The last console generation was largely dominated by the modern military-themed first-person shooter genre. With the runaway success of the titanic Call of Duty series, just about every major publisher wanted to get in on the action, similar to the saturation of platformers in the 90s. Love it or hate it, the military shooter is far from leaving the gaming landscape anytime soon, yet fatigue has set in. In light of change, we’ve seen FPS games, even Call of Duty, recently broaden beyond the modern military trappings, with many opting for futuristic settings. With Battlefield Hardline, publishers Electronic Arts and developer Visceral Games are keeping things in the present but with a theme new to the franchise: cops and robbers.
Visceral is best known for making the successful Dead Space games, which feature iconic armor, intriguing stories, and environments oozing with ominous ambiance. Based on their past, the studio’s forte was clearly in crafting immersive campaigns. Former general manager Glen Schofield and original Dead Space director Michael Condrey left to form Sledgehammer Games, developer of the recent Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Do the remaining team members at Visceral produce another winning single-player experience with Hardline? The most glowing praise I can give is this is certainly the best Battlefield campaign to date. That’s not saying much though, as previous attempts were dull strolls through generic army movie plots. Here you take up the role of Nick Mendoza (Nicholas Gonzalez), a boy scout of a detective on the Miami police force. Nick’s trying to make society better in light of the deadbeat father that he and his mom escaped from after immigrating from Cuba to the US. But like all good cops, he soon faces tough opposition among corrupt members on the force, who eventually frame him for one of their crimes. With the help of his old partner Khai Minh Dao (Kelly Hu) and a rag tag team of “good” criminals, Nick is freed and begins a cross-country chase for redemption and revenge.
If the above plot summary sounds like its taken straight from the script of any crime drama TV series, you already have a sense and feel of how Nick Mendoza’s tale plays out, almost beat by beat. Double betrayals? Got it. Plot twist? Multiple. Shoot-outs in various locales, including an obligatory desert, and car chases? Of course. Most preconceived tropes in your head about cop shows are here and that does a disservice to the experience as a whole. While progressing through Hardline’s campaign, I was always anticipating the next backstab around the corner, looking for any clues pointing to who it was going to come from and thus not very much is left to the imagination or to surprise. Visceral also guiltily adorns the cop TV show for the presentation. Levels are labeled as episodes. Transitions utilize quick cuts, fades, and rocking guitar riffs. When quitting the campaign, a "Next time on Hardline" preview plays and upon returning, a "Previously on Hardline" montage greets you. The cast includes experienced actors from shows like CSI, NCIS, True Detective who do their best to work with the shallow writing of Hardline’s script. Sadly, there was potential for a satisfying pulp drama here that doesn’t come close to fruition. Going full tongue-in-cheek parody could have made for a narrative that’s more interesting and fun, a la the other Battlefield spin-offs of Bad Company.
What Hardline’s cop motif does lend itself well to is providing new stealthy and non-lethal approaches to completing many of the campaign’s objectives. Nick’s smartphone is utilized as a scanner able to zoom in and tag enemies in the area to keep tabs on where they are – a similar mechanic previously seen in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The radar displays enemy locations as well as their vision cones in order to aid in staying out of their line of sight. When in close enough range, a curved meter appears, pointed in the direction of the enemy, and begins to fill as he begins to notice you. Nick is able to sneak up on enemies, tell them to "Freeze," then cuff them. Clicking down on the PS4 controller’s touchpad throws a bullet shell to distract and split apart enemies. The taser provides a little more range for taking down crooks silently without killing. These mechanics brought a pleasantly welcome diversity to my arsenal, allowing me to switch between gun-ho aggressive gunplay to slower, more strategic stealth tactics.
Battlefield’s lasting legacy lies in its class-based multiplayer warfare, and Hardline brings some fresh additions, in part due to the cops-and-robbers theme. Players lock and load as one of four new factions–the SWAT or Street Cops versus the Thieves and Criminals–across nine different maps. Battlegrounds featuring downtown cityscapes and financial districts provide many paths, sources of cover, and map verticality to employ. Meanwhile, the damp Everglades and sunny deserts yield more wide, clear arenas for vehicular combat and straight gunfights. Dozens of weapons are at your disposal and with the asynchronous weapon design, each faction’s armories are different than the others. The strong Battle Pickup weapons, such as rocket launchers and heavy machine guns, only are available as spawns on the map and become sought after power weapons that can help shift the tide in battle.
Staple Battlefield game modes Conquest and Team Deathmatch return and are joined by five new game modes. Rescue has the good factions rescuing hostages out of a building, reminiscent of classic Counter-Strike. In a similar vein, Crossfire has the cops escorting a solely golden pistol-equipped VIP across the map to a rescue point. In Heist, the robbers must break into a secure fault and carry the money to an extraction point. For fans of symmetrical play, Blood Money finds both sides transporting money from a vault to their money pile and can also steal money from the other team’s pile. Lastly, there’s my personal favorite Hotwire, where teams must occupy marked vehicles and maintain cruising speed to capture the vehicle like a Conquest territory spot. Passengers in vehicles can pop up the window for 360-degree shooting range. Seemingly inspired by the movie Speed, Hotwire matches often unfold into rapidly paced car chases, making for the fastest experiences in the multiplayer.
On that note, Hardline is advertised as being "the fastest Battlefield to date" on the back of the box and Visceral’s added elements ensure a brisker pace than past titles. Off the bat, your on-foot movement speed is quicker so you can cover ground more efficiently to get back into the fight. Weapons deal out greater damage, resulting in gunfights that are deadlier and require agile reflexes. Instead of having to request ammo or health from a comrade then wait for him or her to drop it, you can now run up to your teammate and promptly snag it yourself. A large assortment of new vehicles like some of the muscle and sports cars, bring high-octane chases to Battlefield. Longtime fans can rest easy however: None of these changes and additions are radical enough to bring the game up to the Mountain Dew-explosive twitchiness of Call of Duty.
At its core, Hardline is still a Battlefield game, for better or for worse depending on who you ask. The gunplay – how the weapons move, feel, and handle – still remains strongly similar to past entries. There’s a little bit of a learning curve for newcomers to grasp all the different classes and the components of the loadouts. Whether or not your time in multiplayer is a fun, jolly time can sometimes largely depend on how well coordinated your team is, as cooperation is key to winning the game’s many objective-based modes. There simply is not enough offered or revised here to sway an opposing side to fall in love with the franchise.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a contemporary Battlefield game unless I mentioned bugs and glitches, right? During my time with Hardline, I did encounter a variety of them unfortunately. Some were the innocuous and at times humorous visual issues. Framerates can fluctuate and drop, especially during high-action scenes on-screen. More annoying is when a bug would cause a snafu in actual gameplay and I found commonly occurred with the vehicles. Prepare for frustration in the Hotwire mode when you are cruising fine in a marked car only to have the vehicle get randomly caught on something, abruptly losing all momentum. Hardline continues the grand current-generation tradition of shipping a game out before being finely polished and it’s even more disappointing with a title that already suffered a delay.