Regular readers will notice that the following article is a slight departure from our usual preview style. For gamescom 2010 we've adopted a streamlined structure, allowing us to cover as many games as possible while giving you the important juice and info. In many cases we'll be running longer, more detailed previews upon our return to the UK.
What is it?
And would you look at that, after nearly a decade without any new material the Spec Ops series is actually back in business. The games had thrown players into the mad world of international terrorism back in the late Nineties and only now are we seeing the franchise dusted off after all but disappearing around 2000. It is a third-person shooter being developed by the independent German studio Yager Development, and you're headed to Dubai to save a stranded colonel amidst catastrophic sandstorms.
What was shown?
Lead Designer Cory Davis begins by showing us one level from Spec Ops' campaign. You're in Dubai, but it's not your dad's Dubai. This place has been reshaped by torrential sandstorms. Opulent buildings are now rubble and the city is locked in by hills of sand. But it's not just the environment that's been transformed, the citizens have turned into looters and victims of looters and there are constant reminders of this.
An explosives victim will crawl legless across a street. Dozens of bodies will be found hanging at the neck from street lamps. Look beyond the sand and you'll see one of the most common sights in this environment: blankets of moaning, twitching and spasming bodies strewn across town. They're a reminder of the effect of war.
A startling scene comes when you stumble upon three people bound and tied with bags covering their heads. One is dragged away from the rest, pushed to the ground, and shot. A close-combat shoot out begins as you attempt to save the others, which goes successfully enough until an enemy takes a hostage, puts a gun to his temple and you are invited to decide whether or not to shoot the man in order to kill his captor. Throughout the game you are given decision points and forced to make a choice, moral or immoral, neither of which is ever ideal.
In a genre that typically has you shoot first and ask questions later there is a self-awareness about the moral relativity of war that makes Spec Ops seem like a surprisingly cerebral shooter. The footage shown was incredibly unnerving at times, repeatedly showing acts of senseless brutality to highlight their senseless brutality. And you'd continue saying the game is adept at making such a commentary until you get distracted by the bloody dialogue. The game has the look of Generation Kill and the mouth of something coming from the dregs of Hollywood.
"You want morphine?" says a character to the man slumped under a foot's worth of rubble. "Nah" says rubble-man, with the voice of a bastard jock, "I don't need that shit". The characters in the gameplay shown feel like parodies, but at the very least the narrative has a dark realism that is rare to find in such a game.
Spec Ops: The Line is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in 2011.