Title: Battlefield Hardline
Developer: Visceral Games
Platforms: PS4/Xbox one/PC/PS3/Xbox 360
Price: $59.99 ($69.99 Deluxe Edition)
Let’s be honest, even some of the biggest video game series have to endure a lousy outing once in a while; Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassins Creed: Unity come to mind. The Battlefield franchise is no exception to this rule, as 2013’s Battlefield 4 released with an undercooked campaign and a plethora of technical issues on the multiplayer front that lasted months after its release.
I’ve easily invested well over two months of my life into playing the online portion of all of the Battlefield games released since the first Bad Company, and Battlefield 4 is by far my least favorite entry in the series. It was so bad that I completely gave up on the game a month or two after its initial release on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This wasn’t easy for me to do because, with the exception of other, more tactical shooter franchises such as Rainbow Six and SOCOM, Battlefield captures the importance of team-play better than Call of Duty ever has. Currently, it’s the closest thing we have to that style of team-based shooter.
In an effort to instill some new blood into the franchise — and because traditional series developer DICE is currently hard at work on the new Star Wars: Battlefront — EA decided to hand the Battlefield reigns over to talented development studio Visceral Games (Dead Space) for this latest installment. Were they able to recapture the series’ glory years with their cops and robbers themed spin-off? Let’s find out!
Part Gritty Engaging Crime Drama, Part Clichéd Uninspired Fodder
The campaign featured in Battlefield: Hardline is somewhat of a letdown, even when compared to the generic mess that was Battlefield 4’s single-player experience. It’s unfortunate, because I definitely dug the episodic cop-show approach that Visceral decided to go with here, meaning each chapter plays out as one episode.
You play as Vice Squad detective Nick Mendoza of the Miami Police Department, a do-gooder who just wants to be a part of justice and clean up the streets. Immediately, you and your partner Carl are thrown into a drug bust that goes horribly wrong and spills out into the streets. This leads to your Captain reassigning you to a new case, with a new partner, which involves locating cocaine broker Tyson Latchford in an effort to find out who’s responsible for the newest brand of coke on the streets, called “Hot Shot”.
Everything is set up for what could have possibly been the best Battlefield campaign since Bad Company 2, but instead, about halfway through the story, we are greeted with the typical tale of bad cops and ridiculous dreams of grandeur by our antagonist. It’s such a disappointment because, up until the point where Mendoza realizes everything is not what it seems and has to make a decision, the story is pretty engaging. The characters are still cardboard cutouts for the most part, with the exception of Tyson who has some of the better lines of dialogue and is the most fleshed out of the bunch — which, honestly, isn’t saying much. That said, the voice acting is still well done, and the gritty vibe of each episode from location to location keeps the overall tone of the game consistent, up until the final chapter anyways.
Visceral did make an attempt to change up the typical and overused “move here, breach that, shoot this, blow that up” formula used in previous Battlefield games, and they did that by adding in a stealth element that I found myself appreciating more and more. Not everyone that plays a campaign, regardless of if it’s a first-person shooter or not, is hoping to shoot everything in sight. Some folks like to change things up, and that’s where the stealth element comes into to play. Every enemy on the map has a vision cone, and if you get too close, an awareness meter begins to fill. When it starts flashing, you should probably take cover because Solid Snake you are not. To further drive home the point that you’re a cop and not a military trained killing machine, you have the option of surprising suspects by flashing your badge and shouting “Freeze” as you sneak up on them, which then allows you to handcuff them. Just be sure to keep your gun on them as you approach because, just like in real life, some of these bad dudes may try to get the drop on you should you look away or focus on one perp for too long.
The campaign could’ve been something unique and pretty damn good, but ultimately it’s the narrative that fails here; the solid voice acting, gritty feel, and overall excellent sound design (pro-tip: Make sure to turn on the audio setting “War Tapes”) that Battlefield games excel at can’t save the mediocre final product. Battlefield: Hardline looks good, regardless of the system you play it on, but neither version really stands out in terms of its graphical prowess. That’s not to say it’s a bad looking game — because it’s not — but it doesn’t look all that much better than Battlefield 4. Gameplay is par for the course here, thankfully, meaning the tight and responsive controls and shooting mechanics one would expect from a Battlefield game are present and accounted for. There were a few driving sections in the game that could’ve really amped up the intensity, but ended up feeling weak and flat. It was another missed opportunity for sure…much like the entire campaign itself.
Multiplayer With A Clean Record
If there was one part of Battlefield: Hardline that I was afraid to review, it was the multiplayer, not only because of the major technical issues that hampered the last installment, but because my experience with the Beta was less-than-stellar. Was this going to be nothing more than a reskinned version of Battlefield 4, or was Visceral Games going to be allowed to tinker with the tried-and-true series formula that has gone largely unchanged over the years? Thankfully, it appears EA has gone with the latter. I’m not going to address modes such as Large/Small Conquest, because even if you’ve only seen ten seconds of Battlefield gameplay in your entire life, chances are it was of Conquest. I’m going to focus mostly on the new modes that have made their way into Battlefield: Hardline.
