There’s no way to talk about Battlefield Hardline, the first non-military spin-off in DICE and Electronic Arts’ FPS franchise, without first addressing Battlefield 4. From server connection problems to gameplay bugs, Battlefield 4 was an example of how not to launch an online-focused game. Yes, things got better eventually, but first impressions are everything.
It’s a good thing, then, that Battlefield Hardline arrives in a stable condition, or at least an extremely more stable condition than Battlefield 4. That isn’t to say DICE didn't do most of the legwork while fixing BF4, but many fans will want to know first and foremost whether Hardline “works.” It does, but purely from a technical level. However, whether the concepts explored within this cops vs. robbers spin-off work is up for serious debate.
While multiplayer has long been Battlefield’s bread and butter, single player has tried to sneak its share of the pie over the last few iterations. In most cases, past single player campaigns have been afterthoughts at best - passable attempts at replicating Call of Duty’s formula, albeit with larger play spaces and a free form approach. Battlefield Hardline, however, pares things down in search of delivering a more focused narrative. It’s easily Hardline’s most ambitious element, and will likely be its most polarizing.
Battlefield Hardline’s campaign casts players as Nick Mendoza, an up-and-coming Miami cop with a chip on his shoulder. The nuts and bolts of the narrative focus on Mendoza’s fight against the Miami drug trade, but the reach grows from there. By and large it’s a fairly obvious police corruption tale, and one with ambiguous aims. It seems Visceral’s goal is to make some bold claims about the morally grey nature of police work, but the end result falls wholly flat. As a matter of fact, few of Hardline’s characters resonate on any level, but simply serve surface level roles.
The story itself is told in episodic form, picking up with Nick at various points during the formulaic good-cop-fights-police-corruption tale. The storytelling is a smart design choice considering the bite-sized nature of the missions, and works well to keep things briskly paced. It also affords Hardline the freedom to take the story across the entire US, starting first in Miami and ending in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the landscape is presented in a fairly matter of fact way – hum drum urban streets, lackluster warehouses, clinical high rises – and does little to up the excitement.
Where Battlefield Hardline does try to cut its own path is with gameplay, which favors a more cautious, almost stealth-like approach. Sure, players can run into any situation guns blazing, but Mendoza’s role as a cop offers a new ‘Freeze’ mechanic for stealth takedowns. The mechanic is pretty simple: Mendoza flashes his badge from a distance, advances on the perp or perps (the ‘Freeze’ works on up to three enemies at a time), and provided he keeps his gun on target can then take them out of commission. It’s an admittedly peculiar mechanic for a franchise built on bombastic explosions and hails of gunfire - one made even more strange by the inclusion of vision cones and a detection meter - but for the most part it’s successful in breaking up the pace of gameplay. At the same time, the stealth approach isn’t all that engaging, and becomes quite tedious after a while. It’s a fine idea in principle, but is too monotonous to sustain an entire game.
Rest assured, that there are flashes of Battlefield’s core DNA in the form of scripted car chase sequences and a few explosive moments, but they feel in stark contrast to this more subdued approach. Even the collectibles in Hardline are focused on methodically examining areas, with Mendoza’s handy police scanner app, to find case file details. These details don’t factor into the main story, but instead fit into their own mini-storylines. In a way, these collectibles are some of Hardline’s most compelling detective-based elements, providing a clever motivation for exploring the levels.
In keeping with the police-focused spin, Battlefield Hardline’s multiplayer takes many of proper Battlefield’s key modes and repurposes them within this new theme. Basic concepts like capturing points, stealing items, protecting VIPs, or just eliminating the enemy team are all alive and well here, but they’ve been tweaked to fit the milieu. Hotwire, for example, turns capture points into vehicles, and creates an interesting high-speed car chase dynamic. Heist forces the robber team to break into a vault and extract the cash to two separate points, all while the cops are trying to stop them. And Blood Money puts a heap of cash in a central location, and lets the two teams run loose as they try to get as much into their vaults as possible.
For the most part, the modes add compelling wrinkles to pre-established Battlefield multiplayer concepts. They also bring a new motivation to the scenarios beyond the modern military “win the battle” approach, and in some cases are actually more successful. Blood Money, for example, makes more sense as a capture the flag type experience than two military outfits fighting for control of a piece of cloth.
Map selection is, for the most part, smaller than what was available in Battlefield 4, and is mostly serviceable. Like the campaign locales, the multiplayer settings are not what players will call inventive, but they support all facets of play: close quarters and long range. Some will even go so far as to say Battlefield Hardline’s maps look more like Battlefield 4 DLC, and they are not necessarily wrong in that description. It’s really the modes that are supposed to be the big differentiator here.
All the requisite Battlefield accoutrement are also on display, including an a la carte customization system that lets players purchase any weapons, attachments, and gear they want. Obviously, the better weapons will require some serious cash, but nothing feels too out of reach. Even so, the base level weapons and gadgets are plenty capable in the mean time. Battlepacks are also back, just in case there are any players who enjoy microtransactions. Again, nothing too revolutionary in terms of customization – plenty of features Battlefield fans will be familiar with.
While Battlefield Hardline may try to differentiate itself with a fully-fledged narrative and less aggressive gunplay, its design elements feel undercooked at best. Visceral Games tries to give Battlefield fans something different, but they don’t consider gamers’ interests at the same time. We’ve seen stealth done better and we’ve seen gritty cop dramas done better, so it’s hard to say Battlefield Hardline’s single player is successful.
Multiplayer gets by with some intriguing new modes, but it doesn’t deviate enough to bring new blood into the mix. Battlefield fans will find plenty to enjoy in Battlefield Hardline, but they would have been equally satisfied with a DLC expansion as well. In other words, don’t go into Battlefield Hardline expecting something different and you’ll likely come away satisfied. Actually, that’s a perfect way to sum up Battlefield Hardline as a whole: it’s another solid iteration for the fan base, but will do little to change naysayers’ feelings about the series.
Have you played Battlefield Hardline? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Battlefield Hardline is available now for PC, PS3, Ps4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 and PC copy for this review.