A small group of soldiers being sent into a no man's land to find a missing colonel, who may have broken with the defense command and taken all his forces with him. With the colonel's name - John Konrad - even sharing a name with the author of Heart of Darkness, the book that Apocalypse Now is loosely based on, the connection seems obvious.
You shouldn't be more than twenty minutes into the game before that inspiration is made clear. And considering what the film has garnered the praise and prizes, it's hardly a bad choice.
Dubai has been hit by the largest sandstorm in world history, which more or less has swallowed much of the city. The disaster is total, and the continuing storm makes it impossible to get in radio contact with the former metropolis.
War hero and Afghanistan veteran Colonel John Konrad decides to redirect his troops of the 33rd Infantry Division from their planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, and instead heads to Dubai to help with the evacuation of the town.
Six months pass with no sign of life escaping the sand storm ravaged city until Konrad emits a faint and indistinct distress signal. Someone is alive in there. Therefore, you and your little group of Delta Force soldiers are sent in on a reconnaissance mission to find out what the hell is going on in Dubai.
The sight that meets you is not pretty. A pitched battle between local insurgents and the 33rd is still ongoing, yet its not long before you realise there's something very wrong at the heart of the devastated city.
For some reason we had the impression that Spec Ops was a tactical shooter, the kind where you had to boss you around your buddies, observe the enemy, plan attacks and execute with perfect timing.
It is not.
There are some tactical elements. You can ask your two wingmen to attack certain enemies (and they are smart enough to do it in silence, when the situation requires it), but otherwise the game leans closer to Gears of War, with extensive cover use and waves of enemies attacking.
And it's not a bad thing. Mechanics-wise Spec Ops may not be original, but it's hard to export such elements successfully. And as long as you stay away from the easiest difficulty setting, there are plenty of well designed action sequences that offer a great challenge.
There are even a few small unique additions: like how you can often shoot out windows or skylights that are straining with the weight of sand behind them, causing avalanches to bury everything in their path. Partially scripted, but still nice.
Weapon audio is a little flat, but that's one of the few flaws of gunfights, with limited ammo forcing you to be precise with shots (goodbye spray 'n' pray) and continually changing your arsenal; there's plenty of guns to choose from and you'll soon be seeking favourites amid the ruins.
Checkpoints, or the occasional long separation between them is a complaint. Having to restart right at the beginning of some sequences, featuring multiple areas and packing up to ten minutes of continuous action is highly annoying.
But it's the story, the telling of it, that really elevates Spec Ops: The Line from being a good action game into a commendable experience.
We won't spoil it any further here, other than to say that although the game can be strongly inspired by Apocalypse Now, it strikes out on its own and feels much more than a tribute. The atmosphere is like a modern and desperate Vietnam, and the further you plunge into the game, the violence and madness continues to increase.
It is quite refreshing that a military shooter totally ignores the typical cliches of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, and instead would much rather deal with the human consequences, desperation and mass psychosis. It's damn nicely done. Spec Ops: The Line only has something in common with games like Call of Duty in the most superficial sense. One feels that the choice of genre and setting was chosen because it was they could best support the story and not vice versa.
It's helped by excellent and credible voice acting and dialogue (Nolan North plays the main role) and an excellent soundtrack, which also reinforces the mood of modern Vietnam War. Best of all is that even though there are plenty of cutscenes, the majority of the story is told through the dialogue and action as you are actually playing.
So the Spec Ops: The Line is a solid shooter that might not have much new gameplay wise, but it's wrapped in a brilliant story that will keep most glued to the screen. Personally, we ended up playing through the last chapter five times just to absorb all the details. Not many games can lay claim to that.
Watch: Spec Ops: The Line Launch Trailer