Battlefield Hardline Review
Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Sony PlayStation 4
Battlefield Hardline is a slightly odd beast. Coming off the back of some heavy criticism for the state in which Battlefield 4 launched, the guys at EA and DICE announced Hardline while the wounds were still well and truly open. Pitched as Battlefield but with cops and robbers, the reception was mixed and people seemed to fall into one of two categories; there was the “this could be interesting” crowd and the “it looks like a BF4 mod, no thanks” rabble. Well, it’s a bit of both as it happens.
First off we have the single player campaign - barely talked about at all in the run up to the launch of the game, with the beta release and the majority of the PR footage highlighting the new multiplayer modes (which funnily enough is cops and robbers), yet fairly big in terms of development, a few household names/faces as well as a solid eight hours of fun. EA and DICE made the seemingly wise move of bringing in someone who actually knows how to make a single player adventure in the form of Visceral Games (Dead Space Trilogy and Dante’s Inferno), having left Dice too it for too long, resulting in damp squib after damp squib each and every time we see a Battlefield campaign.
The campaign sees you enter the shoes of one Nick Mendoza, a vice officer with the Miami Police Department, he’s a tough nut and not one to be turned to the darker side of the force. He won’t take a bribe and he’s not a huge fan of dirty cops. Through ten episodes we follow Nick as he becomes embroiled in a massive drug war which involves drug lords, pimps, lots of guns, dirty cops, crazy bitches and even dirtier cops.
Interestingly for a Battlefield game as you play the majority of the adventure as a cop your first port of call isn’t to shoot every-one in the face, it is in fact to sneak around, flashing your badge at the earlier opportunity and arresting the bad guys. Different, sure, ambitions, yes, good? Well...
The team at Visceral has taken the single player campaign head on with Hardline and the presentation is top notch. Actually playing out like a Netflix commissioned cop drama compromising of multiple episodes, all with their own “previously on” and “next on” moments, along with the blatant cheeky, yet cool, rip off of the Netflix countdown to next episode page, everything is setup very nicely for an episodic cop drama, utilising the Battlefield engine (Frostbite), mechanics and gunplay. On paper this all sounds fantastic but sadly in practice whilst it starts with a bang it quickly becomes a chore to get through - every episode presenting you, the player, with more cop show cliches than you can possibly stomach; dull as dishwater levels with little or no reason go back and retry; god awful writing, some surprisingly lame star turns and it wouldn’t be a single player action game without some pointless, poorly handed driving, along with some forced stealth missions for good measure.
At times the single player campaign just makes you feel like all the previous Battlefield campaigns made you feel...like you were wasting precious time where you could be playing Battlefield as it is meant to be played, online. It’s perhaps unfair to feel so disappointed in a Battlefield campaign but on this occasion with the inclusion of Visceral Games and the emphasis on a Netflix style cop drama there was potential to break the mould, actually designing a campaign worth playing - sadly that isn’t how it panned out.
With all that said, and whilst it is a shame that we are still without that seemingly elusive, decent single player Battlefield experience, the single player is not why people buy Battlefield. Luckily for those who like Battlefield, the online experience is familiar, if utilising a different look, but familiar all the same. Dice continue to take the if it isn’t broken approach to their online component offering subtle tweaks, a few new gameplay modes to suit the skin and keep the hardcore happy. To add to the franchise’s traditional team deathmatch and Conquest modes come some new takes on these tried and tested online modes. Lending itself nicely to a Heat style street shootout, Heist sees one team robbing a bank and the other a set of cops called in to stop them. An excellent change to the norm and can lead to some hectic stand offs but ultimately the maps can be a little bit tricky to navigate, making half the battle finding the objective(s). As well as this we have Hotwire which has some relation to the classic domination mode but mixes things up a touch. Instead of defending a certain area on the map, you have to get into a marked vehicle and drive it around the level at high enough speeds in order to gradually reduce the supply of tickets from the enemy team. This can feel exhilarating and team work is definitely required.
Moving on from there we have a more balanced game type in Blood Money. Naturally cops face off against the crims in a battle to grab as much cash as you possibly can for your team, all the while shooting as many of the opposition in the face as you can. This has the nice twist of not only being able to kill other players while they are running with cash but you can also sneak in and raid their vault (home point) while they are all out trying to grab more cash. This forces teams to think tactically to win and is most welcome. The more well versed Battlefield players may well opt for Crosshair and Rescue, two more neat addition to the roster. Rescue is naturally a hostage style situation, seeing the cops try to rescue one of two hostages from the hands of the baddies. Crosshair on the hand sees the cops escorting a VIP armed with extra armor and a golden gun to a secure location while criminals try to take him down. Both modes are 5v5, playable on reasonably tight maps with limited respawns - teamwork is a must for these.
The multiplayer is of course the highlight; sure it all looks lovely, although not as great as you’d expect for a new game using the Frostbite 3 engine, it sounds great with weaponry packing a suitable punch, but sadly it just never feels as much fun as you want it to be. It’s tough to convey but the gist is that you come away feeling that they were restricted to the Battlefield formula a little too much, naturally drawing the negative “skin” comments which have been floating around, never really going all out for something that feels new, fresh and unique. Ultimately this makes the Battlefield re-skinned detractors annoyinlg accurate.
There isn’t anything particularly bad about Battlefield Hardline, it’s solid enough, but one cannot help but lean towards those initial detractors who were very vocal in the run up to launch. Despite a clearly big effort and no doubt a ton of money, we are still without a decent Battlefield campaign and what we are left with is a Battlefield off shoot with no long term life in it.
So there we have it, a Battlefield game with weak single player and solid if underwhelming multiplayer - absolutely no one saw this coming.