Like the Call of Duty franchise, Battlefield has been doing the same thing for a few years now, and some could argue that the result is becoming a bit stale. While Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare aimed to shake things up with futuristic weaponry and gadgets to spice up both the single-player and the competitive space, it still largely felt like the same ol’ Duty. But what if you took the typical Battlefield formula and engine and reworked it for a game of cops and robbers instead of macho military elites? Battlefield Hardline employs Visceral Games – the developer behind the Dead Space series – to do just that, and we’d say the results pay off. Well, to an extent.
In Battlefield Hardline you play as Nick Mendoza, an honest cop working the streets of Miami when he gets caught up in a mess of drug trafficking, corruption, and plenty of other police-related shenanigans. The story introduces a handful of memorable characters and takes the action all across the country, but for the most part, it’s what you would expect from a clichéd, destined-for-Saturday-afternoon-on-basic-cable cop flick. If you’re looking for The Departed or True Detective, you won’t find it here. This is something more akin to Bad Boys or CSI.
Perhaps the CSI comparison is the most fitting, because Hardline adopts a couple presentational choices to format itself like a television show. That means that the campaign is broken up into episodes, and when you leave or return to an episode, you’ll get a “previously/next time on Battlefield Hardline” video montage to catch you up on and tease plot details. That’s pretty much the length it goes to embrace a TV show appearance, though.
If you’ve spent time with Battlefield 4, you should instantly be at home with the controls, because Hardline feels almost exactly the same – they both run on the Frostbite 3 engine. What’s a little bit different, however, is the gameplay. By incorporating stealth into the mix and rewarding players with more XP for non-lethal means of dealing with a criminal presence, majority of the infiltration and escape missions beg you to be as silent as possible. There are a couple ways to do this, and they are: silenced weapons, a taser gun, stealth takedowns, and even flashing your badge at enemies so they surrender, allowing you to cuff them. We really, really enjoyed this aspect of the game, and we found the taser and cuffing route to commonly be our recipe to success. The stealth detection can be unpredictable at times, but luckily going in guns blazing is also an option; so even if you make a mistake and alert an enemy, you can still succeed. Stealth is rarely forced, and that feels like the right decision for this game. Plus, it’s a very basic approach to stealth, one that works much better in a mainstream action game like this than taking the Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid route.
As far as the actual missions go, there’s a whole ton of environmental diversity, and the scenarios you’re placed in are distinct and memorable. Whether you’re pushing Nick through a mall as a hurricane devastates the surroundings or you’re avoiding a manhunt by cautiously and quietly running through backyards in the dead of night, it’s one interesting and engaging situation after another. And instead of simply witnessing a set piece or interacting with QTEs, Hardline regularly makes you feel like a part of the spectacle. As opposed to the nearly on-rails feeling of recent Call of Duty games, there’s more freedom here to tackle each challenge how you want to or choose the path that you most prefer. It’s not utter freedom, but it’s more freeing than other FPS games.
But not everything is perfect in the campaign, unfortunately. Outside of the cop story clichés and the sometimes laughable dialog, there are random glitches and unpolished elements to put up with. Admittedly, none of this interferes with gameplay all that much, but it did catch our attention and it did keep things from being as smooth as they could’ve been. But we never came across anything that seriously messed up our wild ride, so that’s a big plus. In a way, Hardline gives the impression that it once existed for last-gen consoles and was refitted for a new-gen experience, and not every little tiny bit and piece was updated accordingly.
This is apparent when Hardline shifts from being one of the best looking games we've ever played to looking unfinished in a matter of seconds. Strolling through suburban streets of Miami at night is immersive, atmospheric, and effective, but when you catch a piece of environment that seems to be lacking a texture, for a moment or two that immersion is killed. These situations aren't as prominent as we anticipated they would be from early indicators, though they're consistent enough that they did slightly lessen our overall opinion of Hardline.
