The Battlefield series takes a hard earned break from its military war setting to slip into every kid’s favourite playground pastime, cops and robbers. In doing so, Battlefield Hardline manages to build upon some of the series’ weaknesses, negate a bunch of its strengths, and test every gamer’s tolerance to implausible mechanics. Donut, anyone?
Game: Battlefield Hardline
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
(Review code provided by EA)
I’ve reviewed a couple of Battlefield games at my time with NGB, both of them post-Bad Company 2 where an excellent single player campaign was the icing to the ever-present Battlefield multiplayer sponge. It’s pleasing to say that Hardline is by far the most captivating campaign since, despite some of the quite questionable gameplay mechanics that are dragged along for the siren screaming ride.
One of the finest things about the narrative is Hardline’s light-hearted approach to production. Set out in episodes like an all-action American television series, the one-liners and barrage of set pieces feel far easier to swallow. Before each episode you’ll get a ‘what happened last time’ recap, and similarly whilst exiting you’ll get a preview of the next installment and it works well to keep you gripped in the plot. Whilst nothing new, the story of Officer Nick Mendoza’s tussle with a Miami based drug war, and then corruption within the law itself, remains adequately entertaining amidst all the shooting and new additions to gameplay. Without spoiling it too much, the game cleverly manages to embroil you in every facet on offer and does so in a way that leaves the fun factor overshadowing any questionable realism in the same way a decent tv series or action movie would. It’s good that it does, because there is a ton of questionable gameplay.
It all comes from Battlefield’s foray into the world of stealth. Hardline’s coolest feature on paper is the new ability to flash your shiny badge with the shoulder button and shout freeze, in turn causing the perp to drop their weapon and allowing you to cuff them – it’s pretty darn cool and gives you a real sense of being a cop. Although, it becomes increasingly difficult to buy into the game’s use of stealth. That’s because the criminals are so pathetically consensual to their arrest they make Dr. Evil’s henchman look like a bunch of brutish masterminds.
For instance, if their tiny peripheral vision cones weren’t bad enough allowing you to march up along side them, you’ll be perplexed with joy to learn that once cuffed they’ll happily lay down and take a nap whilst you take down their buddies; a ‘Zzzz’ appears above their head instead of shouting any warnings or raising any alarms. Got a group of three criminals to arrest? No Problem. Flash the badge and they’ll be tucked in and dreaming of meth clouds and crack cookies in no time. If you’re alone you’ll have to keep the ones you’re not cuffing from making a move by pointing your gun at them periodically and it does manage to alleviate some of the ridiculousness from the situation. The whole premise does remain a double-edged sword, though. It’s a welcome mechanic that’s empowering as it is great for the pacing of the game – it just feels far too underdeveloped and ultimately, a little out of Battlefield’s comfort zone.
Perhaps the most worrying problem with the stealth gameplay is its overuse, too. The design of levels never really feel that suited and because of the rewards for using it, you’ll go through episodes barely firing a bullet. Going in all guns blazing is an option, but why would you when easily taking one out at a time yields more reward than the potentially difficult ten man fire-fight (especially on the harder modes). It’s definitely a balancing issue that could have destroyed the campaign along with the oblivious enemy AI, but the entire mode gets away by the skin of its teeth thanks to some clever presentation and interesting approaches, despite the untidy application.
When you’re finally forced into a shoot-out it’s far more chaotic and open to improvisation than previous entries in the series. The more considered approach manifests into an all out bullet-fest that is actually quite enjoyable thanks to a loadout that isn’t as stingy as you might expect, given the setting. The usual assault and close combat assortment is here, but gadgets such as trip mines, zip-lines and tazers make for some interesting ways to approach levels. It’s good too that DICE’s Frostbite engine feels a little more useful in Hardline thanks to a lot of close-quarter skirmishes – blowing a few shotgun bullets through a wall, to either take an unsuspecting enemy down or just open up a new path, makes Hardline feel more like Bad Company 2’s spiritual successor than the previous two Battlefield games put together.
The Frostbite engine does serve its purpose admirably all round, in fact. However, it is starting to feel a little frayed around the edges. Visuals seemed to vary from outstanding to average at the blink of an eye on the texture and general scenery front. And, whilst the destruction is still sublime, there’s too many times when you’ll feel that little-to-no improvement has been made since Battlefield 4 when it comes to the general design and generic feel to a lot of buildings and weaponry. It’s glitchy, texture-popping nature still hasn’t subsided, either. On the flip side, the soundscape, as ever, is ear-bursting. Turn your subs up full and I dare you not to smile whilst reeling off a few rounds – Battlefields impeccable sound design on weaponry is unmitigated.
