Battlefield: Hardline Review

Can a new developer and the new setting of Battlefield: Hardline bring some fresh ideas to EA's popular FPS series?

Release Date: March 17, 2015Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PCDeveloper: Visceral GamesPublisher: Electronic ArtsGenre: First-Person Shooter

The Battlefield series has long been the chief alternative to Activision’s Call of Duty, and like the faster-paced license, it’s stuck to the same, military-based formula year in, year out. It’s grown over time, with new additions to the game, giving players a reason to choose EA’s title. We’ve had mixed on-foot and vehicular combat, large destructible environments, squad-based co-op, and the recent level evolution of the fourth game, but despite this slew of upgrades, Call of Duty has always dominated.

So, new series developer, Visceral, of Dead Space fame, has taken up the challenge of the next game. It takes over from DICE, and has chosen to take the series in a different direction. Gone is the military combat, replaced by a cops and robbers setup, with a single player campaign that apes just about every police drama you’d care to mention.

I am the law

Battlefield: Hardline takes the action of the traditionally large-scale series to the streets of America, as you’re cast as a Miami police officer, Nick Mendoza. Miami is in the midst of a major drug war, and this forms the basis of the game’s story. You team up with other officers to track down the drug supply. This leads you through the streets and criminal underbelly of Miami and beyond, facing all sorts of situations as you try to play the good guy, thanks to the series’ new addition of non-lethal actions.

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As a cop, you’re obviously armed, and can dispense justice the usual way, but you’re also able to surprise and subdue your enemies, slapping on the cuffs. This can be done throughout the story (even when you shouldn’t really be able to), and comes as a welcome change to the series, and the genre as a whole. Instead of the usual gung-ho “’Murica!” attitude where everyone not on your side dies, here you can actually play as a real good guy, trying to enforce the law, not act as its judge, jury, and executioner. At least, if you try, and try hard.

Still, despite Visceral’s promise that you can go through the game without killing, I doubt this is really true. Early on it’s easier to arrest people, but as the challenge increases, and more enemies are present, it’s harder and harder to use non-lethal options, and in some situations, it seems downright impossible. I’m sure people will manage to do so, with a lot of effort, but the option on non-lethal shouldn’t be this difficult. A challenge, yes, but without so much trial and error.

That said, although you may not be able to be non-violent all the time, I got plenty of enjoyment out of trying to play the good cop, taking perps into custody, and not into the morgue.

Alongside this new approach is the same core combat Battlefield has always excelled at, with great weapon physics, environmental destruction, and a selection of vehicle moments and high-drama sections that ensure you know this is a triple-A FPS release. As you’re a cop, there’s also a rudimentary investigation element, but this boils down to collectibles, rather than any real clue finding, which could have been a great addition.

Still, whilst some opportunities may have been missed, the campaign is very good, even if cut scenes incessantly wrestle control away from you, which can be immersion-killing in the extreme.

Captain cliché

Sadly, although the campaign plays well, and is undoubtedly the best of the bunch so far (even Bad Company 2, in my opinion), it’s also unabashedly clichéd. The developers have clearly watched hundreds of hours of movies and TV cop dramas, as the writing and dialogue of the game clearly shows. I found some of the dialogue cringe-worthy to say the least, and while it’s all voiced well, with good performances, I couldn’t shake the feeling of watching a poorly made drama. There’s even a “last time on…” when you resume the game. The early scene with Mendoza and his partner talking about getting lunch before they kick in a door, surely a nod to Pulp Fiction is, to me, a prime example of trying too hard, and ending up with a clumsy, awkward moment.

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Of course, some may actually like this style, and that’s fine. The game does do a good job of emulating the amalgamation of cop fiction it steals from, but I wasn’t a fan, and it just felt like uninspired writing.

Online robbery

As good as the story mode may be, it’s no surprise that the real meat of Battlefield: Hardline is its multiplayer. This is a Battlefield game, after all. Visceral has taken the heart of the game DICE has grown over the years, and instead of enhancing it with new features and whole new ideas, has refined it, molding the existing features into a new, more controlled end product.

Battlefield: Hardline‘s online mode attempts to bring more focus to the action, with smaller, more personal maps that make the most of the game’s features, including a far better use of destructible environments and cover. There’s still a ton of weaponry and powerful vehicles, despite the move to a more pedestrian level of action, but this is only enhanced by the smaller scale. New weapons are also purchased using in-game money, rather than being unlocked by accumulating XP, which fits in well with the mission goals. It all feels much more relatable.

Here you’re not fighting in nondescript deserts or bombed-out cities in the Middle-East, you’re in city streets, and fighting in places that look far more like home. It makes for a more involved game in some ways, and the underlying theme of robberies and money also helps keep things a little more grounded. It makes a change to be fighting for cold, hard cash, and not some faceless generals directing a pointless war.

The game modes on offer are decent, if not revolutionary, and most are slight spins on existing Battlefield and genre norms. Hotwire sees teams trying to capture vehicles, and heist has one team protecting a vault, whilst the other team has to break into it. They’re great fun, but also similar to many other past game modes. What’s more, other games now available arguably do the same thing better, so there’s the obvious comparison to Payday 2, and even GTA Online‘s new heists.

Face in a crowd

Battlefield: Hardline is a good game, there’s no denying that, but it has a problem in the lack of any real stand out features or justification for its existence. As a Battlefield game, it’s solid and the new setting is fine. But it still plays and feels like a Battlefield game for the most part, especially online. New additions, like arresting people, are still present in multiplayer, but are rarely used, and add little to the gameplay. So, whether you’re firing a US Army-issued M4 or a police-standard firearm, the game feels much the same, only your enemies aren’t the current eastern threat of the month fodder.

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Fortunately, although similarities may be present, Battlefield: Hardline‘s major strength is in how it physically executes its ideas and how it plays, and there’s little to complain about there. All game modes, be they online or off, are a joy to play, and in my experience, it’s certainly a far more polished launch that the last couple of Battlefield releases.

When all is said and done, Battlefield: Hardline is a Battlefield game through and through, so don’t expect a totally different experience. Instead, what we get is a more focused and fleshed out solo campaign, with the major component still being the online portion of the release.

It has some relatively new tricks, if not innovative ones, and it attempts to take the license in a new direction in terms of setting and approach. Let’s just hope this idea sticks, and the series continues to grow from its increasingly stale military roots.