Impressions: Spec Ops: The Line

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Having seen the game debuted during the 2009 VGA broadcast, we sat down for a live demo of 2K's Spec Ops: The Line last week at the company's Northern California headquarters. Behind the controls was Cory Davis, lead designer at Yager (developer of -- you guessed it -- Yager), who led us through a roughly 15 minute slice of the game designed to convey the uniqueness of the setting and some pleasantly surprising play mechanics that tie into its backstory.

Set about 18 months after a massive sandstorm has ravaged Dubai, the game sees players entering this "no man's land" as part of an elite team sent to locate the origin of a transmission from an earlier mission that had been presumed dead, swallowed up by the sand. The demo began mid-firefight, with the player character (voiced by a decidedly all-business Nolan North) and two AI squad mates seeking cover behind remnants of an office, as unknown gunmen fired at them from a half-collapsed building nearby. What happened next was, well ... unexpected and very cool.
%Gallery-82339% Just as it seemed like the player was going to be overrun by enemies, the squad began to get pulled down into what seemed like a sinkhole, the squad leader holding on to a partition wall with one hand long enough to get off a few more shots during an Uncharted 2 like contextual animation. He eventually lost his grip and fell, landing on sand and sliding into the ornate lobby of a buried building.

Enemies could be heard above, as Davis pointed the camera up to show that the ceiling was actually glass covered by sand. As silhouettes passed over its panels, he opened fire, sand and bad guys crashing to the floor a good three stories below. The hostiles still outside lobbed explosive charges in, at which point the squad ran through a walkway into an adjoining building, the camera swinging around to show it collapsing in behind them.

Next, the squad found itself inside a manmade cave underneath the building, where civilians were living by candlelight and didn't seemed too surprised to see guys with guns come waltzing in. Gunmen (presumably the same as earlier) entered the area and the civilians started to flee. One ran right into an enemy, who promptly shot them dead. Using what he told us was a new type of melee system we'd find out more on in the coming months, Davis rounded the corner and planted the stock of his rifle into the enemy's face, knocking him to the ground where he stayed as a few more gruesome blows finished the job.

In the demo's final sequence, the squad found itself inside a massive atrium, many stories high, across from a towering floor-to-ceiling window holding back an equally mammoth sand dune, perhaps 50-60 feet tall. A gunfight ensued and eventually enemy snipers appeared outside the window, on top of the dune. Davis directed his controllable AI squadmates to concentrate their fire on the window itself. Within moments it began to crack, then shattered, the massive dune crashing down on top of multiple enemies on the ground floor.

The sand itself can be used to smother enemies, create impromptu cover and more.

This scene served to illustrate how the sand in the game is a weapon in its own right. Davis told us that anytime sand can be seen against or on top of a breakable surface, it can be brought down on enemies, used to create impromptu cover, etc. As he guided the squad out of the building, another violent sandstorm approached, darkening the sand-filled streets of the once bustling city. Davis said that some of the game's firefights will actually take place out in these storms, introducing new play mechanics (which, of course, he couldn't go into).

We have to admit -- we came into this demo expecting a standard third-person military shooter that happened to be set in a decimated Dubai. We can away thoroughly impressed by what we saw, notably the cover system, contextual animations, use of sand as a weapon and what seemed to be some really solid pacing. Our major concern was that the entire game would end up looking ... brown. While there were plenty of browns and grays in the demo, the developer noted that the interiors of Dubai's elaborate superstructures will each offer their own unique environments -- an indoor aquarium was one example. We can't wait to see that.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.