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Spec Ops The Line: 'Grisly, disturbing horror sets 2K's shooter apart'

Why The Line looks set to carve a dark niche in an overcrowded field...

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Ammunition isn't plentiful and Walker is incapable of carrying around hundreds of bullets at a time. He's also limited to two weapons and some grenades, and he's not a bulletsponge, even on the easiest setting. Walker is, to put it bluntly, a far cry from the invulnerable breed of he-men who traditionally populate shooters.

In this way, the stakes for every single encounter in the game are raised considerably. Players need to secure cover quickly, preferably on the high ground and choose their shots carefully.

The player can issue commands to both of Walker's compatriots during battle. The pair of them can help turn the tide of a fight pretty quickly, providing covering fire and taking out the odd target. The game's AI tackles each battle dynamically; opponents and allies don't stick to fixed patterns of movement and, in the event of the player's death, they'll find that every battle plays out a bit differently after reload. A lot of the firefight environments are also constructed in such a way that offers a multitude of options in tackling them.

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The game's location - a city built in the name of opulence now shattered and buried - also works hard to wrong-foot the player with scenes that are, bizarre, eerie and, at times, gut-churningly horrific. Aside from the aforementioned TV news station, Walker and his squad make their way through a crashed airliner, a deserted gym and the lower levels of a hotel filled wall to wall with hideously disfigured corpses.

It has to be said that the developers have gone to some lengths to hammer home how far off the rails the game's antagonist has gone. Apart from putting a nutcase DJ in charge of spreading his messages and edicts throughout Dubai, Konrad has allowed his men free-reign to indulge their basest instincts.

In one particularly harrowing level, Walker and his group track the signal of a live broadcast in which Konrad is torturing a CIA operative for information. As we made our way through the echoing corridors of several collapsed buildings, our nerve-endings became ever more frayed by the soundtrack, which mixed screams of pain with the sounds of bones breaking.

It's these elements of human horror - the torture, the corpses, the madness etched into the smashed and broken environment - that combine with the tense, precise gameplay, which imbue the player with an overwhelming sense of vulnerability. And this is before Konrad's leering presence enters the picture and he actually starts toying with them.

The scene that ended our preview with the game was chilling to say the least. In it, Walker, Adams and Lugo emerge from a broken building onto a stretch of cracked and broken road. In the distance, two figures are hanging helplessly from a road sign stretched over the tarmac. Konrad's voice hisses out of Walker's earpiece; on the right, he says, is a local man who stole water for his family - a capital offence under Konrad's rule. On the left, is the soldier he tasked with bringing the man to justice and who, instead, killed the man's entire family.

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Konrad says one of them will die before the next five minutes are up. It's up to Walker to choose which one gets to live. The moment is positively agonising, not just because of the experiences that have led up to it, but because the decision isn't clear-cut. Kill the civilian, and you're no better than Konrad.

Kill the soldier and he gets what he wants anyway. You could always open fire on the snipers who have their guns trained on Walker and his squad, but then the chances of survival become negligible. What do you do?

It's moments like these that set Spec Ops: The Line apart from the shooter pack entirely. Tons of shooters demand quick reflexes and tactical awareness. But when is the last time a shooter asked you to consider the consequences before you pulled the trigger?

Spec Ops: The Line is garish, grisly and disturbing - usually all at the same time - and on the evidence so far, it looks set to carve out a rather dark niche in an overcrowded field.

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