Battlefield: Hardline is more of the large scale, explosive combat you’ve come to love (or loathe), now set outside the threadbare scope of “modern warfare.” Multiplayer is to be the biggest draw for most and Hardline twists pre-existing game types to create unique combat experiences, some of which are better than most. The single player story about a young cop floundering in a department of corrupt colleagues is antithesis to the fast action of online play because of its middling, and unintended subpar parody of cop dramas.
It seems sensible to jump right into things when talking about the latest Battlefield release. After all, that’s typically what people tend to do. The core (and functional) experience DICE remains intact and is given new window dressing in the form of “cops versus criminals.” Anyone with a passing knowledge of DICE games will immediately fall back into the groove of shooting people in the face, modify loadouts, unlock new gear and weapon enhancements, rank up, and shoot more people in the face. Only instead of the military and opposing forces, you’ll be wreaking havoc as criminals and SWAT. Cash is earned by performing various feats of murder and is used to acquire new guns and gadgets once certain pre-requisites - rank and number of kills, for example - have been met.
The standard/popular Conquest, Conquest Large, and Team Deathmatch have homes among Hardline’s new game variants. In Heist, the criminals must pick up cash from designated areas and take it to an escape zone while dodging fire from the police, who must reclaim the money after it has been dropped. To be honest, I expected something along the lines of Payday or maybe Grand Theft Auto V but the experience here is more akin to Hot Potato. Blood Money is a mild twist on that formula and features both cops and criminals rushing to a pile of cash located in the middle of the map where it must be deposited into their team vaults (both teams also have the opportunity to steal from each other’s vaults). Rescue and Crosshair bring to mind the early days of Counter-Strike matches that involve saving hostages and escorting VIPs, giving players little if no chances to respawns. The type that stands out from the pack, however, is Hotwire.
Hotwire is a clever twist on Conquest in which driveable cars take the place of static capture points. Both teams need to steal each other’s vehicles and drive them at top speed in order to drain their tickets. This is the best, most hilariously awesome addition to the entire Hardline experience. Climbing into marked vehicles and zipping around the map while dodging incoming fire as your teammates lean out windows to fire back is pretty damn exciting. It’s a shame that most maps felt a bit too small to accommodate proper vehicular mayhem but that’s just a small blemish on an otherwise fun game type. I’ve always been a Conquest fan and making vehicles the object of player’s attention was a fantastic design choice (and a great way to train players to develop proper vehicle skills).
Hardline’s campaign fails to excite on the same level as the online content. Styled after every cop show you’ve ever seen, “Hardline” is the name of a police procedural set in Miami, Florida, where the designer drugs are hotter than the suntanned skin of sexy beach bunnies. The campaign itself is presented as a straight-to-Netflix series, complete with “Previously/Next Time on Hardline…” bumpers. The “show” involves the predicament of Cuban American protagonist Nick Mendoza (bet you can’t quote The Simpsons just once!), who is languishing in a prison transfer bus for a crime he may or may not have committed. Cut to three years in the past and we see Mendoza as a Vice detective for the Miami Police Department, working alongside one dimensional characters who couldn’t broadcast their inevitable betrayals loud enough. “Hardline” puts Mendoza’s faith in the system to the test as he struggles with being the “good man” in a corrupt system. I would commend Visceral for their take on a police procedural, but their story is so painfully generic, banal, and absurd that it gets very hard to take it seriously.
To address the potential elephant in the room, with all its violence Hardline manages to avoid a discussion or commentary on the recent public perception towards militarized police officers. Though Mendoza collects a terrifying arsenal of high grade weaponry by the end of the game, the ramifications are glossed over without a second thought. Interestingly enough, Hardline all but forces the player to take a non-lethal approach in combat because that is the only way to earn points towards unlocking gear. Lifting a page from Far Cry, Hardline is packed with a low grade stealth system that has you avoiding lines of sight, breaking up groups with distractions, disabling alarms, and performing silent takedowns. These actions replace kills and headshots as a mean to earn points towards an all too familiar progression system that grants new material and, more importantly, Battlepacks. One move out of Mendoza’s non-lethal repertoire is arrests. Making an arrest is as simple as sneaking up on an enemy, flashing a badge, and keeping a gun trained on them until they can be cuffed. Certain enemies have outstanding warrants and reward bonus points if they are apprehended. You can “freeze!” up to three enemies at once but if you fail to keep a gun pointed at them or one of their friends see you arresting their buddies, firefights ensue.
For some reason, Visceral designed combat to be the ultimate last resort. Apart from the scoring system, Mendoza is different from the bullet sponges of campaigns past. It only takes a few hits (even with combat armor) to drop Mendoza and force the player to restart from a checkpoint. While there is nothing to stop the player from pulling a Frank Castle on Miami’s criminal underbelly with an army’s arsenal, just know that it’ll be harder and less empowering than previous Battlefield adventures. This is another kid gloves approaching to avoid controversy during this sensitive period. That being said, taking the stealth route and maintaining trigger discipline can only go so far. Such tactics fly out the window after having to restart a level because some goon happened across you arresting someone and drops you instantly with a well placed shot. After dying halfway through a stealth sequence and forced to start the level over, I tucked away all of my non-lethal tools and went for broke, plastering the walls of a factory with their blood. And it was satisfying.
Campaigns for games like this suffer from a poor, and sometimes warranted, public perception and Hardline makes no deviation. It’s inane and unoriginal, though it is more sensible than the wild, bombastic spectacles of Battlefield and Call of Duty stories. There are no megalomanical villains threatening the world with nuclear bombs, damaged generals, and horrible scenes of violence designed purely for shock value. As a game, Hardline makes good use of the Battlefield assets and while some of the mechanics are dry and a little silly, the tweaks to the pre-existing system were interesting, especially a scan mechanic that offers insight on criminal investigations running in tandem with the main story.
It should come to no surprise that Hardline looks absolutely stunning on the PC. Even on my older machine, I was gobsmacked at how well faces were textured and animated. The lighting is superb, the textures are incredibly detailed, and many of the effects, like rain and money flittering in the breeze, really are a sight to behold. If I could run the game its fullest graphical potential, I’d probably wet myself. Such exquisite tech comes at a cost and I experienced a number of issues. Thankfully, these issues were isolated to the campaign portion, where long suffering load times played havoc with the experience. It would often take several minutes before a level finished loading so I could play and dying meant having to sit through lengthy load screens again. I assumed that the reason for the wait was for the benefit of loading an entire stage at once instead of a piecemeal fashion. I ran into some spots were clearly the game had a hard time keeping up with me and wouldn’t let me advance until it was good and ready. In one case, I was stuck at a mission critical door waiting for a loading circle to stop spinning in order to burst through and arrest the perp, all the while suffering from my partner’s repeated shouts. The AI had some problems as well. They can either be pretty good in a fight or down right stupid. One character simply refused to hit an alarm button despite standing next to it. The most hilarious instance of bad AI involved my attempt to sneak up on a thug only to watch in horror as my idiot partner ran out in front of him. He was completely ignored.
Overall, Hardline is a decent attempt to pump some life into Battlefield and bring back players sullied by last year’s disastrous launch. I appreciated the move away from the modern warfare theme and if the campaign’s story were better, it could have been a nice companion piece to L.A. Noire. Hardline is liable to satisfy Battlefield diehards for the next few months until something new comes along or new content is offered. For those sitting on the fence, the changes made to the Battlefield design are interesting but not enough to warrant paying full price just yet.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.