Walking a Hard Line
Battlefield: Hardline , the latest spinoff in the Battlefield series, does away with common military shooter trappings and adopts a cops and robbers motif which informs much of the game’s design. Maps are smaller, weapons are less powerful, vehicles are cars and bikes instead of tanks, and there are a slew of truly interesting and innovative game modes that use the cops and robbers theme very well. Unfortunately, it feels too afraid to buck Battlefield tradition, and gets stuck copying some of the same old game modes and mechanics from past Battlefields that, unfortunately, don’t fit at all with the cops and robbers formula. Hardline is at its best when innovating, when it’s trying to be its own game and not just another Battlefield installment, and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t have the courage to innovate more.
The name of the game in Battlefield: Hardline is asymmetry. The cops and robbers factions feel different in every game mode. This is primarily because they get access to completely different sets of weapons, so you won’t be able to use the same loadouts on different sides. You can eventually unlock weapon licenses for your weapons to allow them to cross over, but this only happens much later in the game, and by then you will probably have already found a favorite. On the whole, cop weapons feel more surgical and precise, and criminal weapons feel more powerful and reckless, but both weapon sets are decently well balanced against each other.
Many of the game’s multiplayer modes are asymmetrical as well. Heist sees criminals trying to break into a vault, steal loot, and run to an evac point, while police try to defend the vault and recapture the loot should it be taken, kind of like a one sided capture the flag. Crosshair has the police trying to protect one player-controlled VIP as he makes his way to one of two evac points, while the criminals try to kill him or simply let the time run out. Rescue sees the criminals trying to stall out the cops by holding two hostages, while the cops try to break in and carry them to safety before the time runs out.
There are two symmetrical modes which are also a blast to play. Blood Money tasks you with grabbing cash from a central cash pile and returning it to your vault. You can also be very risky and grab cash from an opponent’s vault as well, costing them points. Hotwire is perhaps my favorite mode. It plays a little bit like a control point mode, except instead of controlling an area your goal is to control a special vehicle and keep it moving. At its best, this mode recreates some of the best chase scenes from your favorite police movies, and at its worst, it still gives you an oddly zen car ride through a map, as your radio drowns out explosions all around you. It’s fun either way.
Unfortunately, the worst modes in Hardline are the classic Battlefield modes of Team Deathmatch and Conquest. Both of these modes feel like a slog that just doesn’t fit with the altered mechanics of the game. While the maps are smaller, and you’d think this would make Deathmatch more fun, the real fun of the game comes through recreating intense action movements with ziplines, explosives, and motorcycles. In Deathmatch, things are just too chaotic to do that. Instead, you find everybody on the map running around with the same two assault rifles or SMGs, and nothing is fun about that. Conquest is even worse. While you do get the opportunity to use some of your cool gadgets, it takes forever to capture a point and even longer to score enough points to win. The maps are smaller, but they still cram 32 people on them, which leads to constant chaos and makes you feel like you really can’t do anything strategic to hold a point.
The gun and gadget sets work perfectly for the type of game Battlefield: Hardline is supposed to be. There are lots of ways to get into the action quick, kill a few guys, grab what you need, and get out. Heavy guns, like machine guns, have either been removed or turned into map specific pickups. Instead, all the weapons you have access to in Hardline are light and easy to carry, with “battle rifles” taking the place of the LMGs in loadouts.
There are way more single-shot and semi-automatic guns in Hardline than in most military shooters, from battle rifles to sniper rifles to shotguns. These weapons are very powerful, which makes firefights far quicker than they were in any other Battlefield title, over in less than a second, and the game is more about planning a correct route to the objective than successfully showing off your aiming prowess.
This is exactly why modes like Hotwire and Crosshair work so well and Deathmatch and Conquest work so poorly. I’d say your skill with handling a gun is just as important with your skill with a vehicle, setting up traps, placing strategic ammo crates and health pickups, and generally your ability to get around. So when a mode makes you focus on fighting and nothing but fighting, it feels like half a game.
