Whilst certain ‘other shooters’ go for the annual release model, the Battlefield series have often scheduled their games a couple of years apart. Not only should this encourage making games that provide an extended lifespan, but also afford enough opportunities for newly implemented ideas when the time comes around to releasing another. Hardline brings about a lot of alterations, the question being, can Battlefield retain its classic multiplayer offerings after doling out some fairly radical changes?
We’ll start with the singleplayer. Instead of playing as generic military grunt 4 and solving the worlds’ war problems with more…war, Battlefield Hardline has completely switched things up by emulating your favourite cop’s and robber’s drama. Meet Nicholas Mendoza, a stereotypical cop who lives up to his cliché name by doing things solely by the book, despite how many hand-outs he’s offered along the way. Mendoza’s the kinda guy you can rely on when the local drug war escalates to one of explosive proportions, one who’ll keep his head when others are literally losing theirs around him.
Embroiled in a world of dirty cops, double crosses and of course, exploring the local swamps in a fan boat, you’ll find that each of the games’ ten levels pays more than just a passing homage to shows like The Wire and The Shield. Presented in a televised, episodic format, each time you decide to pop on the campaign, you’ll have a ‘previously on…’ section which attempts to serve as a little refresher from where you last left off. To add to this, each episode usually follows the format of its respective show too, where you’ll often start off with a slow section, complete with background and filler, before ending on a bang.
In previous Battlefield games, being stealthy was usually a precursor to all hell breaking loose; especially when there’s no real incentive to keep it quiet. Hardline encourages it however. Even though you can of course blast your way through the levels with no regard for something as menial as collateral damage, you’re rewarded for being the good guy. The game couldn’t give a monkey about your ability to line up multiple headshots; instead it’ll applaud using your police issue kit to take down perps alive and disgruntled. Included in your arsenal is a scanner, of which you can use to tag enemies, alarms and secrets; all of which you earn points for doing so. Alongside this, you carry your trusty badge which you can point at up to three ne’er-do-wells and get them to surrender whilst you handcuff them. The challenge being that you’ll have to keep a gun trained on them whilst moving in, or risk one of them acting out and kicking things off.
There are good and bad points to the singleplayer portion. One of the main criticisms I have is that it’s entirely singleplayer; which makes little sense as you’ll go through a large portion of the game alongside your forgettable AI controlled partner. It would have been nice to have a little co-op action in there so you could clear rooms effectively and flank enemies to get the jump on them, but never mind. More problems arise due to the game solely rewarding you for stealth. It’s a great moment when you’ve cleared a room or two in pristine fashion only for a couple of rogue criminals (you were unaware of) to spot you and turn the rest of the level into a tense firefight. Instead of thinking great, that was just like that bit in such and such, you just think, I’ll reload the checkpoint so I get more rewards for doing it ‘properly’. In terms of the narrative aspects of the game, there’s ultimately a fine line between being either engrossed or embarrassed in both the plot and the way it’s presented; with unfortunately, some of the script bordering on cringe worthy at times.
Despite a radically different singleplayer experience on offer, inevitably most people’s interests will lie with Hardline’s multiplayer offerings. Having always been a contender to Activision’s shooter, I’ve felt Battlefield will often draw in a different crowd due to its slower, more deliberate style of play. That seems to be changing a little this year with Hardline adopting a much more fluid and quicker pace. Maps are generally smaller and much more infantry focused; the inclusion of the new game modes reflects this. On top of the ever viable Conquest mode and the increasingly popular Team Deathmatch type, Hardline brings: Hotwire, Heist, Blood Money, Crossfire and Rescue into the mix. A combination of small team tactics with no respawns, high speed vehicle shenanigans and as ever, teamwork will all be necessary to compete in these modes. Each offers something different and what some people enjoy will be no doubt the bane of others.
Weapons in general seem to kill quicker than in previous entries, yet the game still doesn’t rely upon the reactions of a new-born fly in order to succeed. In fact, playing to the strengths of your selected class will often see you raking in the points regardless of whether you end up killing anyone or not. Especially useful considering Battlefields gracious system of the amount of damage dealt to determine who ‘earns’ the kill, certainly something I’d love to see implemented in other shooters. Much like other Battlefield games, the ‘create a class’ screen, despite being drastically improved, is still overly complicated and seemingly obtuse for the sake of it.
Unlocking gear has had a work around this time too. Similar to the way the first Call of Duty: Black Ops worked, you earn money during matches for anything and everything; which can then be spent on weapons, gear and attachments. Certain items are locked from the offset, for example weapon attachments can only be purchased once you’ve earned X amount kills with it and so on. It’s a good system that allows you to get what you want quicker. If you’ve found an optical sight you like better than others, you’ll likely be able to equip it on the majority of your guns without any trauma besides remembering its name.
There are a few irritants however, not solely aimed at Hardline in particular, but rather things that are consistent amongst all Battlefield games. Firstly being each faction’s unique weapons, it’s tedious having to adjust to the cop’s version of the carbine for example, when the opposing robber’s version seems categorically better, despite costing around the same amount. In my opinion, all guns should be available to each side, and the player should get to choose when to use them instead of the game arbitrarily deciding which team to put you on. More frustration occurs when you can’t preview what a certain optical sight looks like, or determine how a heavy barrel will affect your gun without going into a game and being a detriment to your team. Granted, they don’t cost a lot to procure, but there are many different configurations for each weapon that can drastically alter its performance. A firing range option akin to Advanced Warfare’s would be an elegant solution and surely not too much bother to implement considering there was something similar in Battlefield 4. My final quibble involves the ‘kill-cam’. It does me little good to see an enemy jumping about in 3rd person when the maps are this large. I’d rather it showed me vaguely where they were on the map or adopted Call of Duty’s first person perspective style.
Battlefield’s always been a bit of a looker, and in terms of character models and facial capturing, it’s no surprise here. The environments aren’t at their best, nor do they seem as destructible as in previous games; however this can be justified to an extent online when there are 63 other people on the map. Sound quality is as punchy as it always is and weapons sound believable yet distinct.
Despite being carried on Visceral Games’ shoulders in this iteration, make no mistake; this is the Battlefield experience you’ll know and love. The singleplayer shows promise but is let down a little in execution; whereas the multiplayer is smooth, tactical and more importantly, fun. The lack of a campaign co-op is a little disappointing, but then again, the action is where it always has been, online.