What happens when you take an established franchise and throw the rulebook out the window?
Well, you get something akin to Visceral Studios’ Battlefield Hardline. Taking over the stewardship of this particular entry from the franchise founders DICE, the Dead Space developer has taken Battlefield in a totally different direction.
You could argue that DICE, themselves, have already done this with their more narrative-focused Battlefield Bad Company games- but you’d be wrong. Bad Company still had soldiers and still had tanks. Hardline swaps all that cool military stuff out and replaces it all with the hard boiled world of cops and criminals.
But is it really Battlefield?
Well, that depends. If Battlefield for you is just about firing guns and driving vehicles in a first-person shooter, then Hardline is a Battlefield game. But this time Visceral have thrown in a load of other stuff as well, especially in the single-player game. The solo campaign has players collecting evidence, sneaking about and arresting people. To be honest, sometimes it feels more like Raindow Six than Battlefield.
The game’s story-based single-player campaign wears its cop show inspiration on its sleeve. Visceral have managed to work in every police procedural cliché they can think off. The result is a police drama where detectives slide across bonnets and drive sports cars. Throw in an angry pock-cheeked captain, a reluctant partner and dirty cops and you are ready for Hardline.
The campaign follows an episodic format which in includes a TV style “previously on Hardline…” opener as you continue your game and a very cool “next time on Hardline…” as you quit. For the first four episodes players are investigating a drug ring and dirty cops in Miami, with the action flicking from Downtown to the alligator infested Everglades and then into the heart of a hurricane. Episode 5 is a game changer, shifting the action to Los Angeles, which comes in to play just as the gameplay starts to tire.
The investigation and evidence collection mechanic is inspired, finally giving players a narrative reason to hunt levels for collectables. Also, the fact that you can often avoid a firefight by stealthily arresting perpetrators rather than killing them is inspired. The game rewards players for subduing the enemy, especially those with an arrest warrant.
The environments are generally very nice, but with the odd hiccup. The Miami neighbourhood at the start is particularly well done. The Everglades section is a bit dull and an otherwise very exciting escape sequence mid-way though is let down by a rather unsubtle linier path. But the shootout across Downtown Miami during a hurricane, later on, is very cool.
Whilst the single-player is good, it’s a far cry from Call of Duty’s balls-to-the-wall campaign mode. For me this is possibly Battlefield’s weakest solo effort. A few times what should be awesome set pieces often turn out to be clumsy affairs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still enjoyable, but it would be fair to say that the campaign is a bit rough around the edges lacks and a bit polish in places.
Whilst it is the norm for a Battlefield single-player campaign to come across as a bit of a contractually obligated affair, most of us just tune in for the multiplayer.
Battlefield multiplayer is about huge open maps full of vehicles and aircraft and in this regard Hardline doesn’t disappoint. Swapping war-torn environments for the urban jungles of L.A. and the swampland of Miami, Hardline adds a new twist to some familiar gameplay.
Hardline ships with seven multiplayer modes. The classic Team Deathmatch and base-capturing Conquest modes return, along with five new ones.
The first new arrival, Blood Money, pits the teams of cops and criminal against each other in a battle to obtain the opposing team’s cash. Crosshair has the cops escorting a VIP to an extraction point whilst the criminals attempt to assassinate him. In Rescue the cops must try to liberate hostages from their criminal captors.
These new objective-based modes are good fun, but lack the easy jump-in of the other modes, and require a bit of waiting around for rounds to start. Crosshair and Rescue don’t allow respawns and you can only join Rescue and Blood Money at the beginning of a round. But these are minor niggles, really.
The last two new modes are my personal favourites. Hotwire and Heists really add some memorable gameplay to an already inspired line up of new multiplayer modes. Hotwire is really a variation on Conquest, with the bases replaced by “hotwirable” vehicles that must be either stolen by the criminals or repossessed by the cops. The result is a frantic dash to capture vehicles followed by burning up the tarmac as either a driver or riding shotgun to try and take out the enemy. Of course, you can always hide and take out the enemy with a rocket launcher as they drive past.
Heists are multi-stage objective missions with the criminals having to bypass security, break open a vault and escape with the loot whilst the cops try to stop them. It take a whilst to get used to the procedure, especially if you’ve just jumped in, but, with friends, it is easily the most enjoyable mode in the game- requiring an element of co-ordination and skill that transcends just being able to point a gun and fire.
Hardline swaps your usual war-torn maps for some more familiar civilian environments. They are still nicely designed, offering up some unique and exciting gameplay. Out of the box there are nine multiplayer maps featuring locations as diverse as the Floridian Everglades to a dusty desert town.
Technically, Hardline builds upon the mechanics and visuals of Battlefield 4. The result is a beautiful-looking game with a crisp and consistent framerate. I ran great on my moderately-spec’d PC with the visuals cranked almost to the top end.
The destructive environments of the Frostbite 3 engine really come into their own in multiplayer, with splintering timber fences making for poor cover in a gunfight. Battlefield’s “levolation” is put to work once more with dynamic events changing the playing field, like the sandstorm in Dust Bowl and the tumbling tower crane in Downtown.
Battlefield Hardline offers up a new angle on an aging franchise. This single player campaign may not being to everyone’s taste. But the inspired multiplayer more than makes up for any solo shortcomings. If you go in with an open mind and the view that this may not be your usual Battlefield, chances are that you will be pleasantly surprised.