Battlefield Hardline – Review
Xbox One, 360, PS4, PS3, PC
It may be that Battlefield: Hardline may be the biggest surprise of the year for me. Not because it will be the best game to come out in 2015 or because it radically changed the way the multiplayer works in these sort of games. No the biggest surprise from my perspective is that Battlefield: Hardline gave me something that has been lacking from Battlefield and Call of Duty games since possibly the original Modern Warfare. It gave me a single player campaign that I cared about.
I think the best way to describe Hardline is Miami Vice set in the modern era. In fact it wears this influence proudly. All of the classic cop show cliché’s are woven into this entertaining story. Dirty cops, drugs, the swamps around Miami and even the classic “Drug Kingpin with a heart of gold” makes an appearance. The use of these tropes could have easily been the undoing of the story but instead it comes off as a love letter to the genre. I would even go so far as to say that the Hardline story is more entertaining than the recent(ish) Miami Vice film reboot. The story is told using an episodic structure similar to games like Alan Wake so it adds even more to the feeling that this is an interactive cop show as opposed to a straight up shooter. There were moments when I had to suspend my disbelief to enjoy what was happening but I think that is fair to say about most similar stories be they TV shows, movies or video games.
However the thing that sets the single player apart isn’t the story it is the gameplay. Gone are the scripted events and levels that drag the player from one explosion to the next. In their place are open levels that encourage a range of tactics and approaches. I think the game that most easily compares to Hardline is Crysis 3. The feel of the open levels, the ability to scout the area and tag enemies and the option to play as stealthily or as aggressive as I wanted are all features that like they had been lifted from Crytek’s sci-fi shooter. There are however additions that are Hardline specific. For example I could arrest the various goons by flashing my badge and handcuffing them (with an unlimited supply of handcuffs). This was by no means an easy way to go about things as it only works for groups of 3 enemies or less and if I was spotted arresting someone all hell would break loose. It was however worth the effort. Playing as a police officer I was rewarded for using non-lethal tactics. Of course sometimes I was forced to pull out my gun and take down drug dealers but those instances felt like the exception and not the norm.
To assist with the multiple gameplay styles on offer I had a range of weaponry and gadgets at my disposal that would make James Bond jump with glee. The focus on non-lethal takedowns meant I had some quite unique choices such as tasers and batons as well as grappling hooks, zip lines and first aid packs. There were options however if I was planning all-out attack with extra body armour and some meaty machine guns available in my gear pack. My favourite setup was a taser gun for non-lethal takedowns, a grappling hook to get to the best vantage spots and to sneak in back doors, a silenced pistol and an M4 Assault rifle for when the you know what-hits-the fan. This customisation only further separates the game from recent Battlefield campaigns and reinforces the amount of work that Visceral has put into the solo side of the game.
But what would a Battlefield game be without multiplayer? Funnily enough in the case of Hardline I feel that this is probably its weakest component. Not because it is broken in anyway or it isn’t fun but because it is essentially more of the same. The multiplayer here could really have been an expansion pack to Battlefield 4. The classic modes such as Rush and Conquest are back, though they have been given a cops and robbers lick of paint. The most interesting modes are the new modes specifically built with the cops and robbers motif in mind. Hotwire is a big attraction and it involves teams taking control of speeding cars and is the closest thing to all out mayhem you are likely to see in the game. There are also some great new 5 v 5 modes that tone down the bombastic nature of Battlefield into something a bit more organised and personal. These modes are particularly enjoyable with a close group of friends as team work is essential. The biggest problem here is that the new modes are largely unplayed online with everyone just playing Rush and Conquest. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy Rush/Conquest but they are the same modes I have been playing for the last 3 Battlefield games and it saddens me that the general population is avoiding the new modes in favour of the familiar.
If you had asked me last year if I would ever be recommending a Battlefield game for its single player component I would have told you that you were mad. But that is exactly what I find myself doing. I really connected with the story and approach that Visceral took to the solo portion. It nails the feeling of being a “TV Cop” and encourages a tactical approach. This is such a breath of fresh air after the past couple of Battlefield campaigns that I want to stand up and applaud. Add to this the great, if familiar, Battlefield multiplayer and I have no problems in recommending Hardline to shooter fans everywhere.