We’ll admit that we didn't fall madly in love with the campaign from the start, but after a few episodes we were strapped in tight for the rest of the ride. But our commitment wasn’t due to the story, no; it was a result of the actual missions themselves and the gameplay scenarios. Is this a must-play, best-of-the-best single-player experience? Not necessarily. Even though the theme shift does freshen up the formula and invite a couple new mechanics into the mix, this still feels a heck of a lot like Battlefield. But we did end up liking it more than the last two Battlefield and Call of Duty games, so that’s got to mean something. Basically, if you’re in it for single player and already like the franchise, Hardline is definitely worth playing. It’s hard to say for sure if the campaign alone is worth paying full price for, but we do think that it’s, at the very least, worthy of a weekend rental if you’ve got an itchy trigger finger.
So now that we've detailed our thoughts on the campaign, it's time to get into the multiplayer portion of Hardline, which is, regrettably, where our most significant criticisms arise from. With eight modes to choose from (seven if you lump the Conquest modes together), there's a decent deal of variety on the table. What drags things down in certain modes, however, is the manner in which respawns occur. Because the maps are designed to accommodate such a large number of players (up to 60), there's a sense of chaos that can't really be avoided; and since it's easy for teams of 30 people to get spread loosely around the map, that means enemy players will spawn all over the place, often right behind you. Cheap, shot-in-the-back deaths are typically a part of any FPS, unfortunately, but they've never seemed more common and frequent than they are in Hardline. Leveling up your character and obtaining new options for your loadout can make the whole experience a lot easier to swallow in time, but getting there might be a struggle. If you, like Liam Neeson in Taken, have a very particular set of skills, you might need to wait some time before your weapon of choice is unlocked. This is a fairly standard progression mechanic in modern shooters, but when you mix it with the spawning headaches previously mentioned, it can be more frustrating than usual.
But, if you can come to grips and adapt to the circumstances, it's possible to minimize potential deaths and enjoy the various game modes. Heist and Blood Money essentially play like capture the flag, requiring teams to gain control of an item in a map and deliver it to a marked location. In Hotwire mode, which was one of our favorites, two teams fight for ownership of a bunch of vehicles, racking up points the longer they remain in control — because these maps are fairly big, spawn kills were never an issue. Rescue and Crosshair have you participating in short matches where you have a single life, protecting or capturing hostages or informants depending on which side you're on. Basically, all of the modes revolve around teams, and a good deal of them feel like variations or combinations of capture the flag and classic Conquest. There's also Team Deathmatch if you want to go old school and focus exclusively on shootouts.
If you like Battlefield's signature brand of multiplayer chaos, then you'll probably get enough thrills here, though anyone hoping that Hardline would offer something especially fresh might be disappointed. Despite the spawn killing nonsense, there's a good time to be had playing cops and robbers; but it's hard to deny that there's a sense of familiarity that comes with all of it, even with the new modes. On a purely positive note, we didn't happen across a single server issue or connection error. With Battlefield 4 launching almost entirely broken and never really getting the fixes it required, it's good to know that EA and Visceral took the extra steps to ensure that didn't happen again.
While we weren't particularly impressed with Battlefield Hardline's multiplayer offering, we did like the intense ride that the campaign took us on. The story might be fairly throwaway, but the environments, set pieces, and the gameplay scenarios you'll often find yourself in are memorable and make up for the clichés and nonsensical plot details. When it comes to multiplayer, Hardline's slight mode shakeups don't mean much when the respawn system is such a mess. Granted there are maps and modes that don't suffer from this issue, but even at their very best, the various selections feel like minor tweaks on the usual formulas.
That said, there's still an audience of Battlefield fans that are going to get more than enough from this package, whether it's in single player or multiplayer. Our advice? Unless you have friends to play online with right away, wait for a price drop before pinning on your police badge or slipping into a ski mask. Hardline is good but it's not exactly a necessity. Hopefully the franchise will continue to take risks moving forward, because we do like what distinguishes Hardline from its predecessors; but a better sense of polish, refinement, and genuinely unique ideas are needed to make something truly special.