Battlefields up again, another year another title, but this time with a twist. Hardline poses to remix the traditional Battlefield experience that fans have come to enjoy into something new with a redirected focus to a home ground, ditching the military thematic for one of cops and criminals. The question then, is whether this new found Battlefield formula is equally, or less capable than its predecessors.
If you’re the type of consumer that always wants a taste of the singleplayer experience first, then you’ll immediately notice distinct differences between Battlefield Hardline, and previous entries in the series. Instead of a strictly linear experience where narrative effectively drags the player through a myriad of scripted gameplay scenarios, Hardline offers considerably more flexibility. As a cop you’re placed merely onto the scene of each location, then the approach you choose to take is largely up to you. While each mission has a directive, a location you need to access or a target you wish to take down, the manner in which the player achieves these ends is considerably more variable than is typical for the series, or similar titles.
Of course as usual you’re able to select your weapons for each mission, but crucially, how you apply these, if at all is entirely determined by your playstyle. The cops and criminal’s thematic comes is accompanied by related a related ability, to arrest, rather than kill your foes. Depending on your preferences you can choose to cautiously move around the maps and handcuff the enemy non-player characters, and this provides an incredibly refreshing change as each segment of the game, either caused by progression or death and restart is an entirely distinct encounter defined by the player approach.
For instance, you might choose to take a sniper rifle and gun down as many guards as possible before they manage to sound the alarm, then go guns blazing, and progress through the area to the missions objective. Or alternatively, you might take a stealthier approach, sneaking around enemies and arresting them. There’s even plentiful variability within each of these approaches as even when attempting to apply stealth the routes which you take throughout the map can have distinct variance, and gadgets made available to the player such as the grappling hook and zipwire add to this further.
The stealth mechanics themselves however are underpinned by relatively simplistic detection systems, therefore causing even this new found gameplay variety to get a little old after a while. Once you’ve figured out how to remain undetected, it becomes all to easy to arrest everyone on site, and perhaps more significantly the question ‘where am I getting all these handcuffs from?’ becomes more and more prominent as you progress in this manner. Seriously, who pulls one hundred plus pairs of handcuffs out of their pants in a single day, and how do an individual police force even deal with the sheer number of arrests? Practicalities aside though, these added mechanics lend much needed versatility to the otherwise stale sub-genre of the linear first person shooter.
As always Hardline’s weapons are fun to use, grounded considerably in their real world counterparts, each weapon has a believable weight and handling to it. Enemies are downed in a small number of rounds, and headshots always dispatch the foe. There’s a good deal of weapons and gadgets to select from raging from assault rifles, to shotguns and pistols and none of each without its quirks and unique handling. Switching weapons is a portion of what makes the gunplay entertaining, as you collect new weapons to select from the games armouries by making arrests and generally being a successful cop.
Driving all of this gameplay of course is the games narrative; a relatively cliched, but entertaining tale of cops and criminal. Plot twists are abundant, and the game deals with the typical themes of narcotics trafficking and corrupt police services. Most characters don’t provide quite enough exposition to really care for however the dialogue carries the game through as the narrative manages to be engaging throughout. While things play out like an 80s police drama, the experience is continually entertaining due to frequent plot twists and humorous dialogue. It’s not a revolution of video game narrative writing, but it’s enough to entertain and the player from start to finish, and unlike other titles, the game concludes appropriately with most of its larger questions answered.
Despite all these renovations Hardline offers to the Battlefield series, the game does however remain first and foremost, a first person shooter and this is both to the games advantage, and detriment. On the one hand the first person shooter segments where gunplay is forced upon you can be incredibly visceral, providing intense, moment to moment combat. However on the other hand, these are the moments of the game where Hardline stops being hardline, and becomes Battlefield. These forced combat segments are excessively over the top, and the game even manages to shoehorn the use of various military pieces of equipment, just so that Battlefield fans feel at home. One can’t shake the feeling that Hardline would have been a better game if it were to embrace it’s new features and expand on the elements of the game that make it unique. Renovating its stealth and detection systems while expanding the variability of the arrest scenarios available to the player would have produced a more immerse, believable police experience than the almost unnecessary, occasional focus on large scale combat.
That isn’t to say that these more Battlefield-esque segments of the game aren’t enjoyable however. Shooting down bad guys is satisfying and there’s a good number of weapons available to you to do so. Additionally, despite over the top gameplay sequences, you continually feel distinctly more vulnerable than in similar first person shooters, with one wrong move during an attempted arrest often quickly leading to a dramatic gunfight. Splicing these slower and faster paced segments of the game together benefits the games pacing, contributing to why I found myself continually wanting to see what was around the next corner.
In all, each of these features compliment each other to make Battlefield Hardline a fresh experience, and one of the best in the series. Viceral games have successfully blended distinct gameplay types together, with a more dramatic and engaging narrative to cultivate an experience that has considerably more depth to it than has been available in series entries prior. The campaign even features a bounty of collectables and optional objectives to complete, so when coupled with the aforementioned gameplay variability, Hardline also finds itself offering much better replayabilty than other titles of the same genre.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Battlefield without it’s multiplayer component, and Hardline does not disappoint in this department either. Although some modes Battlefield fans are familiar with are missing (e.g. rush) these have been replaced with more suitably themed offerings suc as Hotwire, where players are tasked to fight for control of various vehicles around the map. In honesty though it’, 64 player conquest that remains the games largest treat, offering a variety of playgrounds for large scale maps to play host to dynamic player engagements across a variety of objectives.
