Spec Ops: The Line PS3 preview – a horror shooter that’ll haunt you after the dust settles

We’ve all bludgeoned enough chickens to death in Skyrim and impaled too many city-slickers in Prototype 2 to get all sissy over videogame violence… right? Wrong. A couple of hours With Spec Ops: The Line and I’m already developing a thousand-yard stare.

Something about shooting out a glass ceiling above your enemy and watching him suffocate as sand rushes in from above them, well than can really stay with you. Bad news for my conscience, because  Spec Ops’s all about killing with sand with environmental manipulation one of the biggest weapons at your disposal in Yager’s distinctly unsettling third-person shooter.

Not that the more traditional cover shooter element doesn’t satisfy. In a future-Dubai left ransacked by conflict, there’s no shortage of upturned coaches, crumbling skyscrapers and once luxurious hotel lobbies to take a knee behind, and the snap-to cover system’s as sharp as the best. It might not bother Uncharted story-wise but the mechanics are up there with Nate’s baddy capping.

Your stern protagonist Captain Walker (voiced by who else but Nolan North, PS3′s voice acting A-lister) is an agile bloke, able to flip between nearby cover locations, slide out of the line of fire and pop a few rounds away from the safety of a hotel lobby staircase without once getting all confused about your button commands and flinging himself suicidally up into the open. Clearly these Spec Ops types are well-trained.

Once safe, a quick reccy over a given area will often reveal a floor to shoot away, cover to destroy or some other way to submerge your suddenly hapless foe in the sand. Or perhaps a randomly-generated sandstorm will arrive and turn the battle into a fight for survival against nature, reducing visibility so that it suddenly feels like playing Journey from behind cataracts.

In an early level I played the sandstorms hit twice – once in an outdoor fracas that resulted in the floor giving way and plunging me into a building below, and another later on that revealed itself when I shot out a window, leading to a Dead Space anti-gravity scenario. Only instead of anti-gravity, everyone just went blind and got sand in their mouths. It’s clear that Yager want combat to be as focussed on your deadly surroundings as on the identikit, pop-up enemies who inhabit them. Works for me.