The Battlefield series has had it roots firmly planted in the military genre since its inception, using the sprawling landscapes of global conflicts to let players duke it out across land, air and sea for over a decade. Now, a new developer Visceral Games has been given the reins of the series and has moved it away from warring nations to a more domestic battleground with Battlefield Hardline.
Following just about every major trope that could be found in modern televised police dramas, Hardline’s main story is designed around Miami Vice officer Nick Mendoza who must investigate corruption in a dirty city. This is a drastic change from the lone soldier having to take down an opposing military force theme that’s so prevalent in military shooters, as most of the story plays out more as a drama than the massive action set-pieces we have seen in the past. Sadly, this does leave part of the campaign feeling a bit underwhelming, as none of the events ramp themselves up to the same level we have seen in other Battlefield titles. This isn’t to say that the story falls completely on its face, as it is an interesting start to a much more well crafted type of storytelling for the franchise, just one that lacks the intensity seen in the past.
Given that this is a police drama, Visceral Games has gone to great lengths to let players play out the role of a police officer, and this means that they should have the option to not kill everyone on sight. If you move within range of a “perp,” you are able to flash your badge, which will force him to drop their weapon and raise his hands. At first this feels like an interesting concept that immerses the player, but eventually you realize it becomes an overpowered ability that completely deflates any sort of tension in the game. No matter who you run into, as long as you are within range of up to three gunmen, they will all drop what they are doing, freeze and prepare to be arrested without much of any hassle.
Thankfully some of the other more intriguing aspects do work a bit better, such as the idea of hunting down enemies that have warrants out on them, and looking for evidence to fill in the game’s side story. As you go through an episode there will be a handful of targets that will have warrants out on them, and if you arrest them, they will give bonus points, allowing you to level up and unlock new gear for use in the campaign. Also, hidden throughout each episode and on certain “perps” are collectible bits of evidence that when all collected will explain about certain things going on around you.
Last Time on Hardline
Designed as if it were a TV series, Hardline moves from plot points to combat scenarios in a wonderfully balanced manner, as the player never feels like they are just filling in time with senseless shootouts, nor do they feel like they haven’t really done enough throughout the game’s 10 episodes. Each time the campaign is put down, the player is also given a TV styled “last time on Hardline” recap of the events that have led up to where the player left off — something that is fantastically produced and almost makes it worth leaving, just to watch it.
Visually, Hardline moves from being quite impressive to moments where things don’t quite line up. Most notably the character models in the game look fantastic, albeit still suffering from the creepy deadpan eyes found in most video games. Sadly, once you see one of the characters speak it’s easy to notice how far off the the lip syncing in Hardline is, which can break the immersion and the concept that you are experiencing a drama with characters you are supposed to care about — which you never do, because you aren’t really given much time to know them.
Much like many televised shows, audio plays a massive portion in Hardline, and it does it very well. While the soundtrack choices might be debatable, a great sense of tone and pacing is portrayed through its usage of audio. Instead of subtly leading a song in, Hardline pushes its music into its forefront, and lets players know that things are on, or at the very least, gives them a solid beat to blow up everything around them. On top of that, Hardline also has some quality voice work, and some of the best sound effects I have heard in a game, especially the gun shots.
The biggest draw for many people when it comes to a Battlefield title is its multiplayer portion of the game. Being able to drive and fly into just about everything has created some of the most beautiful and dynamically crazy moments I have experienced in a video game; and in Hardline, it looks like many of the moments will continue — well, mostly. With the new domestic setting of cops and criminals, many of the military aspects such as planes and tanks have been completely removed from the multiplayer. This, while understandable, leaves some holes in the diversity of the gameplay options that players have grown accustomed to.
It is here where I had found it the hardest to truly feel at home with Hardline, as expectations from previous titles had blazed a path that that was no longer being treaded. Eventually it was the realization that the removal of those aspects shifted the gameplay to a much more fast paced and grounded level of gameplay, where explosives and rocket launchers were no longer the king of the playground. This allows players to move more freely and fight in the open without having to dodge heavy units that would normally dominate an area, which explains why rockets and heavy machine guns are among the 10 items that are now available as pickups on maps and can’t be added to a character’s loadout.
What to Play
Keeping up with the faster paced nature of Hardline, one of my favorite new modes has to be Hotwire, which uses the same mechanics of Conquest, except that each of the five capture points are a vehicle that needs to be in motion for it to garner points for your team. Sitting in a van filled with people shooting from every door, while I keep it from getting blown up from by the helicopter following us around the map is intense, and downright fun.
Heist, probably being the most expected mode of the bunch, tasks the criminals with breaking into a vault and extracting with two things of loot, while the police try to stop them. This works quite well, and uses a rotating extraction point to prevent one side ever being able to lockout the other, keeping the gameplay fast, varied and enjoyable. This is also pretty similar in nature to a mode called Blood Money, which puts both teams trying to extract a set amount of cash before the other team does, but allows players to rob their opponents vault as well.
Besides the usual Conquest and Team Deathmatch, there are two other modes which are quickly becoming my favorite. Rescue, a mode which has the police try to extract one of two hostages from a location in a 5-on-5 no respawn match, and Crossfire, which also uses the same 5-on-5 gameplay style, but gives the police a VIP who can only use a pistol and must reach the extraction zone without dying. Both of these modes slow the gameplay of Hardline down quite a bit, but also give players a much more tactical option than has been found in a Battlefield game for some time.
The Truth, the Whole Truth
Overall, Hardline is a difficult title to really pin down. Its new pacing and the inclusions of some fun modes do add a great deal of gameplay for players to enjoy. But, on the flip side, it includes things like a grappling hook for players to access different areas of the map and utilize more of a vertical aspect of the series, then limits the locations you can actually use it on — which goes against the very open ended nature that makes Battlefield feel like, well, Battlefield. It removes a number of key elements that many players have loved, but by doing so, actually shows players how much more they can get out of an environment when they don’t have to worry about always being blown up or driven over — even though that does happen, just on a rarer occurrence.
It includes 51 asynchronous weapons, with a ton of attachments, which are more accessible using an in-game currency system that keeps players from having to overly grind out a specific weapon only try out one new scope. It has included new mechanics like being able to select weapons that you can pick up from your trunk, or being able to grab health and ammo directly from players who aren’t doing their job. As well a non-fatal ability to take down opponents to garner information on the location of enemy players on the map.
But, after putting in over 20 hours into the online portion alone, I have already seen a number of glitches that, while not game breaking, did make the experience a bit more odd. After successfully scoring enough points you can choose a perk, such as the ability to climb faster, on multiple occasions the upgrade menu wouldn’t disappear. The physics on one map’s bodies of water went completely insane and became quite distracting. The ability to clip through objects and other vehicles happens constantly, making some modes like Hotwire a bit more problematic than others.
Thankfully, while Hardline might be a more different than veterans may have hopped for, it does enough of its own to come off as a solid start to a new type of Battlefield. Although, it does need to be said that with it being such a departure, it’s easy to see that it is still trying to figure itself out when put against its more militant and seasoned counterpart. Fans of the series will find many moments that harken back to the heart of franchise if they are willing to try something new and are are able to make a few gameplay adjustments. Anyone trying out a Battlefield title for the first time will find a game that’s much more accessible than any of the other ones in the past, but much like the previous ones, if you’re getting in the helicopter, please practice in an empty lobby before crash landing with your whole team on board.
Battlefield Hardline PS4 review copy provided by the publisher. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.