There is one thing I want to mention before I address said game modes: I want to applaud EA and Visceral Games for doing an exceptional job releasing a multiplayer focused game in such good condition. I haven’t experienced any network issues since the game’s launch, and for those of you who were scarred by Battlefield 4’s “issues,” you know just how refreshing it’s been. I’m not talking about spawn issues (I’m looking at you Team Deathmatch), because those do exist; I’m talking about constantly being disconnected, rubber-banding, lag, and everything else that ruined the last game. None of that exists here, and you have to give credit where credit is due.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, the biggest changes I’ve noticed in Hardline’s multiplayer are the size of the maps, the increased focus on ground combat, and the way the game handles explosive projectiles. RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades, or “those big bazooka things,” for those not in the know) are no longer a part of the progression system, and you can’t add them to your load-outs. Instead, both regular anti-personnel RPGs and anti-air RPGs are scarcely scattered around the maps. This prevents RPG spamming, and puts all of the focus on gun skills. Sure, there are smaller grenade launchers that you can unlock in one of the game’s four classes, but even then, it’s not likely everyone is going choose the role of Mechanic just to spam grenades. As a team, you will want to know where each RPG is located so that, in the event the other team just happens to have the greatest Battlefield helicopter pilot on earth, you’ll know where the answers to your problem lie.
Even though the maps are smaller in scale when compared to previous Battlefield games, the verticality of the included maps makes up for the smaller combat zones. Just about any rooftop can be reached by parachute from above, or the newly added grappling hook from below, which allows squads to benefit from the element of surprise. I think the smaller maps and lower vehicle counts help put the focus back on ground combat and how you handle a weapon; it allows for more heated encounters and ambushes for the gun-nuts, and rewards those who find other paths to their objectives by flanking. You still have to take into consideration the occasional stud that lives in a helicopter or one of the armored transport vehicles making their way around the map, but it’s been rather refreshing to not have to worry about tanks and RPGs from all angles. I’m sure there are Battlefield enthusiasts who will scream foul at these omissions, but I’m not one of them.
There are a handful of new game modes that have found their way into Battlefield: Hardline, and they are a welcome addition in my opinion. Heist is where the criminals have to break into two vaults and return two bags of money back to their helicopter to win. In order to prevent the criminals from doing so, the cops must kill the bag carrier and then stand near the bag for a set amount of time so that it returns to the vault. If this sounds a lot like Capture the Flag, then you pretty much know what Heist is all about. Hotwire is a fresh take on Conquest, where there are five points on the map that each team needs to hold down in order to drain the other team’s ticket count. The catch here is that the five points are all vehicles, and the only way you can capture them is by driving really fast for as long as you can. It’s a pretty intense mode, which often results in some pretty chaotic vehicular combat, and feels right in line with the cops and robbers theme.
The last two modes that I want to address are Rescue and Crosshair, two modes that are obviously geared towards the e-Sports audience. These are the two most entertaining and intense game types offered in Hardline. Each of these modes sees the player count drop to five on both sides with respawns disabled, three minute timers, and a best-of-nine, round-based format. Crosshair tasks four cops with protecting and extracting an informant (also controlled by a human player and armed with a Desert Eagle handgun) who’s the target for the five criminals. Rescue is similar, but instead of an informant, five cops must go in and rescue one of two hostages that are being held captive by five criminals. The level of communication required here is integral to your team’s overall success. Three minutes doesn’t sound like a long time, but you never feel rushed to the point where you can’t coordinate a solid plan of attack with your team — especially since the extraction vehicles are nearby. If you’re into the old school tactical modes found in games like Counter-Strike or SOCOM, you’ll be right at a home with these two game types.
Battlefield: Hardline needed to deliver a disaster-free multiplayer experience right out of the gate this year, and I’m happy to report that, with the exception of the busted spawn logic in Team Deathmatch, Visceral Games and EA have done exactly that. Even though the visuals haven't improved much over Battlefield 4, there are enough fresh ideas here to prevent this from feeling like a lazy expansion. Not only has the multiplayer been running abnormally smooth, but the new game modes offer a fresh take on the cops and robbers theme, without straying too far from the series’ winning formula. I can see myself spending plenty of time online going forward (I’m already at 25 hours played!), and that says a lot considering how much the last installment burned me. I wish the campaign could’ve been better, as the first few episodes really showed promise in delivering an edgy, gripping tale of cops and drug dealers, but instead the story becomes nothing more than predictable and trite. I guess after Battlefield 4, Visceral Games felt it was more important to get the multiplayer component back on track, and in that respect, they’ve done a fantastic job.
- Incredible sound design
- Nearly flawless online performance
- Great new multiplayer modes are a welcome addition
- Promising, gritty campaign...
- ...completely falls apart in the 2nd half
- Team Deathmatch spawn system is totally broken
- Visuals haven't improved since Battlefield 4