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PREVIEW

Spec Ops: The Line Multiplayer

For once in a military shooter our early-favourite load-out isn't the stopping blast of a Tar 21 Rifle.

Nor the meaty boom of the M1014 shotgun. The deadly spit of the MSG90 Sniper Rifle's close second. No. It's the quick inaccurate roar of the MP7.

Inaccuracy, and a killing range no longer than a elephant's trunk, would rightly have the sub-machine gun ignored for all but a last resort weapon in other shooters. But in the tactical and tiny maps of Spec Ops multiplayer, it's got a stopping power of a sledgehammer the size of God.

Gun weight factors little into the equation. Range, aim, and speed of reload is everything. Spec Ops allegiance to the near-instant deaths of the realistic shooter means for the most, they who shoot straight first win. Though two other elements factor in: they who are a sneaky bastard will earn rights to the opening salvo, and they who work as a team will have the advantage of the battlefield.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line's multiplayer takes the single player campaign, the horrific Heart of Darkness-inspired trek through Dubai, and regurgitates the combat system (fast-paced cover shooter), the locations (separate from SP, but still urban havens reclaimed by the desert) and unique mechanics (random sandstorms and avalanches) and ties them into a 4-on-4 multiplayer replete with a variety of modes.

During today's hands-on, we see three. Team Deahmatch's by name of Mutiny, a King of the Hill variant labelled Rally Point, and Buried, which is Yager Entertainment's entry into the "unique multiplayer mode not appearing in any other game".

That last sets up two spawn points, one for each team, at either side of any given map. Each spawn location has three vital points, marked by a small glowing area. Destroy all three and a high value target specific to that map will be unearthed (jet engine, attack helicopter missiles). Light it up and win the match.

Each point can be repaired by its defenders, but given the maths - eight players, two teams, three vital points to attack/defend per foursome - clear-cut strategies are temperamental at best, and the inclusion of rocket launchers required to take out vital points dotted across the map tosses a explosive variable into the usually tense and fast-paced face-off.

Spec Ops: The Line

Different name and style, but the basics of the template are familiar. Yet it's the maps that lead to an enjoyable few hours across the new and classic gameplay modes. We flick between them across a trio of maps, the builds of which give three very different experiences. Pre-match party voting is not going to be so clear-cut come release.

Opener Crow's Nest is atop four skyscraper roofs turned shanty-towns. Constant exposure to the elements has gradually worn the sheen of this high society oasis, and those left in the city's ruins have coupled together makeshift bridges, nailed metal and wooden plating were they can for cover, and zip-lines run between the two highest buildings.

The studio's obviously worked long and hard over the blueprints for these maps. Routes from any point to another are plentiful, but wrought with the danger that comes with open ground. Gaps in walls and barriers make for possible snipe points, be it attacking from or aiming at. Cover points are filtered generously throughout each rooftop, but there's only one per roof that safely defensible - and each only give a funnelled POV of the map.

Spec Ops: The LineSpec Ops: The LineSpec Ops: The Line
Spec Ops: The LineSpec Ops: The LineSpec Ops: The Line

It's the same with the other two; each have their dangers. Last Resort mainlines map verticality with a four-floor layout with an open lobby shadowed by four curved and connected balconies, bookended by two stairwells leading down into two side-rooms, and covered by a building ceiling dotted with service shafts and connected by two partially-destroyed pillars. The rooftop's big enough that we spend the majority of a Mutiny match skulking round cover in a game of cat and mouse with an enemy. Kill-cam pinpointing of your attacker used by all, fuelling the quick rolls and charges between areas.

Last Resort sees moments of pure silence as well, as bullet barrages lull and there's a palatable tension in the air as ears perk to listen for footfalls. While there's a mini-map its rarely used - sound the better judge for enemy proximity. Sandstorms that blast every map randomly drop view distance to zero, forcing everyone to either sit and wait it out, or duck into buildings for refuge.

Storms play a big part in changing the play style of maps - either by reducing their size and leading to taut office shoot-outs, or allowing for brief cover out in the open. Less successful are the sand avalanches, parts of each map that can be shot to swallow and instant-kill enemies squatting nearby. While it's a good trick, soon enough no-one lingers in those vicinities and the wait to catch someone out is camper tedium.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec-Ops tows the line with class distinctions and upgradable perks. These run the line of health of damage buffs, but the Medic and Sniper gain two interesting takes. The former a injectable concoction for comrades that'll make them invincible to all but a head-shot for a short while, while the latter gets the lone nod to anything resembling near-future warfare with an active cam when standing still. With teams mostly on the move, stillness wins a few sneaky kills.

Last map Consumed is where we play our inaugural Buried match and the best bout of Rally Point and it's a brutal unrelenting bite compared to Last Resort, due to the two machine guns nests built at opposite ends of the street that splits the map evenly in two. Either side is ruined office buildings, and sand-consumed walkways.

There's zero chance of respite, and little room for cover when it comes to Rally Point. The mode changes the point-earning area every minute to one of the handful of pre-picked locations, but every one on Consumed has been carefully carved into its own miniature suicide mission.

Spec Ops: The Line

Our team charge to a building corner Rally Point only to be cut down by a symphony of rifle bullets by the awaiting other side. They blunder into a proximity mine on route to another. Both sides forget point accumulation momentarily as we fight over machine gun nest supremacy.

And aside from a brief dabble with other load-outs, we keep returning to that MP7. Long-range deaths are thankfully low as we learn to skirt walls to our destination, the shotgun too long in reloading to make it a show-stopper - the MP7 fits perfectly to the flow of the close-range battles and pace of a Spec-Ops multiplayer battle.

We're still a few modes and hopefully plenty of maps from seeing all that Yager's title has to offer. As such the obvious questions we'd ask regarding any upcoming multiplayer shooter remain unanswered for now. But with a ruthless squad efficiency to match Ghost Recon, and battlegrounds that intrigue with tactical options, we're definitely interested to see more of the title.

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