By Ian Boone. This is Load File, where video games face their final boss: the reviewer. This week, Ian is taking down Visceral Studio and EA’s Battlefield: Hardline.
Battlefield is running reds and blasting sirens with the newest game in the series, Battlefield: Hardline. This entry takes a departure from the series’ normal wartime setting to focus more on the war at home, namely the war between a police force serving the public trust and the underworld that defies it.
Here, we’re seeing Battlefield run a risky tactic. While a proper new entry in the series is still a distant thing, Battlefield: Hardline attempts to keep the franchise alive while injecting some new, innovative themes. But throwing a dash of law enforcement flavor into a long-running action franchise has been tried plenty of times before, most notably by Electronic Arts itself (to mixed results) on series like Need for Speed, the popular Most Wanted and (the not so) Hot Pursuit.
As it is in real life, sometimes involving the law doesn’t improve the situation. Battlefield: Hardline gives it everything it’s got: It’s a solid rookie’s effort on its first beat, but is it a Dirty Harry, or a sack of Keystone Cops?
BREAKING THE LAW, BREAKING THE LAW
Large-scale battles have been the marquee draw of the Battlefield franchise, and Hardline is no different in most respects. No matter what side of the law you’re on, there are four classes of foot soldier to play. Once a specialty and loadout is picked, players can spawn from a team-owned point or squadmate. Maps trend towards the giant, necessitating the use of land, air, and sea vehicles for transport and combat. Death is the constant price for the pursuit of the objective, but life is cheap and respawns are unlimited in most game types.
The crime-action themes of Battlefield: Hardline show strongest in the new objectives for multiplayer. These five new modes have police clashing with gangs of criminals in violent robberies and high-speed chases. Two of them, Crosshair and Rescue, are single-life elimination games limited to 5 versus 5, demanding teamwork and communication. By far the best new mode is Hotwire, which sends teams out to boost marked cars and go joyriding to add to the team’s score and drain the enemy’s. It’s a mobile version of Conquest, and adds drive-bys with your crew to the classic game mode of capture and defend. Plain Conquest and Team Deathmatch objectives are also present, but that’s all for now; future paid download content will bring more down the line, but as of launch there are only a sad seven game types in total for Battlefield: Hardline.
The maps of Hardline retain the scale Battlefield is known for, but focus on more urban settings. This changes the game in several big ways. Sniping is way less frustrating when enemy sharpshooters aren’t getting a clean line-of-sight on the more open maps of previous games. The many rooftops and windows of the city and suburb will allow skilled ninja-work with the new grappling hook and zip-line gadgets to great effect.
Speaking of hardware, there’s some pretty significant difference in the gear and vehicles being used here. Gone are the fighter jets, heavy attack copters, and tanks normally found in a Battlefield entry. Police cruisers, muscle cars, SWAT trucks, and APCs will be your driven chariots in this war. The speed feels great, allowing for quick response or quicker getaways. With only lightly armored vehicle targets on the board, loadout options offer more tactical gadgets such as snake cameras or decoys instead of anti-tank mines and Stinger missiles.
All of this is rendered in the Frostbite 3 engine with impressive detail and fragility, as the environment is destroyed from the action. Windows get shot out, barriers and walls are blown up and ventilated, and many maps feature a “Levelution” trigger that causes a sweeping change in the terrain brought on by destruction.
A POLICEMAN’S BALL, IT AIN’T
If Battlefield: Hardline consisted only of multiplayer we could stop right here, but a single-player campaign has been tacked on, for better or worse. Players put on the role of Nick Mendoza and tackle a convoluted plot of corruption and betrayal in his precinct while a drug war putters around in the background.
The story is dealt out with TV-style editing, sandwiching linear shooter action in between cutscenes and dramatic recap montages to further things along. Enemies can be either gunned down, or Mendoza can try to take them under arrest after flashing his badge to stun them. Arrests earn special guns and other weaponry, which is an interesting way to reward taking the bad guys alive.
When the shooting ends and the detective work begins, Mendoza makes use of a scanner that will sniff out the nearest evidence and analyze it. This is a lazy stab at portraying maybe the most important (if not glamorous) part of crime solving, but finding all pieces of evidence in an episode rewards a more satisfying case completion mechanic.
The campaign is trash on so many levels that I wouldn’t even suggest bothering with it. The story is confusing and arbitrary, juggling the player around like a pawn between the blandest, deadest chess masters. The computer enemies are pretty devoid of life themselves, and most are content to let you pop up from behind and cuff them. And the whole arrest mechanic is the one thing that really tries to make this mess into a cop video game, but it just gets old as the game wears on. It flat stops making sense when Mendoza is no longer working under the law.
Anyone going into Battlefield: Hardline looking forward to a police simulator is going to be disappointed. You’d be begging to be bust down to meter-maid if the only action in this game was the campaign.
But I feel like there is plenty of satisfaction to be had in the online multiplayer, if one wants to commit to the long schedule of DLC releases and extra expense to have a complete game. In comparison to older Battlefields, Hardline feels like a faster, stripped down, more easily handled game. If the lumbering old ways were just too much to handle but the rest of the gameplay sounds appealing, Battlefield: Hardline can be considered a win.