Battlefield: Hardline has been billed as a new take on the series by Visceral of ‘Dead Space’ fame. Shifting the setting from war-torn countries to the streets of the USA and swapping out opposing armies for cops and robbers is their way of stamping their mark on what was at risk of becoming a stale title. It’s definitely worked and changed things up enough to be entertaining, but it’s not quite what we were expecting or hoping for.
The campaign is incredibly peculiar. It looks pretty gorgeous, as you would expect from anything put out on Frostbite, with character models and facial animations deserving special recognition. It follows the story of a new vice cop on the streets of Miami as he becomes embroiled in everything you’d expect from an action cop film. This definitely is based on action cop films. There’s surprisingly little drama in this, but a huge amount of gunfire, ridiculous car chases, casual trips to the other side of the continent for no other reason than a change of scenery and even a prolonged disaster scene. In many of the missions you would be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally loaded a Battlefield 4 map up as you make your way across rooftops, sniping guards and then picking up an AK to mow down waves of reinforcements, some of them on the back of trucks with mounted machine guns. There’s some nods to the genre it’s supposed to be part of, there’s no grenades and you don’t tend to carry out much heavy weaponry, but the body count is still beyond belief. Or at least it can be.
The most compelling part of the new campaign is the new focus on Stealth. You can sneak around, throw shell casings (that you carry an infinite supply of) to cause distractions and even shout people down and arrest them instead of taking them on directly. You can intimidate up to three people at once and this is a brilliant (if unbelievable) mechanic, allowing you to take down entire drug operations without ever firing a shot. The stealth is wonky and far too forgiving, even on the hardest unlockable difficulty, hardline, you can still arrest one group while a group fifteen feet away don’t pay the slightest bit of attention. But with extra rewards for arresting certain crooks and whole difficult sections completely missable if you simply don’t cause a fuss, it’s a nice twist on the game which made it entertaining for us from start to finish.
A mission at the very end gives you a huge amount of freedom as you assault an island mansion (as the police do on a daily basis) and you can use ziplines, grappling hooks and more to simply sneak right to the main enemy without ever being scene. Of course you could just murderise everyone, but it’s important that you have a choice. We only wish Visceral had been braver and made this kind of freedom possible in every map instead of the mostly linear corridors you really end up with.
Multiplayer is of course the main draw and Hardline is the most refreshing entry in the series since Bad Company 2. Conquest is back and exactly as you’d expect, but the new modes such as Heist, Hotwire and Blood Money really provide the meat of this title. In all modes the lack of easily obtainable heavy weapon and vehicles is keenly felt, with no real landmines or rocket launchers other than those you can load from the back of a car or find on the map. This leads to some interesting little moments where police will park up somewhere, run to get weapons out of the boot and then get into position. It’s a small touch but it helps the illusion of this being a police game and adds to the immersion somewhat.
Similarly, the most immersive element to the whole game is the use of car radios. The driver can select the music and with an excellent (although limited) soundtrack, you too can now bomb across the Everglades beeping your sirens to Sound of Da Police.
Heist is the replacement for Rush and tasks the criminals with blowing up walls or vaults to access two bags, then extracting at two different points before they run out of tickets. Unlike Rush you tend not to get stuck in one particular chokepoint and each map offers new problems and tactics for consideration. In some like Derailed you can try to get the bags up to a helicopter to fly back to your destination, in others like Downtown you’re likely to be fighting around elevators and in between skyscrapers as snipers finally become useful. If the police destroy an escape helicopter a new escape route is selected which keeps everyone on their feet and prevents each game from getting too stale.
Hotline works like conquest but each point is a vehicle that must be kept above a certain speed to score points. This brings out the best and most ridiculous in the game as you hurtle over ramps in an eighteen wheeler while vans full of police rain down hell upon you only to drive into a building site and explode as a teammate jumps off a bike and gets them with a rocket. Occasionally it can turn into a procession when your team owns every vehicle, but that’s entertaining in itself as you get a little restless and start seeing how spectacular you can make your route around the map.
At its heart, Hardline is just another Battlefield game. It’s unlikely to win over new people to the series, and due to leaving the military world (at least superficially) it’s bound to lose a few fans. But taken on its own merits, Hardline is a hell of a game and one we’re having a huge amount of fun with. Heartily recommended.