Spec Ops: The Line Hands-On Multiplayer Preview – Burying Your Head in the Sand
Written Wednesday, April 18, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Sand is a massive part of Spec Ops: The Line, with its frightening vision of a besieged, crumbling Dubai absolutely buried in the stuff. The result is an inhospitable environment plagued by sandstorms, falling, trickling sand and sand avalanches. Just about every kind of killer sand you can imagine, in fact. And just as in single-player, sand has its part to play as the Damned 33rd face off against the Exiles, the latter of which is made up of former 33rd soldiers who've turned their back on the senseless massacre of Dubai's civilians. Those corpses you'll see hanging from the lampposts in Spec Ops' single-player? They're executed members of the Exiles, put on display as a warning to other would be deserters of the 33rd's bloody cause.
There's a lot of bad blood between the 33rd and the Exiles then, which seems like the perfect excuse for some brutal multiplayer violence, with a a few buckets of sand thrown in for good measure. But as you'll quickly discover, this is no day at the beach. Taking in three of the game's modes across three maps, our hands-on offers a decent overall view of what to expect from Spec Ops: The Line's multiplayer, with standard fare like Team Deathmatch - otherwise known as 'Mutiny' - and a King of the Hill-style mode called 'Rally Point' joined by a unique mode called 'Buried', in which you're tasked with destroying your enemy's Vital Points to release an avalanche of sand, before putting the final nail in the coffin by dispensing with their High Value Target.
Starting with a game of Mutiny on the Crow's Nest map, Spec Ops: The Line feels instantly familiar with its simple controls making it a breeze to pick up. Crow's Nest is a fairly large multi-tiered map, consisting of several separate ruined buildings joined by ramshackle walkways and ziplines, encouraging experimentation with the various player classes. These range from the Gunner, Officer, Sniper and Medic classes to the specialised Damned-only Scavenger and Exiles-only Breacher classes, with the usual assault rifles, shotguns and sniper rifles all catered for with accompanying perks. And although Spec Ops favours smaller, more intimate squad-based matches for a maximum of 8-players, there's still plenty of scope for wanton chaos, and it's surprising just how frantic 4v4 skirmishes can become.
Considering the relatively small number of players, there's always a creeping sense of paranoia as you stalk through the maps looking out for shotgunners lurking in the shadows or stationary snipers rendered barely visible by their active camouflage. Given the long distances from building to building, Crow's Nest is a map that definitely suits covert snipers over run-and-gun players, but the same isn't necessarily true of the other maps we play, which positively discourage snipers altogether with their tight spaces and narrow vantage points.
It's in The Line's Rally Point mode that we get to sample these more enclosed environments, starting on the 'Last Resort' map, which is based upon one of the opulent hotel interiors from the game's campaign. Riffing on classic King of the Hill, Rally Point is fast-paced as the rally zone shifts around randomly every minute or so, keeping you second-guessing as you leg it around the map to capture the beacons marked on your mini-map and keep hold of the hill for as long as you can. It's a simple game of attack and defend, with flanking and cover tactics proving more effective than sprinting headlong into a firefight. And the beacons are invariably out in the open, making defence a challenge.
There are plenty of opportunities to drop piles of sand on your rivals too, with huge, creaky, ornate stained glass skylights and cracked walls leaking, holding back devastating avalanches of the desert grit. Shooting out the glass or the walls brings a ton of sand crashing down, instantly killing anyone unfortunate to be caught beneath it, while anyone in the vicinity is temporarily stunned as grit is kicked up into their faces, leaving them wide open. Throw random sandstorms into the mix, rendering any external areas treacherous and hard to navigate, and Spec Ops: The Line's multiplayer is frequently unpredictable, in a good way. It's the same story playing Rally Point on the 'Consumed' map too, with players rushing around in a race to be first to the scoring zone amid the sandy corridors.
Captures, scoring, kills and other objectives all earn XP as you'd expect, which lead to a constant stream of unlockables including new heads, accessories and patterns for each of the game's classes. Each of your set loadouts can be customised, with different armours, weapons and kit, as well as fifteen different perks, ranging from simple health and ammo-effect buffs to more direct abilities like revivals and damage reduction. Class-specific perks can be levelled up to more advanced, more effective versions too and you can tweak your loadouts as much as you like. No doubt, you'll settle on a selection of weapons and perks that's suited to your play style, and given the range of options, you'll find a set-up that manages to strike just the right balance.
Choosing the right loadout proves useful in Buried mode, which takes place amid the semi-submerged walls of another of Dubai's ruined buildings: a shopping mall. Attacking the opposing team's huge glowing Vital Points favours explosive weapons, so frag grenades are handy, but you'll need to scoop up a rocket launcher from one of the strategically placed ammo dumps. Shooting at each VP damages it, but it's rockets and grenades that do real damage. Buried is real back and forth stuff then, as you're also able to repair any damaged Vital Points to maintain the integrity of your stronghold. Should you lose a VP, a torrent of sand will pour into your base. Upon losing the third VP, the High Value Target will be exposed to a final attack and destroying it wins the match outright.
In the two matches we play on the Consumed map and the aforementioned Crow's Nest map, the HVT's are huge targets, like an airplane engine and a crashed helicopter fuselage, and none of them can be repaired. Once destroyed, they explode in an immensely gratifying, spectacular fashion ending each Buried match in style. As multiplayer modes go, it's good stuff that bodes well for Spec Ops: The Line's prospects as a go-to online title for shooter fans, although there's still room for a little bit of spit and polish here and there, particularly where the visuals are concerned. At present, it looks remarkably solid, but murky textures in some spots let the side down slightly. Other than that current niggle however, Spec Ops: The Line's multiplayer is bearing up very nicely indeed, and those minor visual issues are nothing that can't be brushed up before the game releases this summer.
On a fundamental level, Spec Ops: The Line is great fun to play in multiplayer, and the three modes we've sampled hold up alongside some of the best examples the genre has to offer. The action is quick and brutal, with teamplay proving important and the level design is well-thought out to accommodate the smaller player numbers. The result is something compelling and enjoyable that'll potentially be able to steal away some of your valuable time spent playing shooters online. And goodness knows, that's one hell of a crowded space to enter. Luckily, we reckon Spec Ops: The Line has more than enough going for it to keep its head above the sand.
Spec Ops: The Line is scheduled to launch on June 26th in North America and June 29th, 2012 in Europe.