So, in the end Hardline’s campaign does make steady strides in the right direction, and this time round it’s far more than a mere afterthought to the multiplayer portion. Amidst the stealth mechanics and shooting there’s a genuinely entertaining ride full of all the right stuff that make up solid action thrillers; car chases, hiding from helicopter search lights, hunting targets with warrants, case file evidence searches, stakeouts, bank raids. None of it’s particularly fleshed out as you might hope, but it’s there and it’s rarely dull.
There’s a big effort in the single player campaign to encourage the ‘good guy’ mentality, with a slow, careful, stealthy approach. Apart from tasering an enemy and interrogating them for squad member locations on the map, there’s no other arresting mechanics when playing online. In the multiplayer the overriding feeling is more on par with previous installments and that’s not a bad thing considering Battlefield’s past assets. There are times that essence goes awry and it turns into an ‘everyone must die as quickly and as regularly as possible’ and for me that was when it became the least enjoyable. Hardline’s team deathmatch saw me spawn into the enemy’s crosshairs four times in a row – two at base spawn, two on squadmates. Some of the smaller maps were oddly included in the full player roster, too, which made amusing viewing in between deaths – the map looked like an ant farm of red and blue arrows vanishing and reappearing on screen; pure bedlam.
As you’d expect, some of the more military-based modes have been replaced with more fitting ones such as Heist and Blood Money, which both ask you to grab something from one place and take it to another, albeit in slightly different variations. It’s disappointing that the ideas weren’t fleshed out more. Heist could have been what Conquest was to Battlefields past – a real sell point, but it’s just ended up as a capture the flag style experience with a flashy new name. Even when the terrain opens up and vehicles come into play more, the experience can feel a little shallow.
That’s not to say it’s a complete write-off, shooting is still fun and you’ll still find those random moments that only sprawling maps and large, unwieldy vehicles offer up. Those vehicles see some new additions in the way of road cars and the more standard variety of aircraft, as opposed to the military grade planes and choppers you saw in the previous games. Hotwire, one of the game’s better modes, utilises vehicles to perfection; basically Conquest but on wheels. You’ll need to take one of the marked vehicles and drive it fast as you can to keep it captured whilst other players charge around the map on foot or in other vehicles trying to take you down. It’s focused, fast and complete madness in the best possible way.
The other modes worthy of note are of course, Conquest, which asks you to take control of areas on a map and the ‘no respawn’ game modes. Crosshair, for example, sets you up in two teams, one with a VIP who needs protecting and the other whose job it is to kill him. It’s these team play modes that give the game a chance to breathe from the hectic – kill/die, kill/die – merry-go-round and reintroduce the team play aspect of Battlefield that really is its best feature, and always has set it apart from its peers.
The change in setting hasn’t altered the loadout screen too much. There’s four classes to choose from – Operator, Engineer, Enforcer and Specialist (with Hacker, replacing Commander). Each one has its own specific abilities and roles in the fight and there’s still a plethora of guns, accessories, badges, boosters and upgrades to unlock – I could go on forever. You’ll find there’s always a carrot dangling somewhere in front of you, and a lot of items can be unlocked through the single player campaign, too, giving you a little extra incentive to run through it.
Initially, it’s hard to tell what’s going to be a great map without putting several weeks into them, discovering the best spots and routes throughout the different game modes. From a sheer visualistic perspective I found some of them a little underwhelming, lacking in clear definition. Downtown, a city scape type map, felt a bit busy and undefined. However, others such as Dust Bowl and Riptide were the polar opposite and fitted well into the scope and type of different game modes. Time will tell in that respect, but only a couple of maps jumped out at me, which is unusual for a Battlefield game in my experience.
Battlefield Hardline does ask a lot of the player when it comes to believability. Thankfully, the presentation nullifies the game’s almost laughable AI thanks to its hollywood-esque action-thriller approach, somehow making it just about plausible. You’ll also find some decent set-pieces, an ability to vary your approach towards missions and the odd sparkle of what could have been something amazing had it been further developed. But, have no doubt – this is Battlefield’s best campaign in years regardless.
The multiplayer doesn’t always impress, either, but has some real highlights in the new game modes and of course, has the benefit of the superb Battlefield template behind it. It’s unfortunate that far too often the cops and robbers scenario doesn’t seem to hit a kilter with the series’ strengths, but when it does, it’s refreshing and ultimately enjoyable. Like the campaign, with a little more depth to the modes Hardline could have a bright future. As it stands, it’s a solid stand-in whilst fans wait for the real heavy hitter.