Will Current Events, Social Climate Hurt Battlefield Hardline?

March 15, 2015 Written by Heath Hindman

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As we near the release of Battlefield Hardline, my eyes can’t help but wander from my computer monitor to…to other parts of my computer monitor where the news streams come in, because my TV is only used for gaming. (If you’d like to buy me a cable subscription, I am open to the idea.)

Keep in mind, during this column, that I’m not saying anything should happen, I’m merely wondering if it will and stating things that make Battlefield Hardline‘s release timing a tad ironic. I have to waste paragraphs on disclaimers like this, because people like to not read and then freak out.

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Battlefield Hardline comes out on March 17, right in the midst of social upheaval over America’s police. Among seemingly countless police officer conduct controversies, a few made national headlines during the latter half of last year. Most infamous stories were officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing unarmed teenager Mike Brown in Missouri, the choke hold killing of Eric Garner in New York, both of which became the causes of protests, social media blitzes, and general PR nightmares for their respective forces.

Other instances — such as and an unarmed man being shot by officer Sean Groubert while reaching for his wallet and another being unnecessarily harassed and tased in Minnesota — didn’t gain the same spotlight, but added to the heated debate about how militarized police should be, and how much force is justified in certain situations.

More recently, instances of police ambush are being reported on more frequently, as police vs. citizen conflict has made its way into the media zeitgeist.

So along comes Battlefield Hardline, which places extremely high-tech, powerful weapons in the hands of police. You can arrest instead of shoot or blow up bad guys, and can in fact play as the bad guys too, but the general public tends not to care for actual details and real information. I can much more easily see the nightly news and/or John Everyman labeling this some kind of overpowered cop fantasy.

The masses could as well ignore the existence of Grand Theft Auto, a game that blatantly rewards crimes small at large. While terrible stories of crime make headlines all the time, I can’t recall the last time I saw one about a guy who stole a dozen cars and basically took a whole city hostage, killing over a hundred people in the process. If that did happen, and just shortly before a Grand Theft Auto game’s release, I’d bet we’d see more controversy.

Above: This panel of legal experts has a longstanding conflict with law enforcement.

If any upcoming GTA game includes the ability to walk into a school and murder kids, look out. If you thought Hatred was controversial, you ain’t seen nothing. Think of Super Columbine RPG being published by a major studio. Yeah.

The public has reacted with hesitation towards topically sensitive gamesĀ  and movies in the past — or at least their publishers have. September 11, 2001 comes to mind as the cause for some game and film edits, as one version of the Spider-Man trailer was pulled, since it featured a helicopter getting snagged by a web between the Twin Towers.

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Dreamcast game Propeller Arena was finished, but never went to market, as its release was slated for the fall of 2001. If players messed up, they might end up crashing planes into buildings, and the idea and imagery were deemed to be in bad taste. Its publishers didn’t even wait a few months or even a year and release it later; the project was simply scrapped for good.

Canceled due to cultural sensitivity after 9/11.

Canceled due to cultural sensitivity after 9/11.

In Japan, Disaster Report 4 was set to arrive on PlayStation 3 some time in mid to late 2011, but a horrific earthquake and tsunami left the whole country so shaken, the game was quickly cancelled and its whole series put into limbo that still continues to this day.

Perhaps most relevant, military shooter Six Days in Fallujah was dropped by would-be publisher Konami due to social pressure. Since Konami broke ties to the game in 2009, there’s been no announcement of a release date or visible development progress. Vocal members of the media and families of soldiers in the Iraq War created a storm that has kept the game off shelves. Considering that, it might be seen as a minor miracle that Hardline is making it to release at all.

Headline news, however, isn’t the only thing that might interfere with Hardline‘s chances at success.

Above: Encouraging moral high ground didn’t save Six Days in Fallujah from release-damning scorn.

Battlefield 4 suffered a horrible launch. In the recent generation, many Western developers and publishers have become known for their choppy first-day versions of their products, but even among this world of lowered consumer standards, EA and DICE pulled a launch that probably even made Ubisoft blush.

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Complaints were everywhere, and though EA apologized, the company still kept selling the game at full price. That must take a lot of bravado, to call your own product “inexcusable,” and then still have it sitting there for $60. The launch has turned a lot of people sour on the Battlefield series, even though it’s being developed by Visceral games this time around.

I for one am very interested to see how it all plays out. For one thing, I’d like to see if the launch day version of the game is relatively stable. For another, I’m curious to see some sales figures. I can’t help but wonder if it will be held back by the current social climate or diminishing reputation of Battlefield and EA.

What’s your prediction?