with the tone of the game and made some of the more powerful moments of the game simply overwhelming.
Oh, right yeah, there’s a game here too. Spec Ops plays as you would expect a tactical third person shooter to play. The difficulty of the game is rather inconsistent, early on the enemies don’t provide much of a fight but around chapter 13 I found myself staring at the retry screen every 10-20 feet. It doesn’t help that the friendly A.I isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and they aren’t invulnerable so if they get downed, you have to revive them before they bleed out.
The biggest gripe that I have with the gameplay is the cover system. I couldn’t count the amount of times that I would attempt to slide into a piece of cover, only for the game to stick me to the wrong side directly in the path of enemy fire. Even worse, when an enemy would flank around the corner of the cover I was in and Walker would not un-stick himself from the cover to melee the guy ,bashing the back of his skull in with a P-90. The glitches in the system weren’t enough to detract from the experience but they made for an incredibly infuriating final few chapters. Spec Ops gameplay is serviceable enough to deliver the fantastic narrative behind it, which is acceptable considering the caliber of said story.
Spec Ops was obviously not designed with multiplayer in mind. The sticky cover mechanics and questionable button mapping choices from the campaign, are only amplified in the online component. Having the melee and cover vault ability both mapped to the B button, produced some awkward moments when you could tell with certainty, that a player was trying to jump over a guard rail and not melee it.
In regards to the game modes, everything here has been done before and done better in previous games. There’s traditional deathmatch modes with a unique twist on HQ mode called, “Buried,” essentially you attempt to destroy the enemy teams HQ while protecting your own. New weapons, perks, attachments, and clothing is earned as you level up through the multiplayer. It just lacks the lasting appeal of shooters designed with multiplayer in mind.
Overall, Spec Ops isn’t a story about you saving the world from an ultimate villan, or even about war itself. It’s about Captain Walker and his Delta Operative team and their journey into hell. It’s about your actions as a player and how they affect the world around you, it’s about seeing how you would react given the impossible decisions that you’re presented with. Spec Ops proves that just because you’re a military shooter, doesn’t mean you can’t deliver a top notch story you’d expect from games of another genre. Spec Ops was a bold move, to tell a emotionally powerful story, from a perspective that we rarely see it from, the man who wants to be something, he never really was. A hero.