The Badge vs The Brawn
It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited over a Battlefield game. It’s also been a damn long time since I’ve had a lot of fun in multiplayer too, but Battlefield Hardline is an example of how taking the formula in new directions can lead to interesting and exciting results. Developer Visceral Games has given a new lease of life to the Battlefield franchise, and it’s been long overdue.
It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed playing an FPS with a Battlefield or Call of Duty title slapped on it, and while I managed to get my hands on Hardline’s beta twice before release and enjoyed what I’d played – I wasn’t entirely convinced. After a weekend filled with Hardline’s single-player and multiplayer components, my view has completely changed. This is a Battlefield game akin to the days of Bad Company, with a fun story and engrossing new multiplayer modes. Amongst the minor caveats, it’s exactly what the franchise has needed.
Battlefield Hardline has been built on three key pillars according to Visceral – Story, Speed, and Strategy. Coming from the Dead Space series, I was hopeful of a good story for Hardline and I wasn’t disappointed. Hardline’s single-player isn’t anything genre defining, but it knows what it is in the space of things. Taking control of Nick Mendoza, a cop in Miami, you’re tasked with taking down a drug ring and bringing justice to the streets of a war-torn city. It’s a good premise mixed with solid, albeit cliche’d writing, but the way it plays out as if it were an episodic television series being binge watched by someone on Netflix makes up for its misfortunes. The entire presentation of the story is fairly top notch, and while the characters are mostly one-dimensional, it really works to break up the series’ awful attempts at crafting a single-player story worth playing in previous iterations. All of the cliches you’d come to expect in a cop drama are here – misfortune, injustice, deception – the whole thing. But for what it is, Hardline’s story is an enjoyable addition to the package and I really appreciated its approach.
Hardline’s story is very different in the way it approaches things in comparison to other Battlefield games, with a heavy focus on stealth being the key to progression and success. The campaign took me around six hours to completely wrap up including the time it took to hunt down most of the collectables with a police scanner that doubles as an efficient way of tagging enemies. While you navigate the ten levels in Hardline’s campaign, utilising the mini-map becomes key. Enemies have a cone of vision, and it’s seen on the mini-map as you make your way through a level and utilising this is important. Enemies can be alerted by loud noises, fights and so on, and if they spot you before you can flash your badge and arrest them, things generally fall into utter chaos. You can approach enemies, flash your badge and arrest them with the tap of the L1 (or equivalent) button. While making the arrest, a red meter indicating their danger level can fill up depending on where your gun is pointing. Keeping it locked on an enemy while you make your arrest is important, and if you’re arresting more than one person keeping the gun on a constant rotation is pivotal to not having things spin out of control. When the red meter fills up, enemies start firing and things fall into chaos, which is not what you want.
When things do get feisty — and they will at some point — cover becomes your greatest ally, as these enemies hit harder than you’d come to expect thanks to the bullet sponges we’ve been used to seeing in previous Battlefield titles. Enemies offer up a serious challenge in Hardline – they’ll flank you, they’ll lob a gas grenade or two and they won’t stop firing until you either take them out or they take you out. The game becomes in some instances a version of cat and mouse, with you being rewarded Expert Points for sneaking around and arresting enemies that in turn allow you to purchase new weapons and attachments for future missions. The only problem with this system is that unlocking new weapons and attachments won’t necessarily help you since you’re using stealth most of the time, basically making the big weapons ineffective unless you want to go guns-blazing.
Battlefield Hardline certainly doesn’t look bad, but it isn’t a graphical spectacle either. Utilising Battlefield 4‘s Frostbite 3 engine, the game looks solid but features quite a lot of pop in and more than a few instances of washed out textures. I’m quite a fan of the way the game is colour graded, as it really compliments the tone and mood Hardline pushes, but other than that this isn’t a title that’ll wow you with its graphics or presentation in-game.
“Everything from weapons like the MPX to the AK-74U feel like they pack a significant punch, whilst the vehicles have also had a great tune up and control with precision.”
The Battlefield series has always been known for having tight controls and really enjoyable gameplay, and that’s certainly back in Hardline. Everything from weapons like the MPX to the AK-74U feel like they pack a significant punch, whilst the vehicles have also had a great tune up and control with precision, providing some spectacular action during the most intense of situations. I’ve always preferred the way Battlefield handles its controls over its competitors, and Hardline certainly makes no concession.
On top of the single-player, Hardline’s multiplayer is certainly a treat. Having spent a fair amount of time in game testing out the servers, the modes and what weapons do the most damage, I’m really quite impressed. Visceral’s done a solid job in keeping the servers up while the demand flooded in during the game’s first public weekend and I didn’t experience many problems at all. Multiplayer still has its fair share of glitches, but none are game breaking in any way. In fact, most of the glitches I’ve come across I’ve found entertaining purely because I was just having a great time with the game. I had one instance of game breaking lag, but it was fixed within a couple of seconds and a well-timed heist ensued.
Battlefield Hardline has a slew of new multiplayer modes to jump into, of which Hotwire is my personal favourite. Hotwire plays out almost like a mobile version of Conquest as each team is tasked with taking a number of marked cars and driving them around the map at a certain speed to bleed enemy tickets. It’s fun, fast paced and at times packed full of classic Battlefield moments. Other modes that are worth mentioning include Heist, which tasks a team with cracking a vault and stealing a significant amount of cash and having it extracted via helicopter while the other team does everything in their power to stop them, and Blood Money, which has teams attempting to transport money to their respective drop off zones. Rescue, a 5v5 competitive one-life-only mode in which criminals are tasked with defending hostages while the cops attempt to rescue them, is also a tense affair that was particularly enjoyable to dive into. There’s also classic Conquest, Crosshair and Team Deathmatch included in the package as well.
On the note of Team Deathmatch, a mode I really took to in previous Battlefield games, the decision to put 64 players on a small part of a map and have-at-it not only bewilders me, but it’s really damn frustrating to endure. I’m not sure what the decision behind this was, but even at 20 players on each side, the maps are completely full and it’s absolute chaos. Spawns are atrocious in Team Deathmatch due to the fact that there’s nowhere particularly safe to spawn because of how many players are on the map at the same time, and for those wanting to enjoy the smaller, squad-based TDM seen in previous Battlefield titles, unfortunately you’re going to be left disappointed. I really wanted to like this mode, but I just can’t see the reasoning behind this decision. It really is just utter chaos.
Battlefield games have always been known for their incredible sound design and score and Hardline delivers with aplomb. Hardline sounds like a true Battlefield game, there’s no doubt about it, and mixing in a range of great tracks during both the single-player and multiplayer portions of the game solidifies an already excellent Battlefield package.
Visceral’s first foray into a full-fledged Battlefield game is excellent, with a surprisingly enjoyable yet cliche’d campaign and a great amount of new multiplayer content. Battlefield Hardline is a great new direction for the series and for the first time in a long while I’m really enjoying my time in a Battlefield game. While the game still has its downsides and I’m still not entirely sure what is going on with Team Deathmatch, Battlefield Hardline is an example of how changing up a well known formula can lead to great success.
Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: EA Games
Platforms: PS3, PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC