Editor’s Note: We apologize for the delay in getting this review in front of our readers. Unfortunately, for personal reasons Kyle wasn’t able to complete his review as quickly as both he and we had hoped; but also we wanted to ensure that due to the contrasting sides of Visceral’s single and multiplayer modes that we took plenty of time to evaluate both sides of the equation; with that in mind, we present our final review of Battlefield: Hardline for your enjoyment.
I wanted to take my time with Battlefield: Hardline. It’s not that Visceral Games’ latest shooter is that huge or even difficult, but more so that it exists almost as two games smashed into one. On the one hand we have a stealthy, crime drama single player campaign; and then on the other, we have a Battlefield-style multiplayer mode retooled with a fresh “cops and robbers” motif. These two modes are so different that at times I felt like I was playing two different games that merely shared a start menu with each other. Perhaps Visceral intended this to create a broader appeal with different types of gamers or maybe the campaign mode just evolved into a more focused narrative through design decisions. Either way, the two modes are a far cry from each other in both feel and enjoyment.
Let’s begin with the single player campaign. For Hardline, Visceral wanted to get away from the standard military theme of previous Battlefield games and move into new territory. Enter cops and robbers. For the single player campaign players assume the role of Detective Nick Mendoza, the most white bread cop to ever walk the mean streets of Miami. Nick finds himself in the middle of a drug war, crooked cops, and gangland warfare as he struggles to upload the law and dish out steaming piles of justice! As his tasks become increasingly unorthodox, Nick will have to decide what side of law he truly stands on. It’s a cliché premise that ultimately leads to a dry and boring experience.
Hardline‘s story is presented in a stylized, episodic format that mirrors popular television crime drama shows – complete with “Next time on Hardline…” preview bumps between levels. Honestly, this is the best part about the single player experience in general. Alone in the Dark did a similar thing back in 2008, and while both games are as far from each other as you can get, it’s an effective technique which helps to set the scene for the next stage and keeps the narrative moving along at a decent clip.
The campaign mode really does feel like you’re playing through a season of something like CSI: Miami or The Glades. It’s not just in the preview bumps where this feeling comes through, but also in the story progression and dialogue. There are some predictable twists and turns, a spattering of interesting secondary characters, corny dialogue, and enough faceless yet stereotypical goons to create the feeling of any cop show you’ve ever watched. The motif comes off as fun, but the idea of preview bumps can wear thin after a few sessions, especially when it forces you to watch one when your trying to exit the game.
The design structure of Hardline‘s single player campaign is where it begins to stumble. The overall idea seems to be you can sneak through missions and play more like a cop or shoot up everyone and play more like a criminal. The thing is, it’s never really beneficial to play all shoot shoot, bang bang. You get more points and unlocks by sneaking around and arresting suspects than you do for simply busting a cap and cooking fools. It creates kind of an odd parallel too when you consider the unlocks are mostly weapons or weapon mods which the game seems to suggest you not use. Maybe it’s built for multiple playthroughs in that way, but the design seems to be a bit disjointed.
Gameplay wise, Hardline‘s single player mode and multiplayer mode both run smooth and buttery. Controls are responsive and button mapping is done in standard Battlefield FPS style. Old vets of the series will be able to pick up Hardline and run with it while newcomers should find it easy to figure out especially if they have played any FPS games before. Standard yet effective. If it isn’t broken don’t fix it, am I right?
Aside from the nitty-gritty, I have one HUGE issue with Hardline‘s campaign mode. I like to call my problem The Magic Badge. For some reason, Mendoza’s police badge (or later on his mystical index finger) commands so much respect that every single heavily armed, ruthless, cop-killing criminal in Miami will cower before it almost instantly. No matter the situation, regardless of the odds, players just have to creep up close to a group of up to 3 bad guys clad in body armor and armed with automatic weapons, whip The Badge out with confidence, and BOOM surrendering thugs. It’s absolutely ridiculous.
Nowhere ever, even on T.V., does this happen. In fact, it’s probably something that could get a cop killed in real life. It’s like “Hey, lawless murderer! You have me out gunned and surrounded but look at my shiny badge!”
I understand it’s a gameplay mechanic and all that, but come on. It’s little things like this that ruin games for me. Hardline is solid for the most part gameplay wise and everything so the devil is in the details. I simply can not believe that the tactic I’m encouraged to use would actually work at all. This makes the games logic seem really stupid and it becomes hard for me to really get into Hardline’s game space. Maybe if it weren’t such a constant tactic or it didn’t work every time it’d be better, but as it stands it makes the single player mode feel ridiculous.
Hardline, fortunately, finds its footing with multiplayer. Some multiplayer Battlefield staples are back such as Team Deathmatch and Conquest modes which work about as well as previous Battlefield installments with some balance issues that hopefully will be patched out over time. Online play feels familiar to the series but a bit more streamlined with smaller maps and shorter matches in certain game modes such as the awesome Hotwire mode.
Hotwire mode is basically Conquest with mobile capture points. Cops and robbers fight each other to secure marked vehicles and then drive them at a certain speed around the map to capture them and deplete enemy tickets. This mode is insane. It’s pretty much the only gametype I play in Hardline now and not because because Conquest isn’t any fun but because Hotwire makes the game feel like an action movie. Cars are jumping over crumbled buildings with rockets whizzing past them, random gun battles erupt almost all around with people trying to capture the vehicles, the near constant sounds of engines and explosions, and, of course, sweet car chases everywhere. It’s almost everything I wanted from Hardline packed into one game mode. Hell, it’s almost everything I’ve wanted from any FPS game since Modern Warfare 2. It just feels epic and all Bruce Willis actiony. It’s one of those modes where I rarely care if I win or lose and I’m just left at the end like “Oh man, did you see that!”. I love and cherish those moments in games and Hotwire mode gives those moments in spades.
Unfortunately, Hardline‘s other multiplayer modes kind of fall into standard FPS online fare. Conquest in particular feels a little off with the cops and robbers motif of the game. Surely with the massive scale of these firefights the national guard would have been called in at some point. It’s that whole logical disconnect thing again where your brain just can believe what it is trying to process and everything just seems silly. You can say I’m taking it too seriously but that thought was there in every Conquest match I played.
Beyond that, it’s just more of the same game with new maps and new toys. Even the smaller 5v5 modes like Crosshair aren’t really new as much as they are different for the Battlefield series. More of the same isn’t always bad but I feel like most FPS franchises are in danger of becoming stale and swapping game modes with other franchises isn’t really being innovative.
Overall, Hardline is a two headed beast. You almost have to treat it like two separate entities with two different goals. When you do that you’re left with one flat experience, and one solid experience with promise. The single player mode fails to be compelling, but succeeds in presenting itself as a crime drama TV Show that would be canceled after one season, even with The Magic Badge.
While the multiplayer mode makes a good showing and adds the epic Hotwire mode to the Battlefield universe, a few stale modes and balance issues make online play a bit underwhelming. But hope springs eternal, and perhaps a sequel will see Visceral refining the concept and crafting a more impressive game; it would be a shame if they didn’t, because there’s plenty of potential for Hardline to turn into something great.
As long as you don’t go into it expecting to be blown away, Battlefield Hardline is worth playing. It’s not the best Battlefield game ever, but it’s enjoyable enough – and at least it avoids being the broken disaster that Battlefield 4 was at launch.