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July 12, 2012
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By Matthew Scott Hunter

‘Spec Ops: The Line’

(M)

***1/2

2K Games

Xbox 360

At first glance, “Spec Ops” doesn’t seem very promising. From its generic title to its equally cookie-cutter early levels that have you leading a squad of soldiers into sandstorm-blasted Dubai, the game feels like every military-themed third-person cover shooter that’s come along since the genre began, some six years ago. But the plot thickens when the refugees you’ve come to assist begin shooting at you, and the plot just about coagulates when your fellow soldiers — from an earlier rescue attempt — begin shooting at you as well. Those soldiers are led by a Colonel Konrad — a name that references both “Heart of Darkness” author Joseph Conrad and Colonel Kurtz, the antagonist of the “Heart of Darkness”-inspired film, “Apocalypse Now.” And like both of those earlier works, Spec Ops involves the hunt for a powerful and enigmatic man who seems to have gone insane — a fate you may share by the time you find him.

Like many modern games, “Spec Ops” presents you with morality choices, but rather than “good” and “bad,” your options tend to be “bad” and “worse.” The decisions you make often have horrific consequences, causing you genuine guilt for killing characters you wouldn’t have thought twice about shooting in any other game, just to get one kill closer to that weapons upgrade. The “Spec Ops” narrative flirts with greatness, which makes the game’s technical shortcomings that much more infuriating. At best, the gameplay is forgettably derivative. At worst, you’ll be screaming at your A.I. squadmates as they take cover on the enemy’s side of a barrier or you’ll be cursing the designers who assigned melee attacks and cover jumps to the same button, causing you to attack the barrier you’re trying to leap. But as annoying as the gameplay can be, the story will compel you to keep playing to the bitter end. CV

‘The Amazing Spider-Man’

(T)

***1/2

Activision

Xbox 360

Developer Beenox has made some interesting and experimental games recently with the “Spider-Man” license, but with this inevitable film tie-in, they’ve gone back to the same template Activision has used since “Spider-Man 2” came out in 2004. So you’ll be hitting most of the major plot beats of the new movie, interspersed with altercations with Rhino and the other villains from Spidey’s rogues gallery that are unlikely to ever make it to the silver screen. The game is best when you’re commuting via spider web through the open world of New York City and worst when you’re pummeling the same generic thugs for the umpteenth time.

‘Dirt Showdown’

(E10+)

***1/2

Codemasters

Xbox 360

This spinoff from the “Dirt” series has a decidedly arcade style, meaning if you wanted, you could probably race every event without ever knowing which button works the brake. It’s far from an authentic simulation, but that’s part of the fun, particularly during events that reward you based on the damage you do to your own vehicle. The only drawback is the lack of content compared to regular entries in the series. The handful of tracks and not-entirely-varied racing modes lose their luster faster than your beat-up junker in a demolition race.



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