I personally feel as if Hardline missed a lot of opportunities to add even more modes that would fit with the cops and criminals theme. There is no bomb squad mode, which would have made perfect sense here. There is no dog gadget or perk, which seems like it would fit perfectly in with the cops and criminals theme (trained police hounds on one side, angry pit bulls on the other). Also, and this is a nitpick but it still bothers me, each side gets a “mask” to show that they have elite status. The criminals get wolf masks but the cops get… dinosaur masks? What? Why not pig masks? Isn’t that obvious?
In short, I like exactly half of Battlefield: Hardline ’s multiplayer. The innovative modes are great, but the classic modes are boring. The asymmetrical guns are interesting, but the gadgets can be useless at times. The top down hacker mode is an interesting addition, but it gets boring after a few minutes. Once again, everywhere where the game innovates is a joy to play, and everywhere where it follows Battlefield tradition is just kind of stale.
The single-player mode, however, is truly quality. I know, I know, most of the time single-player modes in Battlefield games are throwaways, but this one is really special. You can play through a lot of the game, with the exception of a couple scripted set pieces, without killing a single person, and this plays into what sort of cop you are trying to be in the narrative. If you rush in with guns blazing, you’ll get bullets fired right back. But if you head in shouting, flashing your badge, using stun guns, aiming without shooting, and using non-lethal takedowns, you can actually avoid getting into firefights.
You get rewards for handling situations intelligently this way. By arresting criminals with warrants instead of killing them, you can unlock new guns and perks which you can then equip at tactical gear points. By avoiding littering the surrounding area with bullets, you can pick up evidence which can be used against the suspects you are taking in. You get to use a scanner to identify persons of interest, hack into suspects computers, and even send in wired snitches to tense situations to get the info you need. Its part shooter, part stealth game, part investigation game, and the only real disappointing part of it is that all the good gameplay ideas here don’t translate over to multiplayer in any way.
I also have to hand it to the cast of Battlefield: Hardline . They did a fantastic job at portraying their characters. While the animations are a little jarring at times, the characters feel realistic every time they talk. It really does feel like I am watching some sort of police serial when playing the single-player campaign, and the story really does grab me, although there are some goofy parts, like random fights with an alligator in the glades of Miami. Still, the single-player weaves an interesting tale about corrupt cops, the pressures of serving on the police force, and the odd grey area that lies between police and criminal.
I also applaud Visceral for making the single-player campaign proceed in an episodic style, more like a TV show than a movie. They were right when they said this format more naturally follows the flow of a video game. Heck, you even get a Netflix style “next episode starts in” window at the end of every episode. The time wipes between episodes feel natural and keep the story moving at a decent pace. I hope more games follow this model in the future.
My final thoughts on Battlefield: Hardline are a bit jumbled. While parts of the multiplayer are really fun and innovative, I don’t see it replacing any of the other shooters I am currently playing as my multiplayer shooter of choice. The single-player is fantastic, but at the same time I don’t see myself playing through it more than once, and while I do think it’s something that should be experienced by everyone, I’m not entirely certain it alone is worth the price of admission.
I think, oddly enough, that Battlefield: Hardline appeals to you the most if you aren’t a traditional Battlefield fan. To be honest, I have long been over Battlefield ’s traditional military shooter roots, and since Hardline breaks from that formula, I enjoyed it far more than I have any other Battlefield title yet. If you are looking for something different and experimental, and you enjoy single-player more than multiplayer, then Battlefield: Hardline is a pretty good recommendation for you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The animations can be jarring sometimes, but overall the character models and environments are well done. 2.5 Control
To be honest, there are a lot of things I don’t like about the controls. Piloting a helicopter is near impossible and steering in a KBAM interface uses keys instead of mouse look. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
On first glance the soundtrack is really interesting and filled with lots of well known songs about cops. But they tend to get repetitive, especially if you are playing Hotwire mode. I swear to god, if I hear “WHOOP WHOOP That’s the sound of the police!” one more time… 4.5 Play Value
While I am torn on the multiplayer experience, the single-player experience is definitely worth a look. 3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|