There are some crucial changes to the multiplayer formula that need to be mentioned here too. The objective area in conquest is now viewable on the games map, and you can now discern whether someone is above or below you based on mini-map icon opacity. The former of these changes especially really almost singlehandedly reinvents the conquest game mode, making the split-objective focused mode much more centralised on specific areas that are clearly defined for all players to see on the map. Increasing the degree of transparency in this regard does wonders for cultivating faster paced, and fairer gameplay, where capturing an objective is more dependent on your ability than your success in an awkward game of hide and seek.
Another distinction is the game asynchronisity between teams, with each side (cop or criminal) are outfitted with a different selection of firearms. Functionally these make little difference to the gameplay as they each serve a similar role – you point and shoot and at the end of the day the player that does this faster generally wins the encounter – but being forced to switch through weapons from one team to the next does add variety to the gameplay as you find yourself needing to be proficient with an expanded set of weapons if you wish to succeed. Sadly this does leave a rather paltry number of weapons available to you at any one time, but the ability to license gun from the opposing faction mediates this as you’re able access your favoured weapons across both factions once you hit a perquisite kill requirement.
It’s the heavier weapons that have dissipated from Battlefield’s arsenal this time around, as the more devastating vehicle such as tanks and fighter jets are entirely absent from the games multiplayer. It makes sense of course – standard police training doesn’t typically cover learning to operate a tank – however for some this will remove a very appealing portion of the games multiplayer. Of course, objectively the absence of these vehicles doesn’t ruin the game, but changes it. Infantry are vastly safer without the heavier vehicles moving around the map, and subsequently you can get much more focused gunfights occuring as players battle for control of particular areas of the map. In general, infantry combat is better and I appreciated not having to worry about tanks and jets rolling in for an easy kill.
The game feels a lot less like rock paper scissors in this regard, as in the past if you are not the correct class to deal with the vehicle that’s attacking you, then you’re effectively fodder, doomed to lose the encounter or run away and hope your team deal with it. This is a much rarer feeling in Hardline, especially because many of the heavier weapons such as the lock-on anti air missiles have been made into map pick-ups, and crucially this means that any class or player can make use of them. It’s an interesting system that makes each of the games classes more versatile as a result.
The maps that all this action takes place on are generally quite well rounded too. While there are only 10 maps in Battlefield Hardline, each features a wide variety of environments that effectively facilitate exciting, and focused shoot outs across objectives. Unfortunately very few of these maps feel appropriately themed, and as much as I wanted to feel like Robert Di Niro in the movie ‘Heat’, that atmosphere just isn’t there. Only a very small portion of the maps feature an inner city environment, the rest could have essentially been pulled from just about any large scale, modern shooter. The game does however feature some of the smallest large scale maps in the Battlefield series, and this really works in the games favour making vehicles less essential, again facilitating a more infantry focused game.
In all, Hardline’s multiplayer component is still Battlefield, and this has two sides. On the one hand, it’s a Battlefield game that works, and most of what people love about the series is still here, but it’s been remixed, with its focus adjusted to slightly faster paced, more infantry focused combat. However in another, it’s a shame that Hardline isn’t doing enough of it’s own, and doesn’t try harder to integrate the cops and criminals theme. Despite this, overall the games games approach of fine tuning some of Battlefield’s systems, along with its own, unique variations does just enough to feel like a fresh experience, and many of the smaller changes (such as visible capture point radius’) have a remarkable effect on how enjoyable the games multiplayer is. While it lacks as significant an interplay between infantry and vehicular based combat, the infantry gameplay itself is arguably the best it’s ever been in the series, and that’s a huge achievement for Viceral, and something many fans of that style of gameplay will certainly enjoy.
- Campaign offers considerable gameplay flexibility
- Entertaining if cliched narrative
- The game runs smoothly, and ranges from good to excellent visual presentation
- Sufficiently remixes the Battlefield formula to create a fresh multiplayer experience
- Multiplayer progression is more rewarding and gives you more choice on what you unlock
- Multiplayer seems fully functional on day-one
- Campaigns stealth systems are overly simplistic, and can become repetitive
- The cops and criminals theme isn’t fully embraced by the games multiplayer
- Fans of the Battlefield series will miss modes like Rush
Hardline chooses to play things safe by sticking closely to its roots as a Battlefield series entry, however its gameplay twists and renovations make it, in many cases a better Battlefield game than its predecessors ever were. The campaign is much more entertaining than is typical for this sub-genre of game, and small tweaks on the multiplayer front make the gameplay more enjoyable. Fans of the interplay between heavily armed vehicles such as tanks and jets may be disappointed, but those that enjoy the infantry game should find themselves right at home.