Visceral games had a daunting task on their hands when they were given the reigns for the latest Battlefield game. But rather than attempt another military shooter, they've come up with a fresh angle for the series' single player campaign and the online multiplayer by infusing a cops and robbers vibe.
We'll start with the campaign, as it's always nice to get a feel for the guns before hopping online. That said, DICE's last two campaigns in Battlefield 3 and 4 have been terrible, you'd barely know that the same team were behind the excellent Battlefield: Bad Company games. Visceral know their way around a campaign though, having developed the excellent Dead Space series.
You are Nick Mendoza, a Miami cop on the trail of the newest drug in town. The game plays out in TV episode-like chapters and as such has lots of ideal stopping points if you want to play through it in smaller chunks.
Seeing as you're a cop rather than a military dogsbody, the whole 'shoot first, ask questions later' ethos is long gone. You're able to arrest perps, by flashing your badge (hold L1) and approach up to three enemies at once if you have the drop on them. When approaching groups while brandishing your badge, you have to keep aiming at each one individually if you notice them reaching for their weapons. You'll cuff them one by one and they won't reach for their guns while you're doing so, which is nice, if not a bit ridiculous. When you arrest them, they'll fall asleep too, which is especially strange seeing as Nick doesn't thwack them round the head or anything.
These realism annoyances aside though, this new-found stealth mechanic actually feels great to play. Huge areas of the game are designed so you can arrest everyone if you take them down during specific patrol routes or use empty shell casings to distract guards away from groups. Your minimap also features a MGS-style cone vision, so it's easy to see what you can get away with when sneaking around.
These non-lethal takedowns give you extra points towards your Expert ranking, which makes getting clean sweeps all the more rewarding. Oddly though, your main rewards for not killing people are better guns. Guns for shooting people in the face. Until they're dead.
Odd, but actually much appreciated. You're going to fuck up every now and then and you'll want some decent guns to rely upon once you do and the enemies swarm to you. The gunplay is spot on throughout and a neat peak mechanic makes shooting from cover a breeze. Unlike most Battlefield games, I found myself using my sidearm much more than the assault rifle-esque weapons. This was because I found ammo would run dry all too easily for the guzzling autos, and the recoil was particularly aggressive. Plus, playing with a pistol seemed like a better match for the whole cop show vibe that Visceral are going for.
It didn't take long for me to settle into Hardline's story. I was in from the get go really as Nick and his new partner drove around Miami's rougher districts one night in an excellent scene-setting mission. The cast produce a likeable bunch of characters and include familiar faces like Benito Martinez (of The Shield and House of Cards), Travis Willingham (plays Delsin's brother, Reggie in Infamous: Second Son), Adam Harrington (LA Noire) and Kelly Hu (Arrow, Cradle to the Grave). Most of them have played exceptional roles in cop dramas before, adding a real sense of quality via the highly-detailed faces and fun performances.
The writing isn't troubling The Shield any time soon though. Chances are, you'll spot every twist, backstab and betrayal a mile away. The way the story descends into huge gunfights in larger areas instead of tightly-designed locations like the earlier slums, exploring the everglades or the dustbowl trailer park is a bit of a letdown after the unique identity the early chapters forge for the game.
By the time the final credits rolled though, I realised that this was easily the best Battlefield campaign I'd played in years. The stealth is immensely satisfying, using a scanner to search for crims with an arrest warrant for a bigger bonus gave me reason to be very careful, and when things went bad the guns and massively destructible environments were a fun reminder of the Bad Company glory days. You can bash your way through thin office walls when enemies are defending a corridor for example and one scene in a desert garage shredded the walls to pieces in a gloriously intense gun battle that'll live long in the memory.
You really should try out the campaign, as I know many of you simply dive straight into the multiplayer with games like Battlefield and Call of Duty. Hell, it's your money, but you'd be missing out by ignoring it.
So what does Visceral's cop show vibe mean for the multiplayer? It's cops vs robbers. Your usual modes like TDM and Conquest are naturally present. But it's the new modes that you'll want to dive into.
For the most part Hardline's maps are much smaller and focus on tightly-designed team events. In Heist the crims will attempt to break into vaults by blowing up the door, grabbing bags of cash and making their way to the extraction points and the cop players will naturally try and defend the vault until the time runs out.
Blood Money sees a central pile of cash that the cops and crims will try and take back to their respective vans. Both sides are able to raid each other's vans or take out any cash carriers too. Heist and Blood Money will feel very familiar to CTF veterans.
Other modes include trying to protect/take out specific player targets or extracting AI hostages with no respawns available for either team. These can be incredibly intense, but matches generally favour teams on the defensive side. If you're playing a best of nine matches, one team will play defence four times in a row, making it very difficult for the other team to take the win by the time they get to defend.
If you're after fun, and easy money to buy the upgrades, you'll be spending a lot of time in Hotwire. This is essentially Conquest, but the capture points are specific vehicles. Drive around in these cars or trucks to keep earning points while your teammates lean out the window shooting at the other team or repairing your car on the move (if your engineer has a welding torch). It's fast, easy to get in to and the most fun I had when playing Battlefield: Hardline online.
My fun went soft though for some of Hardline's other aspects. Weapons are horribly expensive and the cops and crims don't share weapons, so you'll buy a neat gun, but only be able to use it half the time you play when you're randomly assigned to be a cop or criminal. It would have made much more sense to at least bundle two guns per purchase so you could remain balanced.
Choppers are included, but tanks and jets haven't made the cut, which makes sense given the status of the two factions. The thing is, having tanks and jets is fun and Hardline feels a bit scaled down in their absence. In past titles, there was always something for you to be doing apart from shooting, but the overall focus this time is certainly on the gunplay with many indoor environments around banks and so on. It's telling that the larger maps with wider access to vehicles are much more enjoyable.
A mixed bag for the multiplayer then. The slow rate new weapons are unlocked will frustrate and many modes feel like variations on old modes and the smaller maps don't' really suit Battlefield's style -that's pure Call of Duty territory. The larger maps, even with reduced vehicle types, are much more fun though and Hotwire mode should become a series staple from now on.
It's worth pointing out that the online action is running brilliantly compared to the awful launch months that Battlefield 4 suffered through. I've had no problems connecting to matches, and haven't experience much lag at all. The initial installation/download time for the PS4 version, especially digital versions, has been a problem for many though.
- Fun and polished campaign
- Great cast
- Smooth multiplayer action
- Campaign plot is laughably thin
- Takes ages to unlock items in MP
- Objective matches favour defenders too much
The Short Version: Against all the odds, it's the single player campaign that's proved to be Battlefield: Hardline's biggest selling point. Trying to play through as a 'good cop' by arresting baddies instead of filling them with lead is very rewarding. But the gunplay is as fun as ever if you want to play that way too. The multiplayer feels scaled down due to the smaller maps and the heist and assassination missions generally favour the defenders too much. Hotwire's car chases are essential though and will hopefully become a series regular.
7 - GOOD: Some sites seem to think that the halfway point between 1-10 is 7. This is not the case. It should be noted that 7 is not just a perfectly respectable score, it's a good score. A 7 is not an indication of failure, nor is it the mark of a bad, poor or even average game. These are titles that can be considered very worthwhile, but maybe come with a caveat. Frequently the domain of the well-made-if-rather-conventional brigade.
Platform: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 | X360 | XO | PC
Developer: Visceral Games
Be sure to read our Battlefield: Hardline Multiplayer tips guide.