Walk the Line
Hardline is the best Battlefield since the Bad Company days?mainly because Visceral Games, the first studio to develop a Battlefield other than DICE, finally manages to free the single-player campaign from the confines of linearity and open it up in such a way that invites varied, tactical approaches.
Abandoning the series? trademark militaristic motif and global scale (be that in the past, present, or future), Hardline instead revolves around freshly promoted Miami-Dade detective Nick Mendoza, a man possessed with the righteous naïveté and moralistic certainties of youth and inexperience. In other words, a walking cliché. And as a drug war boils to the surface on the streets of Miami, Mendoza is joined by other bipedal, carbon-based clichés in a plot that doesn?t so much thicken as it does curdle. Plot beats plucked from the pages of the CBS Police Procedural Handbook?and handled with about as much subtlety as any given CSI spin-off?eventually lead to a series of all-too-predictable betrayals that land Nick on the wrong side of the law, quickly turning the cop show into a revenge flick.
Honestly, Hardline never manages to rise above mediocrity in its storytelling, which isn?t altogether a bad thing?it could be downright stupid, as Battlefield?s been in the past?but it also renders it incapable of rising above unremarkable. The shame of it is, had Visceral and EA not outright lied by billing this latest spin-off as a cop show?which the Justified-obsessed developers have repeatedly done?and had they not chosen to dress up levels as ?episodes? and suggested that they, in any way, followed the same narrative structure employed by television series, this lack of nuance could?ve gone overlooked.
The missed opportunity here is not having each episode act as a standalone story, like an actual police procedural, in which Nick and his friends on the force take down drug rings or arms dealers or human-trafficking operations. Inspired? Not so much. But a series of well-told, focused stories are less likely to buckle under their own weight, fit the mold better, and leave room for postlaunch continuation. It would?ve at least been novel and neat, instead of just another video game adventure in which the people you work for are super-shady.
Fortunately, the last thing most people care about when it comes to Battlefield is its narrative chops. And while the story framing the single-player campaign might not be engaging, at least the interactivity is markedly improved over its linear predecessors. Hardline trades in Battlefield 3 and 4?s soldier-strewn corridors for open arenas that, undeniably, borrow liberally from Far Cry 3?s design. Using a wildly advanced scanning device that I can?t rightly imagine any police department having the funds for, Nick can scout these spaces, tag enemies, and scope out the best route to take. For some, traditional guns-a-blazin? tactics might best apply. For others?especially the ones with Far Cry 3?style alarm boxes that ought to be disabled?Nick is better off flexing furtive feet over brawn.
To this end, the game offers a few new non-lethal tricks. Why Nick has a pocketful of spent bullet casings, I don?t know, but they do make for handy distractions when tossed?another of Hardline?s more obvious Far Cry 3 ripoffs. To Visceral?s credit, though, the developer isn?t bereft of original ideas. As a cop, Nick can flash his badge and ?Freeze!? up to three suspects at once?so long as he keeps his gun trained on them while cuffing each. It?s an interesting system that spices up stealth by allowing a forward-facing approach to non-confrontational playstyles, though it becomes a little absurd, logically, later when Nick has no shield to hide behind and instead commands acquiescence through the power of pointing.
Absurdities aside, the infusion of choice and options into Battlefield?s single-player finally puts it more in line, ideologically, with its multiplayer (something that?s always been as much about tactical deployment as being quick on the draw). And while not quite ?there? yet, in that pseudo-open-world way, it?s an undeniable improvement over the shooting slog that past games have wrung players through.
Longtime fans concerned with how all this talk of change and fresh ideas might affect the multiplayer they?ve sunk countless hours into for a decade now needn?t worry, though. While it?s sped up slightly and outfitted with new modes, Hardline remains tried and true to the Battlefield formula (and with 100 percent more totally functional servers as of launch night, as opposed to BF4!), despite swapping out military fatigues for civvies and blue uniforms. For you purists, Conquest still provides the size, scope, player count, and overall familiar full-scale-war experience for which the series is known. There?s also Team Deathmatch, if that?s your thing, though it remains, to me, a questionable fit for Battlefield.
That doesn?t mean Visceral solely paid lip service to those who demand carefully manufactured, safely packaged, same-y multiplayer from game to game. Of Hardline?s seven modes, five are new and either feel like a fine fit for the formula or a suitable departure that makes sense within the cops-and-robbers concept. Hotwire, Heist, and Bloody are all mid-sized 16-on-16 excursions that shake up the shooting with objective-based pursuits.
Hotwire?s Fast & Furious?style car-chase action is the biggest departure?so long as you play it right. Hoofing it is a one-way ticket to boredom. Everyone on your team needs to wrap their head around the buddy system?for one person to get all Ryan Gosling behind the wheel to maintain control over the mobile capture point that is the vehicle while others hang out the window and clip oncoming enemies.
Heist and Blood Money, meanwhile, are two sides of the same coin. Both involve the acquisition of cash, but where Heist sees cops trying to stop the criminals from getting away with loot, Blood Money drops a big ol? box in the center of the map for both sides to pilfer. After a time, this stops being less of a Family Double Dare challenge and becomes a concerted effort at robbing each other?s vaults.
What, for me, prove most compelling, though, are the new eSports-focused modes: Rescue and Crossfire. These also happen to be the smallest in scale, only 5-on-5. Both are functionally loving homages to Counter-Strike?s Hostage and VIP maps. As the name no doubt implies, Rescue requires cops either take out all the terrorists or return at least one of the hostages to a safe point. Crossfire is just VIP?one of the police players turns into a protective-custody character armed only with a handgun. The other four must guide the VIP safely to an extraction point. These decidedly un-Battlefield modes might not hold much appeal for traditionalists, but they do represent the best chance at roping in newcomers (which, in so many ways, Battlefield Hardline is designed to do).
Despite all the changes, additions, and improvements, I?m not sure if Hardline will prove as enduring as Bad Company. Maybe people will rally behind the subtle modifications to the multiplayer, perhaps even a few of its new modes. Certainly the opened-up single-player will be a jumping-off point for the campaigns in future installments. Visceral might not have reinvigorated this series like Sledgehammer did with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but they?ve certainly made more strides toward modernizing Battlefield than DICE has in years?and that?s a heckuva lot more impressive than doubling the player count and coining the term ?levolution.?
|Developer: Visceral Games ? Publisher: EA ? ESRB: M – Mature ? Release Date: 3.17.2015|
Hardline might not reinvent the wheel the series rolls on, but it certainly makes it spin a whole lot smoother. Speeded up gameplay, an opened-up single-player, and a robust suite of new multiplayer modes lends itself to the best Battlefield to date?though that’s not saying much, a decade later.
|The Good||Hotwire, Rescue, and Heist?great additions to the multiplayer options.|
|The Bad||Hauling ass across the map if there are no vehicles to spawn nearby or in.|
|The Ugly||The rote, predictable twists and paper-thin character development of the single-player campaign.|
|Battlefield Hardline is available on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4 using retail code provided by EA and through a multiplayer press event hosted by EA.|